Three ministers of Moroccan origin in new French cabinet

Friday 19/02/2016
French-Moroccan Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay (L) listens to former French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin during the transfer of powers on February 12th, in Paris.

Casablanca - Three ministers of Moroc­can origin have joined French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ reshuffled cabinet.
After Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Myriam El Khomri, Audrey Azoulay was appointed France’s Minister of Culture and Communi­cation in the government reshuffle on February 11th, 15 months ahead of presidential elections.
“The appointment of the three female ministers of Moroccan ori­gin shows Moroccans’ capacities when they achieve the objectives they set,” political analyst Salah El­ouadie said.
“It’s clear the French PM nomi­nated them for their qualities. It’s a message for ambitious immigrants that it’s possible to hold top gov­ernmental positions if they believe in themselves.”
Azoulay, who is a Moroccan Jew, is the daughter of Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s adviser Andre Azoulay and author Katia Brami. Born in Essaouira in 1972, Azoulay is a graduate of the Paris Institute of Political Studies and the National School of Administration.
She started her political career as magistrate of the Court of Auditors. In 2000, she joined the Culture Min­istry’s media management team, where she was in charge of the au­diovisual sector. In 2011, she served as assistant director of the National Film Centre where she attracted the attention of French President Fran­çois Hollande, who appointed her his cultural adviser in 2014.
The nomination of the three fe­male ministers could be a political card played by the socialist govern­ment to lure the votes of both the Muslim and Jewish communities in the forthcoming presidential elec­tion, especially at a time when Is­lamophobia is on the rise in France after the deadly Paris terrorist at­tacks last November.
“It is possible that the socialist government is trying to gain more popularity among these communi­ties,” Elouadie said. “But the main thing here is that the experience and skills were key to these ap­pointments.”
Myriam El Khomri is the second French-Moroccan to hold a minis­terial function in Paris. Born in 1978 in Rabat to a French mother and a Moroccan father, Khomri spent her childhood in Tangier. Her family moved to France when she was 9.
In a portrait that was dedicated to her in 2009 by the magazine Jeune Afrique, she said: “My mother taught me to rely on myself.” She financed her own studies to obtain a DESS degree in political adminis­tration from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and joined the team of Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe in 2001 and became project manager for academic affairs, prevention, safety and toxicomania in the 18th arrondissement of Paris.
In 2008, she was elected deputy mayor of Paris and was in charge of child protection. In 2014, Khomri was appointed secretary of state for urban policy and in 2015 she was named minister of labour, employ­ment, vocational training and so­cial dialogue.
Her appointment was highly important as she was tasked with reducing unemployment, an objec­tive that Hollande set among his top priorities as he seeks to boost his re-election chances in 2017.
The first French-Moroccan to be appointed in the French socialist government was Najat Vallaud- Belkacem. Born in 1977 in Beni Chiker in the Rif region, the educa­tion minister is a Hollande loyalist after having long been very close to Segolene Royal. In 1982, she moved with her mother and older sister to join her father in France.
She has gradually risen through the ranks since the arrival of Hol­lande as president. She first served as minister of Women’s Rights and spokeswoman for the former gov­ernment of prime minister Jean- Marc Ayrault. In 2014, she served as minister for Women’s Rights, City, Youth and Sports in the Valls gov­ernment.
Almost five months later, she became the first female education minister in French history in the first government reshuffle under Valls.
This is the first time that three women of the same national origin are part of the French government, which may further consolidate ties between Paris and Rabat.
France has a long and difficult relationship with its own Muslim immigrant population, especially those from North Africa.
The French government recently said it would explore options to strip the citizenship of dual-na­tionals convicted of terrorism. This announcement is likely to increase the controversy since several of the militants who took part in Char­lie Hebdo and Paris attacks in 2015 were French-born citizens.
France is trying to fight terrorism on its own turf while also integrat­ing immigrants from the Muslim world.
“Valls’ diversified government might also be a stepping stone to a successful integration of Muslim and Jewish immigrants in society,” said Elouadie
The appointment of Azoulay as minister of Culture has reportedly angered Algeria.
Said Bouteflika, brother and spe­cial adviser to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, deplored a manoeuvre of Morocco’s “lob­bying” in a French media scene that he considers “infested” with politicians, journalists and stars of Moroccan origin, according to the Mondafrique news website.