Eyeing Elysee, Sarkozy Woos Suburbanites

Interior Minister Nicola Sarkozy is trying to woo disgruntled residents of the underprivileged suburbs.

Eyeing Elysee, Sarkozy Woos Suburbanites

"I'm not allowed to disappoint you," the potential candidate of the ruling Union for Popular Movement (UPM) for the 2007 presidential race told young suburbanites in a conference on Wednesday, December 13.

Trying to wash away the perception of being the enemy of France's ethnic Arab and black African residents, the presidential hopeful vowed jobs, quality education and decent housing for them.

"You are French exactly like the others, but you are burdened with a certain number of handicaps. We have to help you more than the others," he vowed.

Sarkozy's ratings among minorities, particularly the sizable Muslim and Arab communities, are at their lowest.

The interior minister, himself the child of immigrants, triggered an uproar after using the words "scum", "rabble" and "louts" to describe Arab youths who rebelled last year against their deplorable living conditions in French ghettos.

The deaths of two youths fleeing police in Clichy-Sous-Bois outside Paris ignited pent up frustrations among young men, many of them of North and black African origin, at racism, unemployment, their marginal place in French society and their treatment by the police.

Too Late

Sarkozy's charm offensive failed to win over disgruntled suburbanites.

"When the minister calls people 'scum,' it doesn't help us, because we cannot avoid feeling that we're being targeted," said Malik Meraoumia, a businessman of Arab origin.

"What he did, he split France in two. The impression I have is, there's the France of the suburbs and there's the rest."

Residents of France's high-immigration suburbs have repeatedly lamented the government failure to tackle the root causes of their suffer; unemployment, marginalization and discrimination.

More than half of France's 5-6 million Muslims are eligible voters.

"It's clear this is a media show," said Mohamed Hamidi, a high school teacher and editor of the Bondy Blog, a popular Web site about the suburbs.

"For Sarkozy to try to seduce the voters of the suburban neighborhoods now — it's too late."

Comedian Jamel Debbouze and a cohort of prominent young French with immigrant origin, including superstar footballer Lilian Thuram and rap singer Joey Starr, have formed a group to mobilize young French.

The group made it no secret they will mobilize voters to vote down Sarkozy in any polls.

In contrast to his low rating among French Arabs and Muslims, Sarkozy is praised as a "real star" among the estimated 500,000 French Jews.

The interior minister, who seldom misses a Jewish religious occasion, describes himself a "friend of Israel."

During a recent visit to Israel, Sarkozy vowed to abandon time-honored France's pro-Arab policies if elected president.

Immigrants Card  

 

Integration has become a main theme for the 2007 presidential race.

Immigration has become the burning issue in France, coloring the presidential campaigns.

"Five years ago, immigration and integration were not campaign issues of the mainstream parties," Vincent Tiberj, a sociologist, told the New York Times.

"This time, the French are questioning the failure of integration and asking themselves about their capacity to integrate new foreigners.

"The debate has changed," said Tiberj.

Four months ahead of the crucial elections, leading candidates are campaigning to court the country's alienated and disadvantaged ethnic populations, vowing to reach out to their hardships.

The Socialist Party's nominee, Ségolène Royal, outlined "Inclusiveness" as a major campaigning theme.

She called the integration of minorities into the labor force "a question of survival" for France's struggling economy.

"France not only needs you, but it is you who are the future of France."

Another leading candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front has abandoned his traditional anti-immigrant campaign.

Seeking the support of Arab and black voters, 78-year-old Le Pen criticized the failed integration policies of the political establishment.

Source: islamonline.net

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