Sarkozy Picks Diverse Cabinet

June 19, 2007

Author: Jenny Barchfield

Source: TIME

Wire Service: AP,8599,1634942,00.html

(PARIS) — President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a strong signal to France's disaffected minorities Tuesday by appointing an outspoken advocate of Muslim women and a woman of Senegalese origin Tuesday to his government — among the country's most diverse ever.

As junior minister for city policy, feminist activist Fadela Amara will oversee the renovation of dilapidated housing estates where many immigrants live — neighborhoods similar to the one where she grew up with her Algerian immigrant parents. Senegalese-born Rama Yade was appointed to the new post of junior minister for human rights, an area Sarkozy has identified as a priority for his month-old government, which he reshuffled and expanded after his conservative party did not fare as well as expected in weekend parliamentary elections.

The nomination of three women with roots in Africa — his current justice minister, Rachida Dati, is of North African origin — is unprecedented in France, where previous governments had few nonwhites. The appointments highlight Sarkozy's determination that the corridors of power should better reflect France's ethnic and religious diversity and have more women.

They were also seen as an attempt by the blunt conservative to mend fences with poor immigrant neighborhoods where he is widely reviled for his tough stance against delinquency and illegal immigration. In 2005, he described troublemakers in a Paris suburb as "scum" — a comment that helped fuel three weeks of rioting in housing projects across France.