Sarkozy's government faces test in the suburbs
17 September 2007, PARIS (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy's government turns its sights on the troubled suburbs this week, launching a nationwide drive for a new plan that would give immigrant youth a stake in changing France.
17 September 2007
PARIS (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy's government turns its sights on the troubled suburbs this week, launching a nationwide drive for a new plan that would give immigrant youth a stake in changing France.
Nearly two years after the "banlieues" exploded into rioting, Sarkozy has tasked his urban affairs minister and outspoken rights activist Fadela Amara with drafting a set of measures to address joblessness and discrimination.
The daughter of Algerian immigrants who grew up in one of France's rundown housing projects, Amara has released a rough draft of what she has dubbed an "anti-loafing" plan to prevent bored and excluded youth from rebelling.
"Let me tell it to you straight," Amara told a recent cabinet meeting, using French street slang.
"We absolutely have to act so that young people in the suburbs are doing something. We can't have them loafing around and getting bored in the housing projects, hanging around stairwells," said Amara, the ex-president of "Ni Putes, Ni Soumises" (Neither Whores Nor Submissive), a leading advocate of Muslim women's rights.
Starting this week, the government is to host more than 100 public meetings across France to discuss what to do about the "banlieues", a vast consultation that will culminate in December with Sarkozy himself unveiling the master plan during an event organised in the suburbs.
For Sarkozy, a former interior minister who is reviled in the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, bringing change to the suburbs may be one of his biggest reform challenges.
The rightwinger campaigned on a pledge to launch a Marshall Plan for the suburbs after three weeks of riots in October and November 2005 showed up France's failures to integrate immigrants.
The French-born descendants of African and Arab immigrants complain of being treated like outcasts in their country, herded into grimy high-rise complexes on the fringes of cities.
While Sarkozy mostly stayed away from the suburbs during his campaign for the presidency and failed to win votes in those areas, fears that his election victory would re-ignite riots did not materialize.
"The residents of the suburbs are waiting for something concrete: some kind of window, a bit of oxygen," said Karim Zeribi, the president of the parliament of the suburbs, a forum of elected representatives from those areas.
"Unemployment is three times higher in the suburbs. It's all fine and well to consult, but really, we all know what the problems are," said Zeribi, who during the campaign presented Sarkozy with a 30-point plan for making life better in the suburbs.
Amara, who will be joined at the meetings by ministers to underscore the full government's commitment to change, has said the master plan will focus on jobs, "de-ghettoizing" the suburbs and education.
On her internet blog, she invites young people to "tell me what you want for your city" and says 10,000 contributions have come in over the past weeks.
"She has a different approach from the other ministers. She tells it like it is," said Azedine Haffar, president of the now defunct National Association of Elected Representatives from the Suburbs.
But like Zeribi, he said it was time for action.
"Jobs are the key to everything," said Haffar. "I've seen many kids take a wrong turn because they couldn't work. But when they find a job, everything seems to fall into place: they get housing, they get married and stand a better chance of integrating into society," said Haffar.
AC Le Feu (Enough Fire), an organisation set up after the 2005 riots, responded to Amara's call for an "anti-loafing" plan with a terse "watch your language."
"We don't want to be labelled as loafers and bums," said Mehdi Bigaderne, spokesman for the group, which is taking a wait-and-see approach to the plan.
The nationwide consultations come amid a rise in suburban gang violence that prompted the government earlier this month to step up policing in those areas.
Subject: German news