Education: “degree in office work,” “doctor honoris causa of the Université libre de Bruxelles and University of Manchester .” Fadela Amara, 43, the new junior minister for urban policy, whose Algerian father is a former construction worker whose writing skills amount to being able to sign his name, is now a prominent figure of the Republic, unconventional in many ways.
In 1978, while 14, Amara witnessed the death of her five-year-old brother, run over by a car whose drunk driver was defended by policemen who responded to the scene. “This injustice put me in such a state of anger that I started to become socially active in my project immediately afterwards” (Interdépendances magazine, April 2005). This anger defines Amara more than anything.
Unlike Rama Yade and
This fight for immigrant women’s rights, started in SOS Racisme, led to the creation of the association “Ni Putes ni soumises” (“neither whores nor doormats”), or “NPNS”, as some media prefer to call it in order to avoid having to repeat “whores” every other line, which is precisely the aim of this provocative denomination.
The key belief of the association, which Amara defends as an observant Muslim, is that Islam is being instrumentalized in many “zones urbaines sensibles” in structural economic slump to keep women in inferior social status. In her appearance before the Stasi Commission on
“NPNS” was born in January 2002, when Amara organized the “Etats généraux des filles des quartiers,” which gathered about 300 young women to discuss the violence against women in French projects, such as arranged marriage and rape. The «Marche des femmes contre le ghetto et pour l'égalité », which she organized in the beginning of 2003, had « ni putes ni soumises » for motto, lasted 5 weeks and made stops in 23 cities. It symbolically started in the Cité Balzac of
Amara’s passionate feminism has not been exempt from opposition and controversy. NPNS being mainly financed by public authorities (and well managed according to a Report of the Cour des Comptes not yet made public), some accuse the association of being the vector of a republican ideology targeting the Arab and Muslim community. In her opponents’ eyes, Amara helps to demonize young Arab men by reinforcing the worst media stereotypes concerning them. Some even accuse her of demonizing Islam itself, especially during the “veil” debate. Her critics are wrong on all three counts. She is the first to have shed some light on the undeniably difficult situation of many young women living in “cités”. She is an important voice against radical Islam and has often demonstrated physical courage in public meetings by confronting its representatives. She is finally an active and effective opponent of discrimination against visible minorities as a member of the Collège of the Haute Autorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l’égalité.
Yet accepting a role in the Sarkozy-Fillon government is a whole different matter, a fortiori because she serves under the direct command of the very Catholic and pro-life
Amara’s personal relationship with Sarkozy is certainly the key to her nomination, and he has obviously forgiven her acid reaction to his infamous “racaille” line (the true story of which can be found here); last year, she published
There are two stories about Amara’s nomination, without a doubt the most unexpected of all. The first, as in the case of
But the second story is even more important, as it deals with her association. Some disappointed members of NPNS created the blog NPNS en colère to voice their anger at Amara’s nomination: “the shock is violent, the wound is deep, the disappointment is immense,” they write. But NPNS as such, after what seems to have been a tumultuous meeting, issued a brief communiqué on June 23, “acknowledging” the nomination of Amara, adding that within the association “some were shocked, while others were pleasantly surprised” by her nomination, and finally thanking “Fadéla” for “opening the way”. Mohammed Abdi, general secretary of the movement and now special adviser to Amara, can be heard justifying the move in a rather chaotic edition of the France Culture program Du Grain à Moudre (he also accuses opponents of “islamo-gauchisme”). It is worth noting that the nomination of
Because of their demographic weight, their economic role in French reconstruction and the ever open wound of the Algerian war, French Arabs and Muslims bear a greater resemblance to African-Americans than do French Blacks themselves. It might thus be tempting to draw a parallel between Amara and Sarkozy on the one hand and
Amara chose early in her life to act resolutely upon these rights. Today, at the culmen of this choice, she faces the inescapable dilemma between the comfort of ideals and the corruption of power. This will be the key to Amara’s mandate, which she could abruptly end if she feels betrayed or betraying. “I accepted because I was assured that my freedom of speech will be respected”, “I came to get my hands dirty to build a true urban policy” she said to Le Monde. “The believer in an ethic of ultimate ends feels 'responsible' only for seeing to it that the flame of pure intentions is not quenched” says Weber in 'Politik als Beruf,'.
The crucial question is thus what will she (be able to) do with this power. At the top of her agenda is certainly the imperative to improve the life of the 5 million people living in the 751 French ZUS, which include the cité in which she was born, Herbet (n° 410). Her first action is the “For my city” campaign, which aims at consulting citizens before building an ambitious urban plan. In the ongoing first part of this campaign, she has just launched two blogs, one for the youngsters (on the very popular platform of Skyrock radio) and the other one for the rest of us. There is not yet much to read in those pages, but one cannot help noting that Amara is visibly more comfortable on videos in the first blog.
-- contributed by Eloi Laurent