Battle for French hearts and minds

Al Jazeera meets two aides who are working to woo France's Arab community.

    Dati told Al Jazeera her appointment was 
    "symbolically ... very impressive"

    On the eve of France's presidential elections, Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra travelled to Paris to meet two women of Arab descent who are working to win over the hearts and minds of their community for their respective candidates.

    Rachida Dati joined conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy's team while he was interior minister in 2002 and later became one of his top aides.

    "It's the first time that a Republican candidate from the right has favoured a person, chosen a spokesperson born to immigrants and from that modest background. That symbolically is very impressive," she told Al Jazeera.

    Dati has a difficult job to do, since Sarkozy irked the population of the poor Paris suburbs when he called them "scum" after the riots in 2005.

    The rioting broke out after two black teenagers were electrocuted while they were believed to be hiding from police in an electricity substation.

    "It's not just about the fight against illegal immigration or the fight against insecurity, it's about having common projects about development, lasting development," she said.

    "If you abandon people those people will become radicalised. It's not the wish and it's not the vision Nicolas Sarkozy has of the world."

    Rival camp

    Belkacem, left, will stand for parliament in June

    In the socialist camp, Najat Belkacem is doing a similar job for Segolene Royal.

    "Segolene Royal has politics which are open and positive, which celebrate a French national identity which gets richer every day. It's the opposite to Sarkozy," she told Al Jazeera.

    Royal wants to appeal to the poor suburbs disenchanted with mainstream politics and there is no doubt she chose the young, rising star of the party as an aide for that reason.

    The 29-year-old Belkacem will stand for election herself in June, when France holds parliamentary elections, but she does not want to be seen as someone who has climbed the political ladder because of her background.

    "The fact that I am young, the fact that I am a woman, the fact that I am from an immigrant background all helped me in my career. Why? Because I came on the scene just as France, in the media, in society, was realising that it's really behind in representing its diversity," Belkacem said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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