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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06PARIS2772 2006-04-27 10:10 2011-02-10 08:08 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
Appears in these articles:
DE RUEHFR #2772/01 1171052
P 271052Z APR 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 002772 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/26/2016 

Classified By: DCM Karl Hofmann for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 

1. (C) Summary: Junior Minister for Promotion of Equal 
Opportunities Azouz Begag provided the Ambassador April 19 
with a candid assessment of the current situation of 
minorities in France. Begag blamed discrimination for 
unemployment levels as high as 40 and 50 percent in many of 
the ghetto-like suburbs ringing France's major cities. 
Despite his largely pessimistic appraisal of the present 
situation and the failure of the French integration model, 
Begag noted several new programs that were working to combat 
stereotypes and fight discrimination, and looked forward to a 
more promising future for France's minority populations. 
Additionally, he cautioned against viewing France's diverse 
Muslim-descent populations as one homogeneous community, and 
described himself as a non-practicing Muslim. Begag stated 
unequivocally that his own academic experiences in the United 
States had a profound and positive influence on him. He 
implored the USG to increase exchanges with the youth of 
France's suburbs and asked the Embassy to encourage American 
companies doing business in France to lead by example in 
employment diversity efforts. End Summary. 

2. (SBU) Azouz Begag met April 19 with the Ambassador, DCM, 
PolMinCouns, PolOffs, and ACAO. Prime Minister Dominique de 
Villepin named Begag the first Junior Minister (Ministre 
delegue) for Promotion of Equal Opportunity in June 2005, as 
part of his new government. Begag, born in the suburbs of 
Lyon to Algerian immigrant parents, holds a Ph.D. in 
economics and has published over 20 fiction and non-fiction 
books. Prior to joining Villepin's government, Begag worked 
on socio-economic urban issues at the government-sponsored 
National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and served as 
a member of the influential Economic and Social Council, a 
joint public-private advisory board, from 2004-2005. Begag 
taught as a visiting professor at Cornell University in 1988 
and at Philadelphia's Swarthmore College in 1998. 

First of Three Cycles: 1945-1975 
3. (C) Begag explained France's evolving relationship with 
its minorities in terms of three thirty-year cycles. The 
first cycle lasted from 1945 until 1975, during which many 
immigrants were brought to France, primarily from North 
Africa, to rebuild the country after the Second World War. 
It was expected that these workers would return to their 
country of origin after their work was complete -- "the myth 
of return." They were treated as temporary residents and 
housed in transit camps and shanty towns, one which was 
Begag's birthplace. Despite this, however, the first 
generation of North African immigrants had jobs, which 
conveyed social legitimacy and gave them the possibility of 
anticipating a more positive future. 

Second Cycle: 1975-2005 
4. (C) The second cycle began in 1975 with the global 
economic crisis and ended in the fall of 2005 with the unrest 
in the suburbs. During this cycle, native French began to 
associate Arab immigrants and their children with OPEC and 
the high oil prices that were blamed for the economic 
downturn. The first clashes between immigrants and 
authorities began during this time, and this cycle saw the 
rise of groups such as the far-right National Front (FN). 
Begag described the surreal situation that sometimes occurred 
in the early 1980s, when the children of immigrants were not 
given French citizenship despite the fact that they were born 
on French soil and their parents, born while Algeria was 
still part of France, were themselves French citizens. If 
arrested, these individuals would often be deported to 
Algeria and had to petition for re-integration to the only 
country they had ever known. 

5. (C) It was this type of double-standard that prompted the 
1983 "March of the Beurs" (beur the term used for the 
children of North African immigrants), which was fashioned to 
be France's "March on Washington." Begag expressed 
disappointment that little had been accomplished in the fight 
for equal opportunity in France since the landmark march. 
The Socialist Party leadership in power at the time had 
promised a parliament of "blond, black, and beur" to 
accurately reflect the country's shifting demographics. 
However, this had not come to pass. Instead, many immigrants 
and their children became increasingly marginalized. These 
subsequent generations were left with an identity void, 
ignorant of the country of their parents' birth but not 
accepted by France. As a result, many had sought to create 
an identity based on their cultural and religious origins, 
resulting in a "Back to Islam" movement that Begag compared 
to the efforts of Malcolm X. This lack of identity was also 
one of the root causes in the suburban violence of October 

PARIS 00002772 002 OF 004 

and November. 

6. (C) Begag pointed to unemployment, which reaches levels 
as high as 40 and 50 percent in some suburbs, as another key 
factor in last fall's unrest. Even highly educated 
minorities from some of these neighborhoods -- those with 
three or four years post-high school education -- had 
difficulties finding jobs. As a result, many of the most 
gifted youth left the country for the U.S., Canada, or Great 
Britain. Other youth genuinely desire to make something of 
themselves, he said, but suffer from poor qualifications -- 
lack of proper language skills, education, and training -- 
aggravated by societal fear and discrimination. The 
government's recent failed CPE (First Job Contract) 
initiative had been an attempt to "extend a hand" to these 
underclass youth by attenuating employer fears they would not 
be able to fire poorly performing employees, thus giving them 
an incentive to hire candidates they might otherwise shun. 

7. (C) With some bitterness, Begag observed that the 
attention lavished on the anti-CPE movement and protesting 
students had erased from French memory the suburban unrest of 
last October and November. In contrasting the two crises, 
Begag stated that those protesting the CPE were not the 
underclass youth suffering from crushing unemployment, but 
rather the more privileged students who saw a permanent job 
as a birthright. Their efforts were well coordinated and 
enjoyed extensive support from organized labor. Last fall's 
unrest, however, was not a coordinated effort. There were no 
leaders, and those responsible were unable to conceive a 
political solution to their problems. The suburban youth 
were told "you must respect the law," Begag said, and 
significant force and state power were used to restore order. 
The message to them afterwards was, "If you want change, go 
out and vote." Begag noted with irony that the anti-CPE 
protesters took to the streets to fight against a law, and 
ultimately succeeded in overturning it. Begag rhetorically 
asked how to explain the obvious double standard to the 
suburban youth. 

Third Cycle: 2005-2035? 
8. (C) Despite the problems of the past, Begag said he 
believed the next cycle would represent "thirty promising 
years" for minorities in France. The key factor in this 
would be employment, and the CPE setback notwithstanding, 
Begag listed a number of programs the government was 
undertaking to improve the situation. There was an effort to 
send the most gifted suburban students to France's best 
universities, a prerequisite for achieving prosperity and 
social standing in French society. For those without 
extensive academic qualifications, Begag judged the new 
provision allowing students as young as 14 to leave school 
and begin an apprenticeship as an effective way to teach them 
a trade. Begag also noted efforts to transform the suburbs 
themselves -- significant funds to tear down blighted 
high-rise housing complexes and replace them with smaller, 
neighborhood style dwellings that would impart a better sense 
of aesthetics and community. 

9. (C) As part of his own efforts, Begag touted his 
ministry's new website (, sponsored 
in part by the country's leading employer's association and, to promote diversity within the workplace. The 
website has job listings, useful links, and provides 
information about the legal rights of job candidates as well 
as the rights and responsibilities of employers. He also 
cited the "diversity charter," a pledge signed by many of 
France's largest companies to "reflect the diversity of 
French society and in particular its cultural and ethnic 
diversity in the workforce." One roadblock to his efforts 
was funding, Begag rued, and he hoped to encourage the 
government to reprogram some 300 million euros currently 
budgeted for "integration" of immigrants for his equal 
opportunity programs; he asked rhetorically why such money 
was going to foreigners, when it was needed by French 
citizens. As additional evidence of his optimism, Begag 
stated his belief that the next government would feature a 
minority in a high-level cabinet position, and not just one 
directly linked to an issue of France's minority population, 
such as his current role. Begag quipped that he would be 
interested in the Transport Ministry, and has past academic 
background in this area. 

Not A Homogeneous Community 
10. (C) Begag explained that, in dealing with minorities, 
even the terminology used to describe them was sensitive, 
because French Republican values did not recognize ethnic 
differences. Terms like "Muslim" or "Arab" were taboo, 
although Begag often used them. However, Begag said, no one 

PARIS 00002772 003 OF 004 

term was able to completely sum up the variety and diversity 
of France's minority population. As a result, Begag 
cautioned against lumping minorities together, particularly 
those of Muslim origin, saying, "There is no one homogeneous 
Muslim community." Begag indicated that he himself was not a 
practicing Muslim. "I don't believe in God, but I think he 
believes in me," he concluded, adding that he did 
occasionally fast, which he thought was very beneficial for 
the mind and body. He did underline that there was a link 
between the frustration that France's minorities felt at 
being excluded and violent reactions, stating "If you want to 
fight terrorism, you must fight discrimination." 

Political Scene 
11. (C) Begag stated that while he was ideologically neither 
on the right nor the left, he felt that Villepin's government 
was taking the right approach to fighting discrimination, 
despite some resistance within the ruling Union for a Popular 
Movement (UMP) party. His decision to join the government 
had angered many on the political left, who felt that 
defending minorities was "their" cause -- and voting bloc. 
In fact, he said, center-left daily Le Monde, to which he had 
previously contributed articles, has refused to print his 
pieces since he became minister. Begag refrained from 
gratuitously criticizing Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, 
with whom he has reportedly clashed on some issues. He 
judged Sarkozy to be heavy handed at times, such as when 
choosing his words to describe the youth in the suburbs and 
in his forthcoming immigration proposal, but more open in 
other areas, such as his proposal that non-citizens be 
allowed to vote in municipal elections. 

Positive Image of U.S. 
12. (C) Begag was exceptionally positive about his 
experiences in the U.S., saying, "I was not the same after 
Cornell -- it changed me." He indicated that he was accepted 
without question while there, and he admired that a person 
could have multiple, complex identities, at one point musing 
whether France should adopt terms such as "Franco-Arab" or 
"Franco-African." Begag noted that one benefit to living as 
an expatriate in another country -- particularly the U.S. -- 
was that it made a person more attached to his/her own 
national heritage. As a result, Begag felt that minority 
French youth could greatly benefit from visiting the U.S., 
and he strongly encouraged the Ambassador to do all he could 
to make such exchanges possible. Noting U.S. leadership in 
workforce diversification, Begag asked the Ambassador to 
encourage American companies doing business in France to lead 
by example in this area. If French companies see how dynamic 
American firms are as a result of their diversity, perhaps 
they will increase their efforts, he reasoned. 

13. (C) Begag presented himself as a serious individual who 
has successfully transitioned from academic to political life 
and has a role to play in France's future. He acknowledged 
the fact that individuals such as himself were under 
increased public scrutiny, especially in France where the 
idea of affirmative action is an anathema to many. He hoped 
to avoid the controversy surrounding Aissa Dermouche, 
France's only Muslim prefect in the last several decades, 
whose 2004 appointment was mired by accusations that he was 
chosen for his background rather than his qualifications. 
Begag alluded that the pressure had caused Dermouche to have 
a nervous breakdown. Although he publicly rejects the idea 
of affirmative action, Begag seemed at times to struggle to 
reconcile the Republican-instilled notions of colorblindness 
espoused by the government in which he serves and the 
realities of discrimination he obviously knows to be true. 

14. (SBU) Begag's enthusiasm for and appreciation of the 
U.S. are very positive indicators, and we will look for ways 
to use this to our mutual advantage, including seeking his 
advice on speakers and his possible inclusion in Embassy 
diversity outreach programs. Already, our Cultural Affairs 
section has contacted Begag's office to seek his input in 
nominations for the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows 
Initiative: Summer Institute for Youth, a three-week program 
designed to send European students (ages 16-24) to the U.S. 
where they will participate with American youth in 
leadership, educational, and community service activities. 
We are similarly evaluating the possibility of organizing a 
Voluntary Visitor program for members of Begag's ministry to 
travel to the U.S. End Comment. 

Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: fm 

PARIS 00002772 004 OF 004