Fadela Amara, the French secretary of state for urban policy, had listened to the problems of the day care center, talked to the workers, hugged some of the children and then at the door, on the way to another meeting in this racially mixed suburb, she was stopped one more time for one more request.
"Listen," she finally said, "I'm not Zorro!"
But at 44, this unadorned, leftist feminist, with no higher education, is something else: one of the highest-ranking Muslim women in France, with overall responsibility for bringing new hope to the poor, angry banlieues - the working-class suburbs of immigrants where riots broke out three years ago, shocking the country.
Later this month, Amara will be the center of a meeting of all government ministers on the problems of the banlieues. Each minister is responsible for detailing a program to help the five million to six million French citizens - about 8 percent of the population, most of them immigrants or their descendants - who live in the banlieues, where youth unemployment can reach 40 percent.
The idea is to promote more job creation and cultural options, better health care, transport, law enforcement and education in what Amara calls the "lost territories of the republic."
Source: IHT (English)
See also: France: The perpetual stranger, France: 50% Algerian, 50% French, France: Muslim minister supports Hirsi Ali