French election: Is Muslim candidate's criminal record fair game or race baiting?
Ahead of next month's French election, allegations about a French-African Muslim candidate's criminal record is raising questions about whether France offers a level playing field for ethnic minorities. Ali Soumaré, a candidate in regional elections, says he is the victim of slander.
Despite ideals of equality and suburbs packed with ethnic minorities, politics in France is still mainly populated by whites. As the country prepares for regional elections, a popular candidate with African origins and a Muslim name is facing serious attacks that demonstrate the barriers that still remain for minority groups trying to break into French politics.
Ali Soumaré is the No. 1 Socialist party list candidate in the Val d’Oise suburb outside of Paris. The district, known as “Nine-Five,” is poor and tough, a place where young, unemployed Africans and Arabs often stand around “holding up the walls,” to use the Algerian expression. In these neighborhoods, Mr. Soumaré has become a symbol of progress.
Even Le Monde newspaper called Soumaré a “rising star” following his calm mediation between police and locals during a major riot in 2007 after a police car killed two French Arab and African children and protesters shot and injured four police.
But now the unusual candidate finds himself in the midst of a fiery controversy. Ruling party figures have alleged that he has a repeat offender arrest record and requested that he withdraw from the race. Minority groups mainly see this as a craven attempt by the old guard to defame and topple their young star. Meanwhile, Soumaré and the Socialists plan charge ruling party figures with slander.
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