Azouz Begag served as Minister for Equal Opportunities in the French government from 2005 to 2007. Prior to taking office, he was already widely known as a writer and sociologist. Drawing on both his personal experience as the son of an Algerian immigrant worker and his research as a sociologist, he had become a leading authority on the socially disadvantaged multi-ethnic urban areas known in France as the banlieues, roughly equivalent to what in the United States are often colloquially termed ghettoes. As Minister for Equal Opportunities Begag was responsible for moving forward public policy in the fight against racial and other forms of discrimination, which had produced spiraling unemployment among minority ethnic groups in the banlieues. Only a few months after taking office, the government in which Begag served was faced by the nation’s most serious civil disturbances in almost forty years, when young men in the banlieues burned cars and attacked police stations in cities throughout France. Begag clashed fiercely with the then Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who described disruptive youths in the banlieues as “racaille” (scum). In April 2007, on the eve of the elections in which Sarkozy became France’s new President, Begag resigned from the government to publish an outspoken account of his period in office, including his clashes with Sarkozy. In his lecture, Begag will discuss these and related issues and will answer questions from the audience.
Azouz Begag was born in Lyon, Frances second city, in 1957 and was raised in a shantytown there. His best-selling narratives include the autobiographical Le Gone du Chaâba (1986), translated as Shantytown Kid (2007). As a sociologist with the Conseil National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), he has published numerous essays on ethnicity, multiculturalism and social integration in France including Les Dérouilleurs (2002), L’Intégration (2003) and Ethnicity and Equality: France in the Balance (2007). He has served as a member of France’s Conseil Economique et Social, which advises on social and economic policy, and has been a Visiting Professor in the Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies at Florida State University since 2002. In 2004 he was awarded the Légion d’Honneur by President Jacques Chirac.