Najat Vallaud-Belkacem – the young Muslim woman at the heart of Hollande’s new cabinet

News Agencies – May 18, 2012

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, 34, is the youngest member of the cabinet which assembled under the chairmanship of President François Hollande. She is the Minister for Women’s Affairs and will be the official spokeswoman for the government and, therefore, the mouthpiece for “Hollandism”.

The first Socialist French government for 10 years is stuffed – some say over-stuffed – with messages and symbols. It is the first government in France, or any large democracy, to be perfectly gender-balanced – 17 men and 17 women. Mr Hollande and his Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, have also reached out to racial minorities, youth and the Eurosceptic wing of the French left. There is no message more striking than that embodied by Ms Vallaud-Belkacem, after an election in which immigration and Islam were used as cudgels by both the far right and by the centre-right president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

A married mother of twins, Ms Vallaud-Belkacem is a “non-practising Muslim”. After winning scholarships to elite colleges, she calls herself a “pure product of the [egalitarianism] of the [French] Republic”.