The “beurgeois”: French citizens till the contrary is proven | Ghania Khelifi
The “beurgeois”: French citizens till the contrary is proven Print
Ghania Khelifi   
The “beurgeois”: French citizens till the contrary is proven | Ghania Khelifi
A French person aged between 30 and 40 with a high purchasing power, a demand for a certain quality of life and a successful professional career is normally called a “bourgeois bohème” or “bobo” except if he’s born from parents of North African origin and continues to proclaim his “roots”. He then becomes a beurgeois . The word beurgeois , neologism created in France from the words “beur” (meaning Arab in verlan(1)) and “bourgeois” has its codes and icons. Among them one can find the actor Djamel Debouz, one of the best-paid artists in the French show business, known to be a very devout Muslim and the actor Rahim Tahar, the first French of North African origins awarded the César(2) for the best male actor among other awards. Mourad Boudjellal, owner of Soleil Editions, publishers of some of the French bobos ’ favourite cartoonists, has been presented in a documentary on television as the beurgeois prototype. We can quote hundreds of children of immigrants that are senior civil servants, entrepreneurs, artists or doctors.

The success stories of the North African immigrants’ second generation are not an extraordinary social phenomenon anymore. Why aren’t’ they simply bobos like the rest of their fellow citizens of the same category? The beurgeois are Muslim, born in working class areas. Today, they require to be treated as consumers having specific needs to which the retailing sector has eagerly answered. Starting from the fast food chain Quick to major retail chains, all offer a wide range of halal food(3) including champagne without alcohol. Some top restaurants with a rather sophisticated décor are opening in all cities to cater for these customers. We easily understand that the beurgeois have become a chosen marketing target when we are aware that the halal market will weigh 5.5 billion Euros in 2010 i.e. a 10% increase per year, way ahead the Organic market, the other white bobos’ market.

The beurgeois are not only coveted by retailers but even by politicians. Traditionally, their parents and the French people of immigrant origins in general were the exclusive target of the Left. Things have recently changed. The Left, especially the French Socialist Party (PS) has disappointed their followers. The beurgeois blame the PS for its paternalist attitude towards their parents and for not having kept its electoral promises. When the PS was in power, it did not grant voting rights to foreigners and has nearly appointed no French person representing the so called diversity to positions with high political responsibility. Worse, the PS has not proven to be the rampart against the rise of the extreme right who succeeded in passing to the second round of the presidential elections of 2002 thanks to the Front National candidate who managed to surpass the socialist candidate. Several French persons of North African origins including the beurgeois were so disappointed that they joined the UMP(4). The president Nicolas Sarkozy then Minister of the Interior had founded the French Council for the Muslim Religion, thus giving a representative structure and visibility to French Muslims.

Whatever the shortcomings of this organization, it has established Muslim culture as part of the French society. The appointments of North Africans to high public offices such as: prefects, ministers like Rachida Dati and Fadela Amara, Commissioner for Diversity and Equal Opportunities like Yazid Sebag and most recently Jeannette Bougrab as head of HALDE (High Authority against Discrimination and for Equality) have convinced, rightly or wrongly that the Right gives more space to diversity. The old “beurs” (Arabs in verlan) retain that they are no longer confined to football or rap no matter what Sarkozy’s real intentions are. Obviously, this does not mean the beurgeois are protected from discriminations. On the 5th September 2009, a young activist of North African origins was introduced to the UMP Minister of the Interior. With regards to Arabs, the same Minister had answered “when there is only one it’s ok, it’s when there are too much that it becomes a problem.” This was a cold shower for all the Franco-North Africans who were once again reminded of their origin in contempt of their status as French citizens. The debate over national identity launched by the government has once more confirmed that it won’t be the Right to encourage a change of mentalities. The beurgeois do not intend to turn the other cheek like their parents used to do. They gather to lobby in order to make their voices heard as French citizens contributing to the richness and the culture of their country. All over France, there exist plenty of solidarity and lobbying networks. Among them one finds the Club 21e Siècle (21st Century Club) which invites the big names of the French corporate elite, the Averroès Club which monitors the progress of diversity in the French media, the network of elected representatives of diversity of the UMP and the Franco-Algerian Space initiated by the socialist beurgeois – an elected representative and a Party dissident. Do they love this beurgeois concept? Opinions are quite divided. Certain people consider it as a sort of recognition of their success. The majority believe that this pejorative term is once again expressing their stigmatization and discrimination as French Muslims.

Ghania Khelifi
Transalted into English by Elizabeth Grech
May 2010

- 1) Verlan is an argot in the French language, featuring inversion of syllables in a word, and is common in slang and youth language. It rests on a long French tradition of transposing syllables of individual words to create slang words. The name verlan itself is an example: it is derived from inverting the syllables in l'envers ("the inverse," pronounced lan-ver ).
- 2) The César Award is the national film award of France, first given out in 1975.
- 3)
- 4) The Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) – sometimes translated as "Union for a Popular Movement" – is a centre-right political party in France.