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French Muslims Struggle to Achieve Success

In the days leading up to France's presidential run-off election, Margaret Warner reports on the changes taking place in the country, including its growing Muslim population, and how they may impact the upcoming vote.

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    For over 100 years, the French elite has been educated at Sciences Po in Paris. It's one of the top institutes of learning in the country, in a league with the Grandes Ecoles, or "great schools," that have been turning out French leaders for generations.

    Today, students here are eagerly debating who will be chosen as France's new leader in next Sunday's runoff presidential election between two Sciences Po graduates. The conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy and the Socialist Party's Segolene Royal both once wandered these storied corridors.

    Sciences Po has graduated no fewer than 12 French prime ministers, three French presidents, and countless members of the administrative, business and professional elites that run France. With that kind of track record, it's no wonder that students in its five-year undergraduate program express great confidence about their future.


    Yes, I would like to work in finance. I would like to work in private equity for emerging markets. Yes, I would like to have an international career, really.


    Do you expect to be successful?


    Yes, I do.


    What is surprising is that Lewnis Boudaoui even attends Sciences Po. Born of Algerian immigrant parents, he was raised in one of France's largest poor ethnic suburbs. His high school was the third lowest ranked in his region. Those factors alone would have made him ineligible for entry to Sciences Po until just six years ago.

  • RICHARD DESCOINGS, President, Sciences Po:

    We are changing profoundly, fundamentally the student body at Sciences Po.


    That's when Richard Descoings, the university's director, instituted what amounts to a French Revolution on this campus. Like the Grandes Ecoles, it used to recruit from just 20 top high schools in the country, seeking the sons and daughters of established French families. Descoings decided it was time to broaden that French elite by opening Sciences Po's doors to recruits from the country's most disadvantaged areas.


    The problem of our society is to understand and discover that merit, talent, hard-working is not connected to a social background, not connected to a religious faith, not connected to a special territory.

    You can be black; you can belong to a family who came from North Africa two or three decades ago; you can be Muslim or Protestant or Jewish. At Sciences Po, there will be no difference. If you are good, if you work, you will succeed.


    That approach caused consternation among some of Sciences Po's more traditionalist alumni. But Lewnis Boudaoui hopes it ultimately will reshape not only his life, but French society itself.


    I definitely feel that the French culture is very cliquey, and the elite have a very strong tendency to reproduce themselves. And if you don't do anything against that, it's just going to keep on and on and on. And I'm not sure that the deciders at Sciences Po did it only out of altruism and generosity; they knew that something was up, too, and that they had better take this into consideration.

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