But what happens when the symbol of change runs into the hard wall of political reality, or, as some see it, sexism and bigotry? Dati, France's first Muslim cabinet minister, is proving to be a lightning rod. Issues from her haute-couture wardrobe and "complicated" personal life to her advocacy of tough policies on crime and judicial reform have put her front and center in the French press.
Ironically, the news that unmarried Dati, 43, is expecting a baby in January has been the least of the issues in a country in which about half of all babies are born to unwed mothers (with some couples opting for civil partnerships rather than marriage). But the rounds of speculation over the father, whom she chooses not to identify, has brought an element of farce with awkward denials of paternity from various men, including a former Spanish prime minister and a prominent sports figure.
On the outs? By some accounts, Dati's mentor, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is looking for a way to ease her out—even though many of the most disputed judicial measures, such as stricter sentencing rules, reflect his policy priorities. It probably doesn't help that she has been close to Sarkozy's now ex-wife Cecilia and reportedly has a chilly relationship with his current wife, singer and former model Carla Bruni. But Sarkozy risks political damage to himself if he is seen as eager to toss his protégé overboard. Some speculate that the baby's birth will give her cover to leave politics or acquiesce to a less prominent government position. "If her name was not Dati, she would no longer be a minister," a cabinet colleague says under cover of anonymity.
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