President Emmanuel Macron of France has appointed Lebanese-born Rima Abdul Malak as minister of culture following his election victory last month. She replaces Roselyne Bachelot who took up the post in July 2020 under the former prime minister Jean Castex.
Ten members of parliament have occupied the post of culture secretary in the UK since 2010; the post of culture minister in France has also been a “revolving door” position. “In 30 years, the position of culture minister has been held by no less than 15 people, for an average duration of barely two years. Will Rima Abdul Malak find success in a position that has lacked memorable leadership since Jack Lang, who left 1993?” a report in Le Monde says.
Abdul Malak has nonetheless been at the centre of government in recent years. According to the French culture ministry website, she was appointed culture advisor to President Macron in 2019. “For the past two and a half years, Abdul Malak has been working on a daily basis, in permanent contact with Matignon [the prime minister’s residence] and the Ministry of Culture, to roll out measures to help the sector deal with the pandemic,” adds the ministry, overseeing the distribution of cultural recovery funds of at least €2bn. The current financial crisis in the wake of Covid-19 has nonetheless badly hit museums and other cultural venues; how Abdul Malak assists such institutions will be closely watched by the culture sector.
Abdul Malak has also helped to facilitate other cultural policies, the ministry adds, referring to the Culture Pass which provides every 15- to 18-year-old with €300 to spend on culture, though this scheme has been under fire (this year alone, it has cost some €200m, more than the budget of the Louvre or the National Opera). Macron has also proposed creating “a European metaverse” to support artists’ creativity and authorship, which will presumably be another priority for the newly appointed minister.
Another pressing priority in her in-tray will be the government’s policy on restitution which has stalled in recent months. On 10 January, France’s Senate approved a bill—proposed by senators Catherine Morin-Desailly, Max Brisson and Pierre Ouzoulias—to set up a national expert commission that would be consulted on any future non-European restitution cases. The draft law also proposes to facilitate the restitution of human remains in French public collections. No date has yet been fixed for the bill to be debated in the National Assembly. The Senate draft law may nonetheless be presented from July onwards following the legislative elections in June when the new lawmakers will take their seats in the National Assembly.
In 2001, Abdul Malik became programme director of Clowns sans frontières, a non-governmental organisation that brought together more than 400 artists. In 2008, she joined the Office of the Deputy Minister of Culture at the Mayor of Paris.