— France’s Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen refused to
don a headscarf for a meeting with Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim cleric on
Tuesday and walked away from the scheduled appointment after a brief
squabble at the entrance. Le Pen, who is on a three-day visit to
Lebanon this week and has met senior officials, was to meet with the
country’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian. Shortly after
she arrived at his office, one of his aides handed her a white headscarf
to put on. Following a discussion with his aides that lasted few
minutes, she refused and returned to her car.
On Monday, she met with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad
Hariri. She said Syrian President Bashar Assad was “the most reassuring
solution for France,” adding that the best way to protect minority
Christians is to “eradicate” the Islamic State group preying on them —
not turn them into refugees. Some Lebanese officials including,
including Hariri, a Sunni, have taken umbrage at what is widely seen as
her stigmatization of Muslims, who her followers claim are changing the
Christian face of France. There was also apparent displeasure at her
comments on Assad.
Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea said after meeting with Le Pen on Tuesday that “terrorism
has no religion.” He described Assad as “the biggest terrorist in Syria
and the region.” PSP Leader Walid Jumblatt, in
Lebanon, tweeted on Tuesday that Le Pen’s statements in Lebanon “were an
insult toward the Lebanese people and Syrian people.”
walking away from the meeting with the grand mufti, Le Pen said she had
previously told the cleric’s office that she would not wear a headscarf. “They didn’t cancel the meeting, so I thought they would accept the
fact that I wouldn’t wear one,” she said. “They tried to impose it upon
me.” The office of Lebanon’s mufti issued a statement saying that Le Pen
was told in advance through one of her aides that she would have to put
on a headscarf during the meeting with the mufti. “This is the
protocol” at the mufti’s office, the statement said. It said the mufti’s
aides tried to give her the headscarf and that Le Pen refused to take it
“The mufti’s office regrets this inappropriate behavior in such meetings,” the statement said.
Pen said she had met in the past with Egypt’s Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar,
the head of the Sunni world’s most prestigious learning institute,
without wearing a headscarf. Photos of Le Pen with Ahmed al-Tayeb in
2015 in Cairo show her with the cleric with her hair uncovered.
Pen’s refusal on Tuesday to don a headscarf would be in line with her
strong support for French secularism, and a proposal in her presidential
platform. French law bans headscarves in the public service and for
high school pupils.
Le Pen’s proposal aims to extend a 2004 law
banning headscarves and other “ostentatious” religious symbols in
classrooms to all public spaces. While the 2004 law covers all
religions, it is aimed at Muslims.
Later Tuesday, a group of
Lebanese held a small protest in Beirut against Le Pen’s visit. One
protester raised a drawing of Le Pen between Russian President Vladimir
Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, with “Neo-fascists” emblazoned
Associated Press writers Andrea Rosa in Beirut and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.