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French Muslim leaders split by faction fight

AFP/T Coex

France’s main Muslim organisation is in crisis after the oldest Paris mosque announced that it was leaving on Wednesday. Founded by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was interior minister in 2003, the French Muslim Council (CFCM) is torn by factional disputes as it discusses reforming its structure.


The rector of the influential Grande Mosquée de Paris (GMP), Dalil Boubakeur, announced that it was quitting the CFCM on Wednesday, accusing the federation’s president, Mohamed Moussaoui, of “autocratic governance” and claiming that his organisation was being squeezed out of its rightful role.

The news came as a surprise not only to Moussaoui but also to the national executive of the Paris mosque. One of its delegates, Abdelkader Bendidi, expressed “great surprise” on discovering that he had resigned without being consulted.

Boubakeur was the first president of the CFCM and is still an honorary president.

At present representation on the CFCM is allotted according to the size of an organisation’s mosques and Boubakeur, who is considered close to the Algerian government, accused CFCM leaders of “trying to play down the size and influence” if his mosque.

Moussaoui, who is close to the Moroccan government, called the decision “brutal” and said it had been taken with prior consultation.

The CFCM was formed at Sarkozy’s initiative in 2003 to create a representative organisation through which the state could deal with French Muslim leaders.

It has brought together France's main Islamic groupings, most of which maintain links with the country of origin of most of their members – Algeria, Morocco, Turkey and so on.

There are an estimated 3.5 million Muslims in France, 800,000 of them practising.

All factions agree that the way the federation’s leaders are picked needs to be reformed and previous interior minister Claude Guéant announced that it would take place in December 2011 before putting it off because of this year’s presidential election.

Factional infighting has dogged the CFCM, leading current Interior Minister Manuel Valls to complain of “divisions, egoisms and competition” in its ranks and to call on it to “dedicate itself exclusively to places of worship”.

At the beginning of 2011 the GMP and the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF), which is considered close to the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the election to national and regional committees.

The GMP nevertheless took the seats that were allotted to it.

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