French politics

Macron party chief opens rifts over campaign image of activist in a veil

Stanislas Guerini, the LREM secretary-general, said the party's policy on wearing overt religious symbols was clear.
Stanislas Guerini, the LREM secretary-general, said the party's policy on wearing overt religious symbols was clear. ©RFI

A storm erupted on Tuesday in Emmanuel Macron's LREM ruling party over a regional election campaign poster featuring prospective candidates as well as their deputies - one of whom was a woman wearing a veil.

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Mahfoud Benali and Hélène Qvistgaard, who are standing next month in the Canton de Montpellier 1 in southern France, published a photo flanked by their back-ups Régis Morvan and Sara Zemmahi.

Morvan, a municipal councillor in the town of Grabels, is dressed in a dark jacket and trousers. Zemmahi, an engineer, is in a white jacket and veil.

The image drew the ire of Jordan Bardella, the number two in Marine Le Pen's far-right RN party. He addressed a tweet to Marlène Schiappa, the interior minister in charge of citizenship.

"This is the fight against separatism," he queried.

Reaction

Bardella's LREM counterpart, Stanislas Guerini, railed over Zemmahi's picture. 

"Wearing ostentatious religious symbols on a campaign document is not compatible with the values of LREM," Guerini wrote.

"Either these candidates change their photo, or LREM will withdraw its support."

The government's spokesman, Gabriel Attal, backed Guerini's stance. "Legally, nothing prevents someone standing in an election from displaying a religious symbol, in this case a headscarf," he told France Inter radio station.

He said it was the political choice of the LREM to have candidates who do not display their religious beliefs.

Apology

Guerini, who helped set up Macron's centrist movement in 2016, apologised for his reaction on Tuesday. But his rapid response irked party activists.

Benali told France 3 TV station: "I see Sara's abilities ... I don't see what she's wearing." 

Local LREM MP Coralie Dubost said the party should promote inclusivity at every opportunity.

"When you have a young woman engineer, who does hours of charity work, who is involved in a party that has progressive values ... whether she's veiled or not, there is a place for her with us," Dubost told Radio J.

Benali added: "We're trying to win votes in districts where a lot of people don't even bother to vote. Reactions of this type are exactly what leads them towards apathy." 

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