Macron’s party withdraws support for local election candidate over hijab

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party has barred a Muslim woman from running for as candidate on its ticket in a local election after she wore an Islamic headscarf for a photograph that appeared on a campaign flier.

La Republique en Marche (LaRem) said the party line was that in secular France there should be no place for the overt display of religious symbols on electoral campaign documents.

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“This woman will not be an En Marche candidate,” Stanislas Guerini, the party’s general secretary, told RTL radio.

French law does not prohibit the wearing of the hijab or other religious symbols in images that appear on campaign fliers.

The episode illustrates just how sensitive a subject the place of Islam in French society has become ahead of next year’s presidential vote, with the main challenge to a Macron re-election bid coming from the far right.

Macron, who prided himself on the multi-cultural, ethnically-diverse make-up of his nascent party after his 2017 election victory, has warned of the growing threat of Islamist separatism to France’s core values and the republic’s unity.

The affair over the campaign poster erupted after Jordan Bardella, the number 2 in the far-right Rassemblement National party of Marine Le Pen, tweeted a copy of the flier with the message: “Is this how you fight separatism?”

Guerini responded directly on Twitter, demanding either the flier be withdrawn or the candidate Sara Zemmahi lose the party’s support.

Reuters could not reach Zemmahi or her associates for comment. A LaRem official close to Guerini said Zemmahi would be officially informed of the party’s decision in writing.

The party’s response opened bitter divisions within LaRem.

“Undignified. Running after (far-right) votes will only allow their ideas to prevail. Enough is enough,” tweeted LaRem lawmaker Caroline Janvier.

Another party legislator, Roland Lescure, told Reuters: “It’s an explosive subject. Political Islam is a reality, it is a simmering threat in some neighborhoods and we have to be very firm.”

Read more: President Macron’s party joins right-wing rival for key test in French regional vote

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