France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has refused to go into a meeting with Lebanon’s grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan after his aides asked her to wear a headscarf.
Le Pen was scheduled to meet with Mufti Deryan as part of her three-day visit to Lebanon this week where she met senior officials.
She was scheduled to meet Deryan on Tuesday morning.
Shortly after she arrived at his office, one of his aides tried to give her a headscarf to put on.
She refused and said: “I have met before with (Grand Imam) Sheikh al-Azhar (in Egypt) without wearing a veil.”
Once she was told that customs are different in Lebanon, Le Pen walked toward her car and left.
Le Pen said she had told Deryan’s office on Monday that she would not don a headscarf: “They did not cancel the meeting, so I thought they would accept that I will not wear the scarf.”
“They wanted to impose this on me, to present me with a fait accompli. Well, no one presents me with a fait accompli,” the French presidential candidate said.
In a statement on Tuesday, Dar al-Fatwa said “its press office had informed the presidential candidate, through one of her assistants, of the need to cover her head when she meets his eminence, according to the protocol assumed by Dar al-Fatwa.”
“Dar al-Fatwa officials were surprised by her refusal to conform to this well-known rule,” it said.
– ‘Fascists flock together’ –
Fewer than a dozen protesters gathered near Beirut’s Zaytuna Bay on Tuesday afternoon to protest against Le Pen’s visit.
“From Beirut to Damascus to Paris to Washington, fascists flock together,” one placard read.
One banner read “Fascists out!”, and demonstrators carried pictures of Le Pen and U.S. President Donald Trump.
At a news conference to cap her trip, Le Pen insisted she “has never confused the religion of Islam with fundamentalist Islam.”
“I oppose Islam as a political project. I am fighting a war against fundamentalist Islamists,” she told gathered reporters.
Islamic dress is a hot-button issue in France, where the full-face veil is banned in public places.
Le Pen’s deputy Florian Philippot swiftly lauded her controversial move.
“A magnificent message of liberty and emancipation sent to the women of France and of the world,” Philippot wrote on Twitter.
After leaving Daryan’s office, Le Pen headed to Bkirki, north of Beirut, to meet Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi.
There, she saluted Lebanon’s “moderate” culture, “created by Christians and Muslims.”
Le Pen had arrived over the weekend and met on Monday with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Kataeb party leader Sami Gemayel.
Le Pen, the National Front leader, is leading polls of voters’ intentions for the first round of France’s presidential election on April 23.
She is running on an anti-immigration and anti-European Union platform; critics say that is a cover for anti-Islamic and anti-foreigner views.
The FN leader called Sunday for the international community to step up humanitarian aid to keep the refugees in Lebanon.
Rival presidential hopeful and former French economy minister Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on January 24, where he met both Aoun and Hariri.
Le Pen has met few top foreign officials since taking control of the FN in 2011. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to meet with her.
And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy have said last week that “a victory of the populists would be the end of Europe,” a clear reference to Le Pen’s call for a referendum on France’s EU membership.