Marine Le Pen, the leader of Front National, is on a two-day visit to Lebanon, formerly a French colony in the Middle East. Le Pen is one of the front-runners in the Presidential election due to be held in April this year.
Le Pen has meet with the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, a Christian, in her first official meeting with a foreign head of state. She has also met with the Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri on Monday, and was scheduled to talk with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian.
However, Le Pen refused to wear a headscarf during the meeting. “I met the grand mufti of Al-Azhar,” she told reporters, referring to a visit in 2015 to Cairo’s 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning. “The highest Sunni authority didn’t have this requirement, but it doesn’t matter. You can pass on my respects to the grand mufti, but I will not cover myself up,” she said.
The cleric’s press office said that Le Pen’s aides had been previously informed that a headscarf was required for a meeting and that they are surprised by her refusal.
Yet, Le Pen is known for her ardent defense of France’s secularism. During past years, she has drawn controversy with her statements that many consider anti-Islamic. In 2010, she denounced people praying in the streets and likened it to the Nazi occupation of France.
“I’m sorry, but for those who really like to talk about the Second World War, if we’re talking about occupation, we could talk about that (street prayers), because that is clearly an occupation of the territory”,. she said in 2010 during a rally in Lyon.
“It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of neighbourhoods in which religious law applies, it is an occupation. There are no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is an occupation anyhow, and it weighs on people.”
Le Pen was eventually put on trial because of her statements,and was charged of inciting racial hated.
In another occasion, Le Pen said she would ban pork free meals in public schools, but otherwise stated she is not against Islam, but Islamic fundamentalism. Le Pen also condemned Western alliances with Gulf states, that she says, support terrorism.
After a meeting with Hariri on Monday, Le Pen said that Assad is the ‘only viable solution’ for preventing ISIS from taking power in Syria.
“I explained clearly that … Bashar al-Assad was obviously today a much more reassuring solution for France than Islamic State would be if it came to power in Syria,” she told reporters.
However, her stance is at odds with official French policy on the Syrian conflict. France has been one of the rare countries that backed (unrealized) US military intervention against Syria.
According to polls, Le Pen and the centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, are likely to enter the run-off in May, but few polls give Le Pen a chance to win the presidency.