Muslim headscarves took center stage in France’s presidential campaign on Friday as far-right candidate Marine Le Pen again pushed to ban them should she take office on April 24.
As both Le Pen and her rival President Emmanuel Macron prepared for the election runoff next weekend, they were confronted by women in headscarves who asked why their clothing choices should be so controversial.
At a farmers’ market in the southern town of Pertuis, a woman in a blue-and-white head covering approached Le Pen, who defended her position, calling the headscarf a “uniform imposed over time by people who have a radical vision of Islam.”
“That’s not true,” countered the woman. “I started to wear the veil when I was an older woman … For me, it is a sign of being a grandmother.”
Le Pen also claimed that in “some areas” in France, women who do not wear the headscarf are “isolated and judged.”
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the reconstruction site inside the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris
Le Pen proposes fines for wearing headscarves
The far-right candidate, who has moderated her anti-immigration, anti-Islam stance in recent months, still thinks that wearing the Islamic covering in public should be punishable by a fine, like traffic offenses.
Macron too debated a woman in a Muslim headscarf in a lively exchange on France-Info radio on Friday, and sought to distance himself from Le Pen by saying he would not change any laws.
However, he defended an existing ban on headscarves in schools as part of France’s secular principles.
The woman, Sara El Attar, said she had felt insulted by earlier comments by Macron where he’d suggested that headscarves destabilize relations between men and women.
The incumbent president has previously been accused of stoking prejudice against Muslims over his tough stance on what the government calls “radical Islamism.”
After a spate of attacks in late 2020, blamed on radical Islamists, Macron forced through a series of measures to limit its spread in France.
Watch video 02:18 Emmanuel Macron wins first round of elections
Muslim vote could secure Macron’s second term
But he is clearly aware that France’s roughly five million Muslims, who make up almost 9% of the population, could decide the second round of the presidential election.
According to a survey by the Ifop pollster, 69% of Muslim voters in the first round opted for third-placed candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Wooing those voters is seen as crucial for Macron to be assured of victory in round two.
While polls indicate Macron is ahead they also point to a far tighter race than in their previous runoff in 2017.
Carmaker CEO’s pay stokes controversy
Meanwhile, the issue of excessive executive pay also sparked condemnation from both candidates on Friday.
Revelations that Franco-Italian carmaker Stellantis’ paid its CEO, Carlos Tavares, around €19 million ($20.5 million) in 2021 stoked public anger at the time of a cost of living crisis.
Tavares also received a stock package worth some additional €32 million and a long term compensation of about €25 million.
Stellantis was formed last year from the merger of French carmaker PSA and Italian-US rival Fiat Chrysler, creating the world’s fourth-biggest automaker.
“We’re talking about astronomical sums here … we should put a cap on these, this could work if we act at a European level,” Macron told Franceinfo.
“People can’t have purchasing power problems, difficulties and anxiety in their lives and see sums like this,” Macron said, adding that otherwise “society going to blow up.”
Le Pen echoed his comments, saying the revelation was “shocking.”
“It’s even more shocking when it’s a CEO who has put the company in difficulty and gets considerable sums,” she told BFM television, and called for the expansion of employee stock schemes.
The company said in a statement that the group had gone from near bankruptcy to a leading position under Tavares’ leadership.
It added that Tavares’ pay was 90% variable depending on company performance and lower than at rivals GM and Ford.
mm/kb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)