BEIRUT â€” France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen refused Tuesday to go into a meeting with Lebanon’s grand mufti on Tuesday after his aides asked her to wear a headscarf.
Le Pen, who is on a three-day visit to Lebanon this week and has met senior officials, was scheduled to meet with Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim religious authority.
Shortly after she arrived at his office Tuesday morning, one of his aides handed her out a white headscarf to put on. Following a discussion that lasted few minutes, she refused and walked toward her car and left.
Le Pen has tried to raise her international profile and press her pro-Christian stance with her visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate.
On Monday, she met with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, declaring that Syrian President Bashar Assad was “the most reassuring solution for France.” She also said the best way to protect minority Christians is to “eradicate” the Islamic State group preying on them â€” not turn them into refugees.
On Tuesday, after walking away from the meeting with Derian, she said that before it, she had told the cleric’s office that she was not planning to don a veil during the encounter and was not told not to come.
“They didn’t cancel the meeting so I thought they would accept the fact that I wouldn’t wear one,” she said. “They tried to impose it upon me, make it a matter of fact. You can’t put me before a matter of fact.”
She later met with the Maronite patriarch, Bechara Boutros Rai, and Christian rightwing leader Samir Geagea.
The office of Lebanon’s mufti issued a statement saying that Le Pen was told in advance through one of her aides that she will have to put a headscarf during the meeting with the mufti.
“This is the protocol” at the mufti’s office, the statement said. It detailed how the mufti’s aides tried to give her the headscarf and that Le Pen refused to take it.
“The mufti’s office regrets this inappropriate behaviour in such meetings,” the statement said.
Le Pen said she had met in the past with Egypt’s Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar, the head of the Sunni world’s most prestigious learning institute, without wearing a veil. Photos of Le Pen with Ahmed al-Tayeb in 2015 in Cairo show her with the cleric without a veil.
Le Pen’s refusal on Tuesday to don a headscarf would be in line with her strong support for French secularism, and a proposal in her presidential platform. French law bans headscarves in the public service and for high school pupils.
Le Pen’s proposal aims to extend a 2004 law banning headscarves and other “ostentatious” religious symbols in classrooms to all public spaces. While the 2004 law covers all religions, it is aimed at Muslims.
Later, a group of Lebanese held a small protest in Beirut against Le Pen’s visit. One protester raised a drawing of Le Pen’s between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump, with “Neo-fascists” emblazoned underneath.
Associated Press writers Andrea Rosa in Beirut and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.
Hussein Malla, The Associated Press