The ongoing debate in France about headscarves for religious purposes has taken another twist, this time in Lebanon. Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen canceled a meeting scheduled for Tuesday with one of Lebanon’s top Muslim leaders because she refused to wear a headscarf.
Le Pen was due to meet with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, who is the top cleric for Sunni Muslims in the country. However, after Le Pen arrived at the Grand Mufti’s office, she was offered a headscarf by an aide and told that it was customary in Lebanon.
Le Pen reportedly returned to her car and said that she had previously met with the grand mufti of Al-Azhar in Egypt without wearing a headscarf.
“You can pass on my respects to the grand mufti, but I will not cover myself up,” Le Pen said, according to Reuters.
The grand mufti’s office said that it was surprised by Le Pen's reaction because her staff had been already told about the headscarf requirement.
“The mufti's office regrets this inappropriate behavior in such meetings,” the leader's press office said in a statement.
Le Pen’s two-day visit to France’s former colony has been seen as a way to boost her foreign policy image as well as target the votes of French citizens of Lebanese descent, many who fled to France following a civil war.
The headscarf debate has been swirling in France for some time and headscarf restrictions are viewed by many French conservatives as upholding secularism. Le Pen plans to ban Muslim headscarves in all public spaces in France. The country already prohibits public service employees and high school students from wearing headscarves.
In the midst of the recent terrorist attack in the country, a number of cities and municipalities also banned women from wearing the “burkini,” a bathing suit that covers the body and the face and is popular with Muslim women.
France will hold its first round of presidential elections in April, and Le Pen’s National Front Party has seen an upsurge in support for her anti-immigration and eurosceptic platform.
Le Pen has proposed leaving the euro zone, taxing imports and on-the-job contracts for foreigners, lowering the retirement age and making foreigners pay for their children to go to schools free to French citizens.
Le Pen is not the first politician to refuse to wear a headscarf while visiting another country. Other female political figures, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. First Ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused controversy by refusing to wear headscarves while visiting Saudi Arabia.