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Sunday, 19 September 2021

Hijab-wearing candidate sparks debate in France

Duration: 02:57s 0 shares 3 views

Hijab-wearing candidate sparks debate in France
Hijab-wearing candidate sparks debate in France

A hijab-wearing candidate dropped by President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party has sparked a national row in France over identity.

Emily Wither has her story.

The candidate and her hijab.

Sara Zemmahi has learnt the hard way that identity matters in France's local elections - Sparking a national row over what it means to be French.

The laboratory technician was running to be a local councillor for President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party.

That was until last month when it withdrew its backing.

Her transgression: wearing her hijab in a campaign poster.

The 26-year-old and the three other candidates who had been on the same ticket are now running as independents in the southern city of Montpellier.

They also have a new slogan "Different but united for you".

"Now all of France knows the stance of LaRem (Macron's party).

For us, we'll continue without the party's support, and we're not giving up." The fallout erupted after the far-right seized upon the image as proof Macron was weak on protecting France's secular values.

In her first interview since she became embroiled in the national debate over the role of Islam in France, Zemmahi says she wants to focus on promoting equal opportunities and fighting discrimination.

"It's a non-issue for all four of us, we've not questioned ourselves about that, whether to wear the hijab or not, we're really here for 'Different, but united for you'.

I'm not a spokesperson for any (religious) cause." However, across much of France the hijab is an issue.

Zemmahi's campaign photo split Macron's party, reflecting deep divisions over how secular laws should be applied.

This is after Islam emerged as the country's second-biggest religion behind Catholicism.

For supporters of a strict interpretation of laïcité, France's version of secularism – Islamic headwear has become a symbol of the politicization of Islam, subjugation and resistance to the Republic's vision of French identity.

Laïcité and identity will be central to the campaign battle ahead of the 2022 presidential vote.

Opinion polls show far-right leader Marine Le Pen will be Macron's biggest challenger.

Mahfoud Benali, who heads Zemmahi's ticket, says France is changing.

"My message very clear.

It is that the Republic must not exclude anyone.

The Republic is based on laws, for me the Republic represents the emancipation of women and we have to stop deciding for women.

Sara is a free woman she does what she wants with her life." French law does not prohibit wearing the hijab or other religious symbols in images on election fliers.

But Macron’s party line was that there should be no place for overt displays of religious symbols on electoral campaign documents.