EghtesadOnline: French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen stirred controversy on the second day of her trip to Lebanon, refusing to wear a headscarf to meet a top Islamic leader and pledging to restore ties with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if elected.
Officials at the Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon’s highest Sunni authority, said Le Pen had been told in advance she’d need to put on a headscarf before meeting Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian. Reminded again on arriving at his Beirut headquarters, she refused and left. “Dar al-Fatwa regrets this inappropriate behavior,” the council said in a statement.
According to Bloomberg, Le Pen disputed she broke a prior agreement. “I told them Monday that I wasn’t going to wear a headscarf. They didn’t cancel the meeting and so I therefore assumed that they had then accepted that I wouldn’t be wearing a headscarf,” she told reporters after the incident, according to Agence France-Presse.
She reportedly also told her hosts that she hadn’t worn a veil when meeting Egypt’s Grand Mufti of al-Azhar in May 2015, and she would not do so now, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported.
The National Front candidate arrived in Beirut Monday, her first major foreign policy foray of the election campaign, and held talks with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and several Christian leaders. She is scheduled to meet with the head of the Maronite Christian Church Patriarch Beshara al-Rai. Lebanon is a former French protectorate.
In an interview with L’Orient-Le Jour released Tuesday, Le Pen pledged to restore France’s relationship with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if elected president.
“With geopolitics, one must often make the choice in favor of the lesser evil and for me, the lesser evil is Bashar al-Assad," the Lebanese newspaper quoted her as saying. On Monday, Le Pen told Hariri that in her opinion the only realistic alternative to Assad was a Syria ruled by Islamic State. The French government insists Assad must leave office to establish peace in Syria, while saying it’s willing to talk to his government to arrange a transition.
Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah is fighting in Syria alongside Assad’s troops, a military intervention that Aoun supports and the Sunni majority party headed by Hariri opposes.
While polls show Le Pen ahead in first-round support, no surveys so far have shown her close to a victory in May’s run-off.