French far-right leader meeting with Egyptian religious leader blasted
Egypt’s highest Sunni religious leader has come under fire after meeting with the leader of France’s far-right Front National.
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, head of al-Azhar mosque and university, held talks last Thursday with Marine Le Pen, a hopeful in France’s 2017 presidential elections who famously compared Islamic prayers in the streets of Paris to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.
Le Pen’s visit to Cairo was unscheduled, and was not coordinated by the French embassy there.
During the meeting, Tayyeb upbraided Le Pen over her stance towards Islam, Egypt’s state-owned daily al-Ahram reported.
Tayyeb, who has publicly pledged his support to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, reportedly demanded that the far right leader revise her “incorrect” views on Islam and do more to combat Islamophobia, in hopes of stemming the tide of French Muslims leaving to join militant groups.
However, a statement issued by the Front National after the meeting, said that the meeting aimed at exploring “all possible avenues for future co-operation against Salafism [a conservative strand of Islamic thought] and all the radical currents of Islam”.
During her visit to Cairo, Le Pen also met with the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria.
Addressing the press after her meeting, Le Pen praised Sisi and said that the Muslim Brotherhood shares similar ideology to that of Islamic State.
“President Sisi is one of the leaders who has the clearest message against extremism,” Le Pen told reporters in Cairo on Sunday.
"The choice for the Front National is clear: to support countries fighting against fundamentalism, first and foremost Egypt.”
According to the French press, Le Pen is keen to meet with Sisi and convey her message of support in person.
However, Le Pen’s support for Sisi was not reported by Egypt’s state press.
Since taking over power in 2013, Sisi has pursued a bloody crackdown against the opposition, both secular and religious, focusing on the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Hundreds of the group’s supporters have been killed, and thousands are currently imprisoned. The Brotherhood’s ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, was recently sentenced to death for his part in the 2011 revolution.
During his time in power, Sisi has also battled growing militancy in the remote and restive province of Sinai, which has seen scores of police and army personnel killed in bombings.
Le Pen recently ousted her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, from the leadership of the Front National, and is attempting to rebrand the party, expressing her support for gay rights and distancing herself from party supporters who don Nazi uniforms to attend rallies.
Observers say her visit to Cairo could be part of this rebranding exercise in the run-up to the 2017 elections.
Nadim Houry, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s MENA programme, criticised the visit, citing a long tradition of far-right European leaders meeting with “Arab dictators”.