'Ostentatious Religious Signs' Aren't Welcome in French Political Ads, Ruling Party Leader Says

The head of French President Emmanuel Macron's centrist LREM party said on Tuesday "ostentatious religious signs" are not welcome in French political advertisements after a poster showed candidate Sara Zemmahi wearing a white Muslim headscarf for local upcoming elections in the city of Montpellier, the Associated Press reported.

Ruling party leader Stanislas Guerini said that his party would not support Zemmahi, who is a quality engineer, after the party's previous backing of her. The advertisement for the June 20 and 27 elections showed Zemmahi and alongside another female and two male candidates under a slogan that said "Different But United For You," that showed they represent the "presidential majority."

"We consider that ostentatious religious signs don't have their place on posters, whatever the religion," Guerini said to local radio station TRL.

Muslim headscarves are banned in French classrooms, but they are not prohibited from being worn in public or on campaign advertisements.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Stanislas Guerini
LREM's general delegate Stanislas Guerini arrives for a meeting of political parties on COVID-19 response with French Prime Minister Jean Castex, in Paris on October 21, 2020. Guerini said Tuesday that “ostentatious religious signs” such as Muslim headscarves are not welcome in political campaign advertisements. Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

France's long-standing debate over the Muslim headscarf has landed in a local political race, giving it a national message.

"I'm frankly pained by the decision," Mahfoud Benali, the lead candidate on the list for a district in the southern city of Montpellier, said Wednesday of the move by Macron's party to refuse support for Zemmahi from his list.

Zemmahi was on a work trip and not immediately available to comment, Benali said on a TV talk show on Channel 8.

The decision, which drew criticism from some members of Macron's own party, underscored the divisiveness of the debate, and secularism, and how it may play out in politics before next year's presidential vote. Macron is expected to try to renew his mandate, and, if so, could find himself in a repeat of the 2017 race, facing off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

It was a tweet of the poster by the No. 2 official in Le Pen's National Rally party, Jordan Bardella, that brought the issue into the public eye, along with his remark: "That's the fight against separatism," a reference to Macron's priority effort to rid France of political Islam and extremists.

In a later tweet, Bardella said the Muslim headscarf is "contrary to all our values" and his National Rally party "will forbid it in public." He was clearly making a reference to an eventual victory of Le Pen in next year's presidential race.