by Andrew Jay Rosenbaum
With significant support before last month’s local elections, France’s new Muslim party is beginning to make headway among the country’s seven million Muslims, the party’s founder told the Anadolu Agency.
“We expect to show sufficient support to participate in the upcoming presidential elections,” Najib Azergui, who established the Democratic Union for Muslims of France (DUMF) three years ago, said.
As well as aiming to repeal France’s ban on the veil for women, the party, which has about 1,000 registered members and 3,000 associate members, includes support for Turkey’s EU bid among its main policy platforms.
“Turkey is a democratic country with no official religion, just like France,” Azergui told AA on Monday. “Turkey’s membership in the EU would help to stabilize EU relations with the Caucasus and the Middle East. Since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, Turkey is a key player in its region.”
The DUMF shares the values of a republican and non-religious state, he said, adding: “Our party has nothing to do with those who intend to impose sharia law or, in any way, to make laws about religion.”
On the contrary, the party’s agenda is based on dispelling anti-Muslim measures and attitudes in French law and society.
The first attempt to launch a Muslim party, in Strasbourg in 1997, saw the party win around 1 percent of the vote at legislative elections.
“But the party leader displayed an overt anti-semitism and extremism that soon made him unpopular,” according to Mohamed Latahy, a former director of the Grand Mosque of Strasbourg, in an article published in the Liberation newspaper at the time.
Azergui insists his party has distanced itself from such sentiment. “We began working to found our party in 2004 after the French government made laws against wearing the veil in schools and against Muslim prayer in the streets,” he said.
“Our object is to oppose such legislation and to give a political voice to the seven million Muslims who live in France. But we work entirely within the political system and share French republican values.
“It is difficult being a Muslim in France. Our party works to make conditions better.”
Asked if a non-Muslim could join the party, Azergui said: “Of course, just as a non-Christian may join the French Christian Democrat party.”
While the party’s membership is limited compared to France’s other political players, the party’s impact on French politics goes beyond its size.
DUMF candidates at last month’s local elections were generating support from around 8 percent of voters, according to polls conducted before the election. However, before this support could be realized, the leadership decided to withdraw all of its candidates.
“The candidates were concerned about being stigmatized within their communities,” Azergui said. “There was a wave of anti-Muslim reaction to the announcement of their candidacies.”
The Socialist Party’s Jean-Christophe Cambadelis denounced the DUMF as a sign of the “desecularization of our political life,” in a television interview in March. Reactions the far-right National Front were harsher, with one statement calling the formation of a Muslim party an “attack on the very foundations of the French state.”
Azergui shrugs off these attacks. “We have every intention of running a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections and we hope this will bring our platform to the fore.”
As Azergui points out, there is currently a debate underway, kickstarted by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in February, about the “organization” of France’s Muslim community. This has led to a whole range of debates from considering increased mosque construction to the education of imams.
As the Muslim community confronts these issues, Azergui believes his party, with its republican political commitment, will have much to offer.