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POLITICS

Surprise duo in France’s rightwing primary runoff

Former prime minister Francois Fillon's stunning upset in France's rightwing primary set up a run-off duel with another ex-premier, Alain Juppe, that is widely expected to decide the country's next leader.

Surprise duo in France's rightwing primary runoff
Juppe, left, and Fillon. Photo: AFP
By leap-frogging to first place in the first round of the primary, Fillon caused the elimination from the nominating contest of his former boss, ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
   
Following are profiles of the two men who will contest next Sunday's runoff:
 
Francois Fillon 
 
The pro-business, reform-minded Fillon, 62, has campaigned as a compromise candidate, with more bite than the moderate Juppé but less punch than the pugnacious Sarkozy.
   
As premier under Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012, Fillon's unflappable demeanourmade him an antidote to his frenetic former boss.
   
He is best remembered for having warned about the dangers of running a big budget deficit a year before the 2008 eurozone debt crisis.
   
The eurozone's second-biggest economy was “bankrupt”, he declared — remarks he pointed to in campaigning as proof that he was a politician who pulls no punches.
   
Fillon, who became the youngest member of the French parliament at age 27 in 1981, went on to hold several ministerial portfolios under Jacques Chirac.
 
Fillon and Juppé knock out Sarkozy in French primary
   
Fillon has promised far-reaching reforms to kickstart the moribund economy.
 
He has pledged to cut 600,000 civil service jobs and increase the working week from 35 to 39 hours.
   
On social issues, the father of five who is married to a Welsh woman tacked to the right of both Sarkozy and Juppé, vowing to amend a 2013 law on gay marriage to prevent adoptions by same-sex couples.
   
He has also announced plans to reduce immigration to a “strict minimum”.
 
Alain Juppé 
 
Juppé, 71, has campaigned as a moderate and a sage who will unify a country divided by a deep economic malaise and a wave of jihadist attacks.
   
The man with the longest CV in French politics had stints as foreign and defence minister under his vanquished arch-rival Sarkozy.
 
Painting Sarkozy as a “prophet of doom”, Juppé has said he wants to be a “prophet of happiness”, risking ridicule in a country renowned for its pessimism.
   
“The French people need more than ever to unite to turn the page on a disastrous five years (under Socialist President Francois Hollande) … and to create a bulwark against” the far right National Front of Marine Le Pen, Juppé said after securing his second-place finish.
 
 
One of France's most popular politicians, the longtime mayor of Bordeaux was the frontrunner for the centre-right's nomination until a late surge by Fillon.
   
Tall, balding and considered a bit stiff by many, Juppé has reached out to the vast majority of Muslims who embrace France's secular values.
   
His messages have been aimed at the virtually rudderless left as well as the centre.
   
Juppé was the budget minister for two years in 1996-98 and foreign minister for the first time from 1993 to 1995, during France's involvement in wars in the former Yugoslavia.
   
He spent several years in the political wilderness after a party funding scandal in 2004, in which he was seen as the fall guy for his mentor Chirac.
   
Juppé was convicted and given a suspended jail sentence that forced him out of office for two years.
   
Resigning his posts as parliamentary deputy and Bordeaux mayor, Juppé handed the leadership of the centre-right UMP party — now the Republicans — to Sarkozy, who used it as his springboard for the presidency.
   
Juppé went to teach in Canada before returning to be re-elected mayor of Bordeaux in October 2006.
   
He has sought to shrug off a reputation as a detached technocrat two decades after his 1995 reform agenda sparked the largest protest movement France had seen since May 1968.
   
Juppé says he is a “changed” man and now more open to dialogue.
 
By the AFP's Adam Plowrights and Clare Byrne

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POLITICS

EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?

As Iranian women burn their hijabs in protest at the country's repressive laws you might have heard people contrasting this to the French 'hijab ban' - but is the Muslim headscarf actually banned in France?

EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?

What are the rules? Does France have a hijab ban?

No, France does not have a ban on hijabs in public spaces. However, the rules differ when it comes to headscarves and full-face coverings and this can be confusing because both the full-face veil and the Muslim headscarf are often referred to a voile in French.

In 2010, the country brought in a complete ban on clothing that includes full-face coverings – including the burka and niqab. These cannot be worn in any public space in France, at risk of a €150 fine.

The hijab or headscarf, however, is completely legal in public spaces including shops, cafés and the streets and it’s common to see women wearing them, especially in certain areas of the big cities like Paris.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no restriction on women’s freedom to wear the Muslim headscarf.

In line with France’s laws on laïcité (secularism) it is forbidden to wear overt symbols of religion – including the Muslim headscarf – in government buildings, including schools and universities (with the exception of visitors).

Public officials such as teachers, firefighters or police officers are also barred from wearing any overt symbol of their religion while they are at work.

In 2004, President Jacques Chirac’s government banned all religious signs from state schools. While the law also banned crucifixes and kippas, “it was mostly aimed at girls wearing Muslim headscarves,” explained The Local’s columnist, John Lichfield.

Burkinis are also subject to certain rules. They are not allowed in public swimming pools in France where there are strict regulations regarding dress (Speedos only for men and compulsory swimming caps), but they are allowed on beaches and in other public spaces.

READ MORE: Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

This became a source of controversy during the summer of 2022, when Grenoble challenged the ban on the full-body swimsuit by relaxing its rules on the swimwear permitted in public pools.

In response to the challenge, France’s highest administrative court voted to uphold the countrywide ban in June. 

What about in athletics?

Some federations, such as the French Football Federation, have banned players from wearing the hijab, along with other “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Jewish kippa.

A women’s collective known as “les Hijabeuses” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year.

Other sports, such as handball and rugby, have a more open position.

Are there plans to change these rules? 

Currently, there are no government plans to reverse the ban on full-face coverings including the burka and niqab or to allow the symbols of religion in public buildings, like schools.

There have been attempts to change the current legal framework on the headscarf, however.

In 2021, Senators proposed an to the government’s “anti-separatism bill” that would ban girls under 18 wearing a hijab in public. Several other amendments also targeted Muslim women – such as banning mums from wearing the hijab when accompanying school trips – however these were all defeated in the Assemblée nationale and therefore did not become law.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

Are the rules followed?

The rules around the niqab are generally followed and it has become quite rare in France.

However sociologist Agnès De Féo, believes that in the years following its ban, the full-face covering became more popular, rather than less.

She wrote that “the law had an incentive effect: it incited women to transgress the ban by embracing the prohibited object. Prohibition made the niqab more desirable and created a craze among some young women to defy the law.”

As of 2020, however, fewer women wore the niqab and burka in France than they did in 2009.

The rules around the wearing the headscarf in public buildings are generally respected, but it’s not uncommon for rules around any form of Muslim dress to be over-zealously interpreted – sometimes by accident, sometimes with a cynical political intent.

One key example was in 2019, when Julien Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage after posting a video of himself confronting a headscarf-wearing woman who accompanied students on a field trip.

He cited “secular principles” – arguing that the headscarf’s ban in schools should also extend into school trips.

In response, the country’s Education Minister at the time, Jean-Michel Blanquer, clarified that that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children.”

There was also controversy at election time over candidates who appeared on posters wearing the hijab, although again this is perfectly legal and doe snot contravene secular principles. 

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