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Sarkozy’s Islam comments poorly timed 23, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in French IR, Middle East, Qatar.
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French Emperor President Nicholas Sarkozy has controversially stated that the Islamic Burka is not welcome in France:

The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it’s a problem of liberty and women’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That’s not our idea of freedom.

Many worry that overt symbols of Islam such as the Burka or girls wearing the Veil in schools (as well as anyone wearing any religious symbolism in schools) threaten France’s secular nature.

These comments come, however, during the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Hamad Al Thani, to France. Qatar is something of a confusing country. Outwardly, they host Al Jazeera, allow alcohol consumption in the state, invite Western Universities to Doha to teach their children, but they are intrinsically a conservative country and follow the strict, much maligned Wahhabi version of Islam, as in Saudi Arabia. Conservative or not, such comments are sure to be provocative in a country where France wants to secure lucrative defense and other types of contracts. Indeed, this visit officially celebrates Qatar Airway’s purchase of Airbus aircraft at a time when the aviation industry isn’t far from on its knees.

One wonders how one the one hand Sarkozy wants to tow this hard-line approach at home, sure to anger many Muslims, but also seek to create ever greater links with countries in the Persian Gulf. These links range from establishing a French military base in Abu Dhabi, to supplying the Emirates with fighter- aircraft as well as ‘selling out’, as some French people see it, and allowing the Sorbonne and the Louvre to go to Abu Dhabi. Indeed, it seems like Sarkozy is seeking to let himself have cake and eat it.

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