Losers all around in French Muslim council election

June 17, 2011

(Mohamed Moussaoui (4th R), President of the French Muslim council, speaks to the media after a meeting at the prime minister's office in Paris April 26, 2010. UOIF leader Fouad Alaoui is second from the right in the light suit//Gonzalo Fuentes)


Even the winner risks ending up among the losers in France’s Muslim council election on Sunday as the organisation meant to represent Islam here is torn apart by rivalries, boycotts and bitter attacks. Incumbent Mohammed Moussaoui will be returned as head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), but a boycott by the two rival Muslim federations competing with his Rally of French Muslims (RMF) group makes the victory a hollow one.

The campaign has also fuelled the ethnic tensions crippling French Islam, which is split among factions backed by Algeria, Morocco and Turkey and others who oppose any meddling from the Muslim countries that they or their forefathers left behind.

“This CFCM will start off an empty shell and continue to run on empty,” Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, told Lyon Capitale magazine after announcing he was boycotting the election. “It risks dying a quiet death.”

The curious voting method used, which allocates electoral college delegates to each federation according to the total floor space of its mosques around the country, was the reason Moussaoui’s rivals gave for the boycott.

“Faith has never been measured by the square metre,” declared Dalil Boubakeur, leader of the Algerian-backed Grand Mosque of Paris (GMP) federation and head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) from its start in 2003 until 2008. The third major federation, the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood, urged a delay in the vote until the system could be reformed. But the government insisted it go ahead, so they also pulled out.

The broader reason for the boycott is that French Muslims of Moroccan origin, although fewer than those with an Algerian background, are generally more devout and — with encouragement from Rabat and Moussaoui’s RMF — are building more mosques.

That extra floor space means more voting delegates for the RMF and an automatic majority for the Moroccans — something Algiers wants to avoid. The UOIF, with no single sponsor abroad, has long opposed what it calls this foreign interference.

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