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New French Muslim Council leader pledges reform

Latest update : 2008-06-22

Mohammed Moussaoui was elected on Sunday to lead France's official Muslim council. The imam will seek to reform an organization that has been crippled by internal power struggles.

PARIS - France's official Muslim council elected a new leadership on Sunday that promised to tackle problems left mostly unresolved for five years because of power struggles that stymied its former administration.


Mohammed Moussaoui of the Moroccan-backed Rally of French Muslims (RMF) took over as president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), founded in 2003 to represent what is now the second-largest faith in France after Roman Catholicism.


The RMF had won 43.2 percent in the first round of voting on June 8, ahead of the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) at 30.2 percent and a Turkish mosque network at 12.7 percent. The Paris Grand Mosque network boycotted the poll.


Moussaoui, an imam and mathematics lecturer at the University of Avignon, announced a reform of the CFCM but avoided any public criticism of its former head, Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Algerian-backed Paris Grand Mosque.


"The way the CFCM bureau used to work was not optimal," he told journalists after the administrative committee voted by 72 percent to accept a single list with him as president and three vice-presidents.

Chems-eddine Hafiz of the Paris Grand Mosque was one of the three vice-presidents, a sign it was not isolated after having boycotted the first round of the election in protest at the voting system based on the size of prayer space in mosques.


Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie congratulated Moussaoui in a letter expressing the hope the new leadership could tackle problems such as "the haj pilgrimage, halal meat (certification) and mosque construction."


French Muslims have complained about unscrupulous travel agents for the haj pilgrimage to Mecca, meat falsely labelled as having been slaughtered according to Islamic norms or difficulties in constructing mosques for their communities.


In an unusual step, Moussaoui published an action programme outlining those and other issues he wanted the CFCM to deal with to help better integrate the country's five million Muslims -- the largest Islamic minority in Europe -- into French life.


A major problem facing the CFCM is financing. The government helped set up in 2005 a foundation that would accept donations from Muslims in France and abroad to finance the CFCM and its projects, but political rivalries have paralysed it.


That body still reflects the old leadership structure of the CFCM, with Boubakeur at its head, and CFCM officials said these rivalries could continue to block it from taking action.


Moussaoui said he hoped for change there as well, but did not spell out what could be done.


"We are counting on Dalil Boubakeur to give the CFCM the means to function," he said.

Date created : 2008-06-22