Embattled French Muslim Council to elect new leaders
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The French Council of the Muslim Faith is moving ahead with a poll to designate new national leaders on Sunday, despite a boycott by France's best-known mosque, the historic Paris Grand Mosque.
(PARIS) - France’s official Muslim Council, paralysed by internal power struggles and facing questions about its usefulness for the country’s second faith, elects a new leadership Sunday in a vote its former head is boycotting.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), founded in 2003 to help develop an “Islam of France” for the 5 million Muslims in France, has done so little to address practical problems that many Muslims dismiss it as an empty shell.
A decision by Paris Grand Mosque Rector Dalil Boubakeur, CFCM head since its creation, to boycott the poll has highlighted the rivalries blocking any progress.
The national body’s record looks even worse compared to some regional councils, or CRCMs, especially the dynamic council in Lyon that has helped construct mosques, appoint prison chaplains and establish Muslim cemeteries and ritual slaughterhouses.
“The CFCM must face up to several challenges because French Muslims expect a lot—maybe too much—from this body that is still stumbling around,” said Azzedine Gaci, head of that CRCM for the Rhone-Alpes region.
Gaci recently produced a 73-page report on his council’s activities since the last vote in 2005. By contrast, the CFCM in Paris still has no working office, website or publications.
STATE NEUTRALITY THIS TIME
The CFCM is split by power struggles among its three main components—mosque networks linked to Algeria and Morocco and a third close to the Muslim Brotherhood—and has been kept together by intervention by the Interior Ministry.
The ministry, which was headed by current President Nicolas Sarkozy when it helped found the CFCM, said in two earlier elections that Boubakeur and his Algerian-backed network must head the CFCM board despite its third-place finish.
When the ministry declined to intervene this time, Boubakeur denounced as absurd the election system, which gives votes to mosque networks according to the floor space of their prayer areas. He said the Grand Mosque would not participate.
Of the groups left in the race, the Rally of French Muslims (RMF) is expected to do well thanks to a concerted drive by Rabat to support its Moroccan mosques in France.
The UOIF tried unsuccessfully to put off the vote to gain time to organise, but other member groups did not agree.
Some analysts see the elections as the start of a new phase in French Muslim affairs. “Boubakeur’s departure marks the end of the historic legitimacy inherited from the colonialist period,” said Sadek Sellam, author of “France and Its Muslims.”
But at the Paris Grand Mosque, a Moorish-style complex built in the 1920s that is still the best-known mosque in France, officials are betting a rump CFCM cannot operate for long.
“It will try for a while but probably reach a point where we will have to reorganise Islam in France,” one said.
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