Marine Le Pen, leader of France's far-right political party Front National, canceled a meeting on Tuesday with Lebanon's Grand Mufti because she refused to wear a Muslim headscarf to the scheduled meeting.
Le Pen, a frontrunner in the French presidential election, is visiting Lebanon in an attempt to garner support before the first round of French elections this year on April 23. Many fled Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war from 1975-1990 and became French citizens and maintain the ability to vote in French elections.
Le Pen told reporters she was not expecting the demand that she must wear a headscarf, and she had met with grand muftis in other countries without a problem. "I met the grand mufti of Al-Azhar," she said, referencing a trip she made to Egypt in 2015 when she met with the Muslim cleric and did not have to cover up. "The highest Sunni authority didn't have this requirement, but it doesn't matter."
"You can pass on my respects to the grand mufti, but I will not cover myself up," Le Pen said, although a spokesman for Lebanon Grand Mufti Abdel Latif Derian told CNN that Le Pen was informed of the headscarf requirement before the meeting was scheduled to take place.
"I personally greeted her at the door of the Edict House and wanted to hand her a white headscarf that was in my hand, she refused to take it," spokesman Khaldoun Awas said. "I urged her to put it on, she refused and said she would not put it on and walked out without attending the previously agreed upon meeting with the Mufti. The Edict House regrets such inappropriate behavior at such meetings."
Current law in France prohibits public officials or high-school students from wearing headscarves, citing the separation of church and state and women's rights. Le Pen has stated that if elected, she wants to ban headscarves from being worn in public places altogether.
Vice President of the Front National party, Florian Philippot, tweeted in French after Le Pen's refusal Tuesday, praising her decision. "In Lebanon, Marine refuses to wear the veil. A beautiful message of freedom and emancipation sent to women in France and the world!"
Members of the Swedish government, which is the self-proclaimed "First Femnist Government" in the world, were criticized for donning a hijab for a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week.