Start-up Muslim Party Eyes Local Ballots to Make Its Name in France

France 24, February 12, 2015

The Union of French Muslim Democrats (UDMF) has said it hopes to field candidates in eight cities in French elections next month, a modest objective for a young party with big ambitions.

The UDMF this week filed applications to run two candidates in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny as part of local elections in March, French media reported on Thursday. The relatively new political party said it planned to do the same in seven other ballot races, including in Marseille, Lyon and Nice.

Najib Azergui, who founded the UDMF in 2012, told the daily Le Parisian that his group wanted to give a voice to the country’s sizeable Muslim community, which struggles to find itself represented in the country’s mainstream parties.

Azergui, who teaches computer technology, denies that his party wants to implement Islamic sharia law in France. He said Islam was completely compatible with democratic values, pointing to France’s well-established Christian Democratic Party as an example of a political group with principles rooted in religion.

He admitted his group remains a marginal one on the French political landscape, with only around 900 members. He hopes the local elections in March, which will include over 2,000 separate races across the country, will help draw attention to the party and swell its ranks.

Headscarves in school

Hocine Hebbali, 32, became the party’s first–and so far only–member elected to public office, winning a seat as a city councilor in Bobigny last year.

The UDMF says it supports using Islamic banking practices to decrease France’s bloated public debt and says the country should invest in the halal food industry as a way to create jobs.

The party wants to repeal France’s 11-year-old ban on headscarves in schools and backs Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, according to the group’s website.

The group’s existence is ignored by most French voters, but its appearance on a handful of ballots in March will likely raise eyebrows. Famed French author Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel “Submission,” which envisions France ruled by a Muslim party in 2022, sparked a media storm when it hit bookshelves last year.

Speaking to France Inter radio after his novel’s release, Houellebecq said a Muslim party “made a lot of sense”, pointing out that Muslims were dangerously unrepresented in mainstream politics.

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