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  • National Front's President Marine Le Pen adopted a more centrist stance on Islam than her father and founder of the party, opening the door to funding from the Middle East.

    National Front's President Marine Le Pen adopted a more centrist stance on Islam than her father and founder of the party, opening the door to funding from the Middle East. | Photo: AFP

Published 27 October 2016

As the French far right desperately tries to find funding for the presidential campaign, secular Muslim states have been tipped as possible options.

France's far-right National Front party led by Marine Le Pen is seeking money from United Arab Emirate sources to fund her current presidential electoral campaign, an in-depth report by French investigative journal Mediapart has revealed.

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The investigation was published a day after two French journalists published a book, titled "Nos Tres Chers Emirs" (Our Dearest Emirs), which narrates how Qatar has “bought” the French political elite from the traditional center-right and center-left parties.

As for Le Pen's far-right National Front, its leaders have admitted they are open to funding from the Middle East in light of the 2017 presidential elections.

“We're seeking worldwide (support), everywhere but France, considering that all the banks (in France) have rejected us,” said National Front economic strategist and European Parliament MP Bernard Monot to Mediapart.

Presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen has also justified links to the UAE in the media by denouncing French-Saudi-Qatar ties.

“France needs to cut off its links with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which have helped, supported and funded Islamic fundamentalists across the world,” she told France 24 in Sept. 2014.

“We should seek support from Muslim countries that fight fundamentalism,” she added, before referencing the UAE and Egypt as potential donors.

She reportedly met UAE representatives at her house in Montretout in July 2014, as well as then-Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and other Egyptian political and religious leaders in May 2015.

Le Pen has also praised Russia's fight against jihadism — so far, Russian banks have granted two loans to the party, which amounted to a total of US$12 million in 2014.

Egyptian grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb (R) meets with Marine Le Pen (L), in al-Azhar headquarters in Cairo on May 28, 2015. | Photo: AFP

But in its investigation, Mediapart concluded that both the UAE and Russia were likely disappointed with the National Front's performance in last December's elections, but remain hopeful Le Pen's party could win power in 2017.

As for the UAE, the investigation suggests that supporting the French far right could help the Gulf state develop closer relations with Russia, as they have long wished, while it sets them at loggerheads with Qatar, a country the UAE has long had fraught relations with.

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Politically, the strategy could benefit Marine Le Pen in the upcoming elections as France's diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Qatar have increasingly come under fire, especially since the high-profile terror attacks of January and November 2015.

France's traditional political parties, including President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party, have been accused of indirect responsibility for the terror attacks by some quarters due to the diplomatic relations between France and countries perceived to "fund terrorism."

The recent book “Nos Tres Chers Emirs” also accuses several state officials from the previous government of Nicolas Sarkozy of requesting finances from Qatar to fund party projects and even personal holidays —helping to delegitimize France's traditional parties even further. A former Sarkozy minister, as well as a current Hollande minister, have filed lawsuits against the authors, accusing them of defamation.

Nevertheless, in the case of Le Pen's National Front, any funding from the Middle East — even from Egyptian sources — could alienate supporters from her more radical base, who over recent years, have criticized the fact that the UAE, as much as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are funding the construction of mosques in France.

Ultimately, however, Marine Le Pen's strategy to enlarge her electoral base by appealing to voters outside the traditional far right looks to have paid off in the long-term. Once on the fringes of the French political system, latest polls show that under her leadership the National Front is expected to win the first round of the 2017 presidential election with 25-30 percent of the vote.

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