'Bourguiba banned the hijab in Algeria': Marie Le Pen slammed for confusing Tunisia with Algeria

'Bourguiba banned the hijab in Algeria': Marie Le Pen slammed for confusing Tunisia with Algeria
Le Pen’s inaccurate statement evoked strong reactions on social media, including among members of Emmanuel Macron's campaign, who will face her in the second round of the French presidential elections.
3 min read
13 April, 2022
Lahbib Bourguiba was the first post-independence Tunisian leader. [Getty]

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is facing harsh criticism over her comments during a recent radio interview that mixed up the Algerian and Tunisian former presidents on Tuesday. 

The 53-year-old extremist politician, who recently secured a place for the second round of French elections, attended the France Inter morning show as a part of her political campaign to become the president "of all the French people."

As Le Pen defended her campaign promise of a complete ban on hijab in France's streets, she recalled the measures of President Habib Bourguiba in the 1980s when he banned "radical clothing" in his country.

"Bourguiba has done [a ban] in Algeria," she said. The French-Lebanese Radio host Léa Salamé added, "Yes, but this is not the case today."

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However, Habib Bourguiba was the first post-independence Tunisian leader. He toured the streets of Tunis unveiling hijabi women as part of his women's liberation parade. His ban on "radical clothing", which was lifted in 2011, was only limited to schools and administrations. 

Far from being a democrat, Bourguiba's "feminist" actions won the West's admiration as they heralded him as a vigorous defender of women's rights in the Arab world.

For his part, Eric Zemmour, the so-called "more radical Le Pen", has also used Bouguiba's example during his presidential campaign to justify a similar policy to ban the Islamic veil, though he had correctly noted Bouguiba was Tunisian. 

Hijab is already banned in French schools and administrations, but Le Pen vows to extend the ban onto the streets and public transport.

Le Pen's inaccurate statement has evoked many reactions on social media, including some from the campaign of Emmanuel Macron, her opponent in the second round and the current president of France.

"Not content with wanting to stigmatise [hijab] by banning the veil, Marine Le Pen explained this morning that it was banned in Algeria by Habib Bourguiba, former President of...Tunisia! Still incompetent," tweeted yesterday Ambroise Méjean, head of "Les Jeunes avec Macron," the official youth wing of Macron's campaign.

On his part, Macron has warned that Le Pen's proposed ban on the Islamic headscarf "will divide the country", but he said he hoped women would "let go of the veil themselves."

Several social media users have argued that Le Pen's "mistake" was rooted in the French colonial discourse that always envisioned North African countries as a monolithic "Maghreb", with no care or sensitivity towards their diversity and historical legacy.

"Well, according to her they are the same. [There's] no difference between TUNISIA and ALGERIA. In the end, they are two countries of colonies. What misfortune," tweeted one Tunisian user in French.

Marine Le Pen is set to face Emmanuel Macron on April 24 in the second round of French elections. France witnessed a similar scenario in 2017 when Macron won the presidency with a decisive margin against Le Pen.

The end of this year's presidential deja-vu scenario is far from being decisive since Macron lost his "fresh political notoriety" after five years of political hardship that were plagued with massive protests and scandals.

Meanwhile, the support for far-right parties has surged in France.