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05PARIS4644 2005-07-01 13:50:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
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1. (C) Summary: The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM)
held elections June 19, with Interior Minister Sarkozy
lauding an estimated 85% turnout rate. The Morocco-linked
National Federation of French Muslims (FNMF) consolidated its
position as the leading group within the CFCM, winning an
additional three seats to claim 19 of the 43 elected seats on
the administrative council. The fundamentalist-leaning Union
of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF) lost three seats to
put it even at 10 seats each with the moderate Grand Mosque
of Paris, which picked up four seats. The Union of Reunion
Island kept two seats, while the independent Al-Islah Mosque
of Marseille and the Coordination Committee of France's
Turkish Muslims (CCMTF) won one seat each. The CFCM met June
26 to choose a new executive board, reelecting Grand Mosque
of Paris Rector Dalil Boubakeur president -- a move described
in private discussions with Ministry of Interior, FNMF and
UOIF contacts prior to elections as a fait accompli. While
increased participation (1,221 places of worship participated
-- up from 992 in 2003), moderate gains for the Grand Mosque,
and a decline by the UOIF are positive developments for the
CFCM, many problems persist, not the least of which being
that the CFCM represents only a fraction of the estimated 5-6
million Muslims in France. End Summary.

UOIF Strength Wanes


2. (C) Most press headlines describing the CFCM elections
focused on the loss of seats by the fundamentalist-leaning
UOIF, suspected of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Analyses of the election results note the UOIF was unable to
forge the same alliances with independent mosques and other
organizations that it had in 2003, resulting in a loss of
three seats in the administrative council. (Note: Two seats
have been added since the election in 2003. End note.) In a
pre-election meeting with PolOffs, UOIF secretary general
Fouad Alaoui anticipated losing clout, acknowledging that by
joining the CFCM and becoming more mainstream, the UOIF lost
some of its supporters. In another pre-election meeting,
Slimane Nadour, Communications Director at the rival Grand
Mosque of Paris, said the UOIF appeared to be losing ground
within the CFCM and the French Muslim community in general,
and described the UOIF as part of a larger, long-term effort
by the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize moderate Muslim
regimes in the Arab world, such as Algeria and Morocco.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who resorted to everything short of sheer
force in order to bring about the initial CFCM elections
during his first term as Interior Minister in 2003, was
criticized by some at the time of the CFCM's inception for
including more fundamentalist groups like the UOIF. After
the June 19 elections, however, Sarkozy pointed to the UOIF
decline as a vindication of his strategy to moderate French
Islam by including all factions. Some observers warn about
writing off the UOIF, however, noting that they are still
entrenched in regions such as Alsace and Rhone-Alps.

Grand Mosque Improves Standing


3. (C) The Grand Mosque of Paris, linked to Algeria and
representative of a moderate form of Islam, significantly
improved on their dismal, disjointed performance in 2003
(reftel), gaining four seats. However, media reports
indicate that the Grand Mosque used unusual alliances to
secure its gains, including pairing with Turkish orthodox
group Milli Gorus. Their showing puts them on equal footing
with the UOIF on the administrative council and gives comfort
to the GOF.

FNMF Extends Plurality


4. (C) The big winner in the June 19 CFCM elections was the
FNMF, closely linked to the Moroccan government, which
extended its plurality within the CFCM. However, media
reports attribute much of the FNMF's success to pressure
placed on independent mosques by the Moroccan consulates.
Contacts at the Grand Mosque of Paris dismiss the FNMF as
disorganized, and media reports describe the organization as
a loose federation with a great deal of diversity in thought
amongst its partisans. As such, the FNMF remains the least
easily characterized of the leading factions within the CFCM.
In a pre-election meeting with PolOff, FNMF president
Mohamed Benchari stressed his organization encouraged modern
Islam, contextualized Koranic interpretation, and obedience
to the state, stating there was "no contradiction in being a
good Muslim and a good French citizen." However, Benchari's
position within the FNMF is uncertain, with Nadour of the
Grand Mosque of Paris noting that Benchari was well liked by
the Moroccan government, but unpopular in France and within
the FNMF because of his frequent overseas travel and his
widely photographed, 2004 public embrace of exiled Algerian
Islamic Front for Salvation (FIS) leader Abbas Madani -- an
act deemed "unforgivable" to the Grand Mosque.
Boubakeur Reelected President of CFCM


5. (C) Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris,
was reelected June 26 to a two-year term as president of the
CFCM. Although officially elected president along with 16
other executive board members by the 43 member administrative
board of the CFCM, Boubakeur's reelection was described prior
to the June 19th general elections by Ministry of Interior,
FNMF, and UOIF contacts as a fait accompli ordered by Chirac.
The executive board elections were not without drama,
however, as the UOIF declared that the results of the June
19th election had been falsified, and stated that they would
not participate in the June 26 vote. Sarkozy intervened,
meeting with UOIF leaders on the eve of the executive board
elections, and convinced them to participate. In addition to
Boubakeur's reelection, members of the FNMF and UOIF were
elected to the two vice-presidential positions and the CCMTF
retained the secretary general position. Sarkozy declared
that "Islam is much more complex" than simply labeling groups
moderate or extremist, and that the goal was for "the French
to understand that mosques are not a den of terrorists and
that a practicing Moslem is not a follower of Bin Laden."



6. (C) The UOIF's threatened boycott of the executive board
elections seem to indicate that the inertia and internecine
competition which have plagued the CFCM since its inception
are likely to continue. Its three lead component groups show
few signs of common cause and remain prone to mutual sniping.
The one issue on which the CFCM's three rival factions
appear to agree is welcoming the return of Nicolas Sarkozy to
the Interior Ministry. Unfortunately, the CFCM has become a
classic example of a French top-down, state-provided answer
to a problem. From its very beginning, the CFCM has
succeeded only through the heavy-handed efforts of the French
state, usually in the person of Sarkozy. However, even
Sarkozy seems to misread the tea leaves of the recent
elections -- the decline of the UOIF is unlikely due to any
substantial moderation on the part of extremist Muslims.
Instead, fundamentalists who see the UOIF as "selling out" to
the French state shun participation in the CFCM, regarding it
as irrelevant to their daily concerns.

7. (C) Comment Continued: Above all, the primary shortcoming
of the CFCM is that it only speaks for the approximately 10%
of French Muslims who are considered "practicing." The
remaining 90% of France's Muslim population, mostly North
African-origin first-generation immigrants and second- and
third-generation "Beurs," are often concentrated in
neighborhoods outside France's main cities, where they may
suffer from lack of educational opportunities, racism, and
discrimination. As a result, born-in-France Muslims are
often less integrated than their parents. They feel -- and
are often seen by fellow citizens -- as if they are not truly
French, breeding resentment and a lack of national identity
that causes some to instead seek a sense of belonging in
fundamentalist Islam and geopolitical causes such as the
plight of the Palestinians and the Iraq insurgency. The GOF
has yet to find the solution to these more widespread,
far-reaching issues. The CFCM, even if successful, is
unlikely to be the answer. End Comment.