Tycoon plans €1m fund to fight French niqab ban

Businessman Rachid Nekkaz hopes to render new
law useless by paying fines for women caught wearing veil in street


The new law makes it illegal for women to wear
the full veil in public. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

A French property tycoon enraged at his government’s plans to ban women from wearing the
full veil
in public has promised a fund of €1m (£830,000) to help
any Muslim who is fined for wearing the niqab in the street.

Rachid
Nekkaz, a businessman of Algerian origin who launched a short-lived
campaign in the 2007 presidential elections, has already put €200,000
into a bank account aimed at bailing out women who find themselves on
the wrong side of the new law.

He insists that the ban, which was
approved by the lower house of parliament on Tuesday and is set to be
ratified by the senate in September, is "anti-constitutional" and a move
that could put France on a slippery slope towards greater intolerance.

While
he has no problem – like most of the French population – with an idea
initially mooted by MPs of banning the full veil in state areas such as
town halls and post offices, he is vehemently against a law that applies
to women simply walking down the street.

"I am very, very
sensitive to when people start playing around with institutions and the
constitution. I was not shocked by the idea of a ban in public services;
I am a [French] republican. But when I saw the president – the
guarantor of the constitution – announcing a ban in the street I said to
myself, ‘this is serious’".

Nekkaz, who says his fund received
€36,000 in donations in the 24 hours following its announcement and
hopes it will reach €1m by September, is selling properties in the
Parisian suburbs to keep the money coming in.

Under the planned
law, any woman found wearing a face-covering veil anywhere in public
faces a possible fine of €150 as well, potentially, as a course in
"citizenship". However, if she has been fined for wearing the garment in
the street, she will be able to pay the charge from Nekkaz’s fund. The
law, he hopes, will be made "inapplicable".

"I think this would
never happen in the United States or the United Kingdom … France is a
country which is not scared to compromise its principles," he said.

Nekkaz,
a Muslim, is not the only one to have raised concerns about the
viability of the law, due to come into full effect by spring next year.
France’s constitutional watchdog has twice warned that it could be found
to infringe personal freedoms.

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