Nicolas Sarkozy will take another lurch to the Right with a speech on New Year’s Eve calling Muslim prayers in the street “unacceptable”.
After his expulsions of gypsies and a crackdown on immigrant crime, the French President will warn that the overflow of Muslim faithful on to the streets at prayer time when mosques are packed to capacity risks undermining the French secular tradition separating state and religion.
He will doubtless be accused of pandering to the far Right: the issue of Muslim prayers in the street has been brought to the fore by Marine Le Pen, the charismatic new figurehead of the National Front, who compared it to the wartime occupation of France.
Her words provoked uproar on the Left, whose commentators took them as evidence that far from being the gentler face of the far Right, Ms Le Pen, 42, is no different from Jean-Marie, 82, her father, who has been accused of racism and Holocaust denial.
According to his aide, Mr Sarkozy agrees with the junior Le Pen that the street cannot be allowed to become “an extension of the mosque” as it does in some parts of Paris, which are closed to traffic because of the overflow of the faithful.
“People overreacted to Marine Le Pen’s comments,” said the aide, referring to the furore in which she was accused of rabble-rousing racism. “She is right: this phenomenon is unacceptable.”