French MPs to vote on controversial ‘anti-separatism’ bill

France’s National Assembly is expected to pass the contentious legislation and send it to the Senate.

Protesters demonstrate against the so-called 'anti-separatism' bill in Paris on February 14, 2021 [Geoffroy Van der Hasselt/AFP]

After weeks of debate, France’s lower house of parliament will vote on a so-called “anti-separatism” bill brought forward by President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

Proponents say the controversial legislation is needed to tackle what they term “Islamist separatism” and bolster France’s secular system, but critics, including prominent human rights groups, argue it breaches religious freedom and unfairly targets the country’s 5.7 million-strong Muslim minority population.

French legislators are expected to approve the bill during the afternoon vote on Tuesday in the National Assembly, which is dominated by Macron’s centrist La Republique En Marche (LREM) party.

The vote follows 135 hours of debates that saw some 313 amendments tagged onto the bill’s 51 articles.

The draft law will then be passed up to the upper house, the conservative-led Senate, which has the power to amend the proposal but is expected to greenlight it.

If it clears both legislative hurdles, the bill will be passed into law within months.

The law would strengthen government oversight of mosques and religious schools and crack down on polygamy and forced marriage, among other measures.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said after the final debate on the bill on Saturday that it “provides concrete responses to… the development of radical Islam, an ideology hostile to the principles and values on which the Republic is founded”.

The legislation has been debated in a highly charged atmosphere in France after three attacks late last year, including the beheading on October 16 of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on free speech.

French lawmakers are expected to approve the legislation during Tuesday afternoon’s vote in the National Assembly, which is dominated by Macron’s LREM party [Ludovic Marin/Reuters]

The law does not specifically mention the word Islam, but many French Muslims say it will limit their freedoms and discriminate against the entirety of the country’s Muslim population, the largest in Europe.

Critics have also argued the bill is a political manoeuvre by Macron to win support from conservative and far-right voters ahead of next year’s presidential election, which could see him challenged again by Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Rally leader.

In the 2017 presidential election, Le Pen won out against other opponents to make it to a second round but ultimately lost her chance to enter the Élysée Palace to Macron.

In a speech announcing the draft law on October 2 last year, Macron said that Islam was a religion “in crisis” globally.

The French president’s remarks about Islam caused anger in the Muslim world, with millions calling for a boycott of French products as they took to the streets to protest against France.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies