The European Union is promoting and funding an Islamist youth organization known for fueling grievances among young Muslims in France, the scene of numerous jihadist attacks in recent years.
On August 12, the European Commission, the EU’s administrative arm, released a video to mark International Youth Day, an annual awareness day established by the United Nations in 2019. The video, in which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen highlighted contributions of European youth associations to culture and society, included a tribute to the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO), an influential Islamist group that is actively opposed to European laws that promote secularism.
FEMYSO, which has received more than €200,000 from the European Union since 2007, has aggressively challenged several French laws, including a 2004 law that bans the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, and a 2010 law that prohibits the wearing of full veils in public spaces.
In October 2021, FEMYSO launched an anti-discrimination awareness campaign, sponsored by the European Union and the Council of Europe, that promoted wearing the Islamic veil in public. The campaign was cancelled after French officials from across the political spectrum expressed disapproval on the grounds that it undermined France’s policy of laicité, or secularism in the public square.
FEMYSO’s president, a Dutch woman named Hande Taner, responded by going on a tirade against the French government. In a video posted on Twitter, she asserted that France is “the capital of Western prejudice” and that its “biggest export is racism.”
FEMYSO, brands itself as “the voice of Muslim youth in Europe” and aims “to encourage the development of a European Muslim identity.” The group, which is based in Brussels, is the youth arm of the Council of European Muslims (CEM), previously known as the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE).
CEM, like its predecessor FIOE, is an umbrella group that comprises the global Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal is to establish an Islamist caliphate across the Middle East and throughout the world.
FEMYSO was established in 1996 as a platform to bring together youth organizations linked to the various national Muslim Brotherhood federations associated with the FIOE, according to Islam expert Brigitte Maréchal. In her book, “The Muslim Brotherhood in Europe: Roots and Discourse,” she noted that FEMYSO often downplays or denies any personal or organizational links to the Brotherhood.
Many of those links are documented by analysts Lorenzo Vidino and Sergio Altuna. In an October 2021 study, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Pan-European Structure,” they methodically traced the “virtually complete overlap” between the boards of FEMYSO and FIOE.
Vidino and Altuna also revealed FEMYSO’s extensive connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, reporting that the rent for FEMYSO’s office in Brussels is being paid for by Bassem Hatahet, an activist of Syrian origin who has been described as “the most important Muslim Brotherhood figure in Belgium.”
Moreover, Vidino and Altuna noted that many of the young people occupying the highest positions at FEMYSO are “children (both male and female) of some of the most prominent first-generation leaders of the Brotherhood in Europe.” They concluded that FEMYSO “is the perfect entity where the scions of top Brotherhood families can hone their activism skills and create a broader network during their formative years.”
Indeed, the FEMYSO presidency was, until recently, held by Intissar Kherigi, the daughter of Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda, the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia.
Another Islam expert, Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, told the French magazine Marianne, that CEM created FEMYSO with the objective of “training a European Muslim elite.” The organization has repeatedly invited Tariq Ramadan, the Islamist grandson of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, to speak at its conferences and study sessions.
The EU’s International Youth Day video (FEMYSO was the only religious organization included in the video; Christian or Jewish groups were left out) appears to be the handiwork of the European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, a left-leaning politician from Malta.
Dalli, who is perhaps best known for her efforts to prohibit the use of the term “Christmas” in official European correspondence, has long been a thorn in the side of the French government.
In November 2021, Dalli tweeted about a meeting she had with FEMYSO’s leadership about “the situation of young Muslims in Europe” and the “challenges experienced as a result of stereotyping, discrimination and outright hatred.”
France’s Secretary of State for Europe at the time, Clement Beaune, condemned the meeting and retweeted a tweet asserting that FEMYSO is a “puppet of the Muslim Brotherhood.” He also said he would be investigating possible “clientelism” between Islamist groups like FEMYSO and European institutions.
The then Secretary of State for Social Economy, Marlène Schiappa, described FEMYSO as a “puppet of Islamism” and expressed outrage that the European Union continues to subsidize the group. “I wonder how many organizations that we want to disband or that have been disbanded in France are knocking on the door of European offices to receive money and grants,” she said in an interview with Europe 1 radio. “We say: not one euro from the Republic for the enemies of the Republic. If you have acquaintances with radical Islamism, we cannot finance you with French money.”
France’s new Secretary of State for Europe, Laurence Boone, said the EU had “blundered” by including FEMYSO in the youth day video. “There is no ambiguity,” she said in an interview with France 2 public television. “This association does not correspond to our values of secularism, and it does not support our goals of inclusion and emancipation.”
The European Commission previously dismissed French concerns about FEMYSO, but after the video controversy, Boone said that she and France’s Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, would be rallying support from other EU member states: “I am contacting my counterparts in all European countries to put pressure on the commission.”
Soeren Kern is a contributor to Focus on Western Islamism.