A newly launched Muslim “dialogue forum” established by the French government to fight Islamism and promote an Islam “faithful to the values of the Republic” has been infiltrated by Muslim Brotherhood operatives opposed to the domestication of Islam in France. One observer has said the forum has become a “playground” for Islamists in the country.
The French Islam Forum (Forum de l’Islam de France, FORIF) was launched by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin in February 2022 to “renew the methods of dialogue” between the government and “actors and associations representing the Muslim faith.” A key feature of the forum is its bottom-up format, which seeks to promote dialogue with Muslim clergy and laypersons at the grassroots level and bypass the so-called consular Islam (l’islam consulaire) favored by Muslim umbrella groups controlled by foreign governments.
FORIF replaces the French Council for the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman, CFCM), which was established by then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy in May 2003 to be the French government’s principal interlocutor with the country’s Muslim community. The aim was to bring the practice of Islam in France into conformity with the 1905 law on secularism (laïcité), which has failed to prevent the encroachment of Islamism.
CFCM was rendered ineffective by internal power struggles among its principal members, namely Islamic federations controlled by the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. CFCM was also hampered by competing strands of Islam represented by Salafism, Wahhabism, Tablighi Jamaat, Milli Görüs and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The final nail in CFCM’s coffin was hammered in January 2021, when four of CFCM’s nine members refused to sign the so-called Charter of Principles of French Islam (Charte des principes de l’islam de France), an initiative sponsored by Macron as part of his offensive against Islamist separatism.
The eight-page document asked Muslim leaders in France to commit to “freedom of conscience” and “equality between men and women” and to condemn discrimination based on “sexual orientation.” The charter affirmed that “neither our religious convictions nor any other reason can supplant the principles which are found in French law and the Constitution of the Republic.”
Darmanin subsequently declared that CFCM was “dead” and that “for the public authorities, the CFCM no longer exists as an interlocutor with the French Republic.” He added that CFCM’s demise meant “the end of foreign influence on Islam in France” and vowed that FORIF would succeed where CFCM had failed.
FORIF is an integral component of an ambitious plan announced by French President Emmanuel Macron in February 2020 to fight Islamist separatism by creating an “Islam of France” — an Islam rooted in French society and one that limits the role that foreign governments have in training imams, financing mosques, and educating children in France.
The forum currently consists of 60 members — religious leaders, representatives of mosques, members of cultural or religious associations, public intellectuals, and lawyers — appointed by the French Interior Ministry and government representatives (prefectures) at the local and regional levels.
Over the past year, FORIF members, in coordination with the Interior Ministry, have worked on four key issues: 1) professionalization and recruitment of imams; 2) appointment and training of chaplains for prisons, hospitals and the army; 3) application of the law to ensure Islamic associations comply with the principles of the Republic; and 4) protection of Muslim places of worship. The working groups are to produce practical guidebooks to help mosques in France comply with French law.
Marking FORIF’s first anniversary, Macron on February 16 invited several of the group’s members to the Elysée Palace to present progress reports and participate in a photo opportunity that received widespread media coverage. FORIF, Macron proclaimed, was aimed at transforming a “rogue Islam” (islam dévoyé) into to an “Enlightenment Islam” (islam des Lumière).
FORIF’s inner workings, however, have been shrouded in secrecy and the government has refused to publish a complete list of its members. Senator Jacqueline Eustache-Brinio of the center-right Republicans, who has tried unsuccessfully to obtain a full membership list, described FORIF as a “totally opaque assembly that includes many Muslim Brothers.”
Despite the government’s stonewalling, the names of some of FORIF’s members were recently leaked to the French newsmagazine Le Point, which revealed that prominent Muslim Brotherhood operatives have “infiltrated” FORIF. Journalist Clément Pétreault noted “the presence in FORIF of many executives of the former UIOF.” The Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which changed its name to Muslims of France (Musulmans de France), is a prominent Muslim umbrella organization closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.
These include Tareq Oubrou, the Morocco-born self-taught “grand imam of Bordeaux,” who said that he left the UIOF in 2018 after more than three decades there but maintains links with the group to “share his convictions and his work.” He continues to be active in groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another UIOF alumnus now in FORIF is Azzedine Gaci, the Algeria-born rector of the Uthman Mosque in Villeurbanne near Lyon. A key member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s network in France, Gaci refused to sign Macron’s Charter of Principles of French Islam.
Other FORIF members include Abdelghani Benali, rector of the Great Mosque of Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine, which has received hundreds of thousands of euros in so-called charitable grants from the Qatari government. He is also a teacher at the Paris-based European Institute of Human Sciences (IESH), a Qatar-financed Islamic theological institute described as “one of the jewels” of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another member of FORIF is Abdelhaq Nabaoui, the Morocco-born president of the Qatar-financed National School for Religious Leaders and Military Chaplains (l’École nationale des cadres religieux et aumôniers militaires, ENCRAM), a school that has trained hundreds of French imams. He is also a member of the Muslim Association for an Islam of France (Association Musulmane pour l’Islam de France, AMIF), a group that is intimate with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Other Islamists involved with FORIF include: Chems-Eddine Hafiz, the Algeria-born rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, which is controlled by the Algerian government; Mohammed Moussaoui, the Morocco-born president of the Union of French Mosques (Union des Mosquées de France, UMF), which is controlled by the Moroccan government; and Ibrahim Alci, the Türkiye-born president of the Coordinating Committee of Turkish Muslims in France (Comité de coordination des musulmans turcs de France, CCMTF), which is controlled by the Turkish government.
Yet another Islamist directly involved with FORIF is Mourad Dali, who oversees the working group on chaplains. Dali, described by French intelligence services as a “neo-Salafist” (a hybrid of Salafism and the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood), is president of CAM78 (Collectif des Associations Musulmanes de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines), an association of Islamist mosques in Yvelines, a suburb of Paris. French politician Damien Rieu has documented the mosques’ long history of anti-Semitism, gender segregation, Islamic separatism, and praise for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The French-Moroccan author Mohamed Louizi, a former Muslim Brother who is now dedicated to fighting the group’s Islamization strategy in France, chronicled the Brotherhood’s years-long effort to control the strategically-important appointments of Muslim chaplains in French prisons — efforts which were encouraged by the French political establishment. He says they are now exerting similar influence on FORIF.
Last but not least, Marion Lalisse, the European Union’s newly appointed “Islamophobia” Czar, is a member of FORIF’s working group on “anti-Muslim acts.” French academic Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, author of a new book on the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, said that the Muslim Brotherhood had “dictated” Lalisse’s job description and warned that her appointment “favors the Brotherhood’s strategy of penetrating EU institutions, universities and civil society.”
Observers have concluded that FORIF is unlikely to change the nature of Islam in France. Clément Pétreault, writing for Le Point, warned that “the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and foreign governments will not disappear with this new organization because the same actors are reintroducing themselves into FORIF.”
Professor emeritus Charles Arambourou described FORIF as “a playground offered to Islamists by the government.” He added that Macron’s Islam of France “is being built with the help of Islamists at all levels.” Louizi, the former Muslim Brother, concluded that FORIF, “where Muslim Brother-Salafists (frerosalafists) are already nesting, is madness. A suicide.”
Soeren Kern is a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow.