Businessman Rachid Nekkaz hopes to render new law useless by paying fines for women caught wearing veil in street
Lizzy Davies in Paris
Wednesday 14 July 2010 14.02 BST
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.