Faith, Politics Clash Over Muslim-run Women’s Gym In France

Britain and Ireland tied 9-9 with Continental Europe at Seve Trophy in France

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Credit: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer PARIS | Wed Oct 2, 2013 1:15pm BST PARIS (Reuters) – President Francois Hollande told two of his top ministers on Wednesday they should end a public row over France’s policy towards its Roma population if they wanted to stay in his government. Interior Minister Manuel Valls last week said most of some 20,000 Roma housed in makeshift camps around French cities could never be integrated into French society and so should be “taken back to the border” for transfer back to Romania and Bulgaria. Housing Minister Cecile Duflot, a leader of the ecologist Greens coalition partners to the ruling Socialists, denounced Valls for betraying the core human rights values that France prided itself on, and demanded that Hollande reprimand him. Seeking to heal a widening rift between centrists and left-wingers in his coalition over the issue, Hollande took both Duflot and Valls to task at his weekly cabinet meeting. “I insist that all ministers pay full mind to their mission, their behaviour, how they express themselves and of course, how they act,” Hollande told the meeting, according to presidential aides. “Being a member of a government does not mean you cannot have your point of view but it does mean you have to strictly apply the rules I have just set out,” he said, adding: “the debate should be inside the government not in public”. The dispute not only exposed tensions within Hollande’s 17-month-old coalition but raised new questions over the authority of the president, whose poll ratings have fallen to 23 percent amid dissatisfaction over his record on the economy and jobs. Hollande said he was also asking Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is suffering from low popularity ratings too, to ensure better coordination in the government. The far-right National Front has signalled it plans to make the Roma issue a central campaign theme for next March’s municipal elections. It is hopeful it can tap a protest vote against Hollande to score gains in town halls across France. Valls’ tough talk on law and order has made him Hollande’s most popular government minister. A poll released at the weekend showed three-quarters of French agreed with his comments on the Roma.

“These are fundamentalists, they lie!” he shouted. “They consider because they’re Muslims they’re victims and they consider they have more rights,” he said. Local security officials said on Friday the gym met all safety standards. That meant it could stay open, but it did not guarantee it would now be out of the political spotlight. The Orty Gym – Orty means “my sisters” in Arabic – is a 200 square-meter space with pink work-out equipment, freshly-painted fuchsia and orange walls and a large room where classes such as Hip Hop, Zumba, Stretching and Step are offered. Some of the 70 women exercising in the room cover their hair with a headscarf but many do not as all races and religions are welcome, said Lynda Ellabou, who owns the gym with her husband. SECULARISM Ellabou, wearing a fashionable pink and black headscarf, said their problems began in June after Raoult realized the couple planning to open the gym on a commercial strip on the periphery of the suburb of 14,000 residents were Muslim. “When he saw my (bearded) husband he had a shock. ‘You’ve rented a place where?’ he asked us,” Ellabou recalled. “‘You’re going to put a veiled woman at the reception desk too?'” “In the end he made us understand it wasn’t going to be possible to open,” she said, adding Raoult later objected to the gym’s lack of parking and steps leading to the emergency exit. The issue of secularism arose when a Muslim website said the gym had a prayer room in the back. Ellabou said the page was not theirs and the report was wrong, as there is no such room.

Continental Europe led 8-6 after the morning session, but Britain and Ireland rallied in the afternoon. Paul Casey and David Lynn beat Miguel Angel Jimenez and Matteo Manassero by a hole to even the contest. The tournament ends on Sunday with 10 singles. Each team needs 5 1/2 more points for victory. Continental Europe lost the last six meetings and is trying to win the trophy for the first time since the inaugural contest in 2000. After two days of fourballs, Continental Europe was leading 5 1/2-4 1/2. On Saturday morning, Nicolas Colsaerts and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano halved their match with Stephen Gallacher and Paul Lawrie. The Scottish duo was three down after eight holes, but birdied Nos. 16 and 17. Fernandez-Castano missed the winning putt from 10 feet on the last hole. Joost Luiten and Gregory Bourdy birdied their last three holes to beat Jamie Donaldson and Marc Warren 2 and 1. Chris Wood and Scott Jamieson combined for six birdies to defeat Thorbjorn Olesen and Francesco Molinari 2 and 1. Jimenez and Manassero edged Casey and Tommy Fleetwood by a hole to give Continental Europe an 8-6 lead. In the afternoon, Donaldson and Warren spurred a comeback for Britain and Ireland by defeating Thomas Bjorn and Mikko Ilonen 2 and 1.