The French burkini battle that began in Cannes in the summer of 2016 flared up again in the Riviera resort on Friday, May 26,2017 on the closing weekend of the film festival.
Franco-Algerian millionaire businessman and political activist Rachid Nekkaz, who in 2016 had offered to pay the $45 fines imposed on women who flouted the burkini ban imposed by four French mayors, announced on his website on April 24 that he was organizing a demonstration on the beach at Cannes on Friday, May 26 “to celebrate the decision of the Council of State of 26 August 2016 to authorize women to wear burkinis.”
The image promoting the event carried photoshopped images of right-wing politicians Nadine Morano and Marine Le Pen wearing burkinis.
The demonstration, which he called “Let’s all wear Burkinis on the beaches of the Cannes Film Festival,” was banned by the Cannes local authority in a decree issued on May 24.
On the afternoon of Friday, May 26, nine females — including minors, who had travelled from Paris to Cannes by train and were heading for the beach with the intention of going swimming in burkinis — were arrested in front of the Hotel Martinez on the seafront.
They were taken to Cannes police station, interviewed and released. Nekkaz was also arrested and interviewed. The police warned him that he would be liable to a fine of $8,000 and six months in prison if he went ahead with the planned demonstration.
Nekkaz has a long history of stirring up trouble in France. When the French government passed a law banning the burka 2010, he set up a $1 million fund “for the defense of liberty” stating that “although I am personally opposed to the wearing of the burka, I believe that in a democracy nobody has the right to prevent a person wearing a garment of their choice as long as the garment does not represent a danger to the freedom of others or national security.”
Nekkaz was born in 1972 to Algerian immigrants. He studied history and philosophy at the Sorbonne and later made a fortune during the internet boom of the late 1990s, subsequently reinvesting in real estate.
In 2000, he managed to manoeuver his way to the G8 summit in Cologne, where he held meetings with world leaders Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac, Jean Chrétien, Massimo D’Alema, Keizo Obuchi and Gerhard Schröder.
The same year he published a book based on these interviews titled Millenarium: What Future for Humanity?
In 2006, he announced he would be a candidate in the 2007 French presidential election but failed to run as he only obtained 13 of the required 500 mayoral endorsements.
During the 2007 parliamentary elections, 58 candidates ran under the Rachid Nekkaz Party ticket. He was himself a candidate in the Seine-Saint-Denis constituency north of Paris, where he got 156 votes, 0.56% of the total. He changed the name of his party to the Social Democrat Assembly and ran in the 2008 municipal elections in the Orly constituency, where he scored 5.15% of votes.
Nekkaz joined the French Socialist Party in 2009 and declared he would run in the 2011 presidential primary. He was indicted and placed in detention in 2012 for buying the endorsement of the mayor of Mertzem. At his trial in 2013, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced him to an 18-month suspended prison term. Despite his dodgy record, he ran for office again at a parliamentary by-election in 2013, but nobody voted for him.
Having failed to enter political office in France, Nekkaz turned to Algeria, where in order to run in the 2014 presidential election, he renounced his French citizenship. In the end, he did not run for the presidency.
If Rachid Nekkaz is representative of the type of political candidate that will emerge from the French Muslim community, it does not bode well for the future.
Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).