Former French minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who is the controversial choice to lead the Foundation for Islam in France. Stephanie de Sakutin / AFP Photo
Former French minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who is the controversial choice to lead the Foundation for Islam in France. Stephanie de Sakutin / AFP Photo

Meet the foundation trying to promote a French form of Islam

As France searches falteringly for a bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims, a new foundation is about to begin work with the declared objective of encouraging “the emergence of a French Islam”.

Few striving for rapprochement quarrel with the Foundation for Islam in France’s aspirations. Some, however, question the choice of a non-Muslim as its first head.

Doubts about Jean-Pierre Chevenement’s suitability grew when he expressed regret that in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, eight primary children in 10 had not mastered French and one of 135 different nationalities had all but disappeared. This was taken as meaning the displacement of indigenous white French, though he insisted his reference was to the traditional working class.

But criticism did not end. One socialist MP described his comments as “scandalous”. A centre-right mayor said the appointment smacked of “paternalism, almost colonialism”.

Chevenement, 77, has been minister of education, defence and the interior. Previously a Parti Socialiste stalwart, he has an independent streak that led him to contest the 2002 presidential election as a “sovereignist”, giving nationalism a left-wing flavour. He won few votes but damaged the socialist Lionel Jospin’s chances of reaching the run-off against Jacques Chirac.

Responding to questions from The National, Chevenement describes the foundation as "having only a lay goal – educational, cultural and social in nature".

“It aims to build a bridge between the republic and Islam and contribute to the emergence of a French Islam for communities originating notably in the Maghreb, Turkey and Sub-Saharan Africa,” he says.

A separate new religious body will deal with the construction of mosques, which France wants to be free of foreign funding, and improved training of imams. Chevenement says institutes of Islamology will also be created within the university system.

He accepts that terrorism, including the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Paris and Nice massacres, aggravates community tensions. “But the French are a long-established republican people and reacted coolly,’’ he says. ‘’The authorities’ objective is to prevent any escalation or anti-Muslim acts that could lead us where Daesh [ISIL] wants: a form of civil war harmful to France and its inhabitants, starting with Muslims.’’

Neither the new foundation nor associated initiatives offers a complete answer, he feels. “We need an overall policy aimed at integrating all fellow-citizens with equal rights and duties. Being part of the republic implies attachment to its principles; that is what defines our patriotism. And the French people is made up of citizens who share the right to practise their religion.’’

To critics, Chevenement points out that when minister of defence, he introduced halal food for French Muslim soldiers. He was also involved in consultations that eventually led to the formation in 2003 of the French Muslim Council, “the only legitimate authority representative of French Muslims”.

He suggests the concept of France’s legislative basis for securalism is widely misunderstood. “The declaration of the rights of man and [in 1789, when the French revolution began] guarantees religious freedom. It was necessary to free society of the omnipotence of the Catholic church. After a century of uncertainty, the 1905 law of separation of church and state, defined this concept very clearly [but] secularity is not used in any way against religions, Islam or others.

“It provides a framework where our fellow-citizens can co-exist peacefully without colliding.”

Some flexibility, he says, already allows councils to negotiate long leases on land for new mosques, easing a national shortage, and faith schools receive state aid provided they respect the national curriculum and public service rules.

“In short, there is a balance,” he says. “Those calling this balance into question are not always inspired by piety. Modification of the 1905 law is not currently on the agenda. The authorities prefer to proceed by small steps.”

Colin Randall is a regular contributor to The Review.

The Genius of Their Age

Author: S Frederick Starr
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 290
Available: January 24

Veere di Wedding
Dir: Shashanka Ghosh
Starring: Kareena Kapoo-Khan, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania ​​​​​​​
Verdict: 4 Stars


Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5


Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

The specs: 2018 Nissan Altima

Price, base / as tested: Dh78,000 / Dh97,650

Engine: 2.5-litre in-line four-cylinder

Power: 182hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque: 244Nm @ 4,000rpm

Transmission: Continuously variable tranmission

Fuel consumption, combined: 7.6L / 100km


Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates


Author: Alasdair Soussi

Pages: 300

Publisher: Scotland Street Press

Available: December 1

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

While you're here

Years: October 2015 - June 2024
Total games: 491
Win percentage: 60.9%
Major trophies: 6 (Premier League x 1, Champions League x 1, FA Cup x 1, League Cup x 2, Fifa Club World Cup x1)

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

Race card

5pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 (Turf) 1,600m
5.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh80,000 (T) 1,600m
6pm: Arabian Triple Crown Round-1 Listed (PA) Dh230,000 (T) 1,600m
6.30pm: Wathba Stallions Cup Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 (T) 1,400m
7pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 (T) 1,200m
7.30pm: Handicap (TB) Dh100,000 (T) 2,400m


Director: Laxman Utekar

Producer: Maddock Films, Jio Cinema

Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Kriti Sanon​​​​​​​, Pankaj Tripathi, Vinay Pathak, Aparshakti Khurana

Rating: 3/5


Engine: Two-litre four-cylinder turbo
Power: 235hp
Torque: 350Nm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Price: From Dh167,500 ($45,000)
On sale: Now

SPECS: Polestar 3

Engine: Long-range dual motor with 400V battery
Power: 360kW / 483bhp
Torque: 840Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Max touring range: 628km
0-100km/h: 4.7sec
Top speed: 210kph
Price: From Dh360,000
On sale: September

Jeff Buckley: From Hallelujah To The Last Goodbye
By Dave Lory with Jim Irvin


Directors: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods

Stars: Adam Driver, Ariana Greenblatt, Chloe Coleman

Rating: 2/5

Reading List

Practitioners of mindful eating recommend the following books to get you started:

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung

How to Eat by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Mindful Diet by Dr Ruth Wolever

Mindful Eating by Dr Jan Bays

How to Raise a Mindful Eaterby Maryann Jacobsen

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE.

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE

The National in Davos

We are bringing you the inside story from the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, a gathering of hundreds of world leaders, top executives and billionaires.

The UN General Assembly President in quotes:

YEMEN: “The developments we have seen are promising. We really hope that the parties are going to respect the agreed ceasefire. I think that the sense of really having the political will to have a peace process is vital. There is a little bit of hope and the role that the UN has played is very important.”

PALESTINE: “There is no easy fix. We need to find the political will and comply with the resolutions that we have agreed upon.”

OMAN: “It is a very important country in our system. They have a very important role to play in terms of the balance and peace process of that particular part of the world, in that their position is neutral. That is why it is very important to have a dialogue with the Omani authorities.”

REFORM OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL: “This is complicated and it requires time. It is dependent on the effort that members want to put into the process. It is a process that has been going on for 25 years. That process is slow but the issue is huge. I really hope we will see some progress during my tenure.”


Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

Hili 2: Unesco World Heritage site

The site is part of the Hili archaeological park in Al Ain. Excavations there have proved the existence of the earliest known agricultural communities in modern-day UAE. Some date to the Bronze Age but Hili 2 is an Iron Age site. The Iron Age witnessed the development of the falaj, a network of channels that funnelled water from natural springs in the area. Wells allowed settlements to be established, but falaj meant they could grow and thrive. Unesco, the UN's cultural body, awarded Al Ain's sites - including Hili 2 - world heritage status in 2011. Now the most recent dig at the site has revealed even more about the skilled people that lived and worked there.

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat