A campaign promoting diversity among women and their freedom to wear the hijab has been dropped after it sparked an outcry in the secular French political establishment.
The online campaign touched a nerve in France on all sides of the political spectrum where campaigning is intensifying before next spring's presidential election.
Images showed portraits of two smiling young women spliced in half and fused together to show one with hair uncovered and the other wearing the hijab.
“Beauty is in diversity as freedom is in hijab,” was one of the slogans. “How boring would be the world if everyone would look the same? Celebrate diversity and respect hijab,” was another.
The campaign, co-financed by the European Union, was launched last week by the Council of Europe, a pan-European rights body.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government lodged its objections to the campaign. On the airwaves, left-wing politicians were quick to raise points on equality grounds and far-right candidates called it Islamist propaganda.
Sarah El Hairy, minister for youth, said France disapproved because the council was “encouraging the wearing of the hijab”, something the government in Paris has sought to regulate in public life. From the far-right, Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour also criticised the campaign.
The Paris region chief, Valerie Pecresse, another possible presidential contender against Mr Macron from the traditional right, said she was astonished by the launch and said that the hijab was “not a symbol of freedom" to her.
Former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who is also seeking the right-wing nomination to stand for president, said the concept was a bad idea.
France is one of the 47 member states of the council, which acts as the guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“I was profoundly shocked,” Ms El Hairy said. “It is the opposite of the values that France defends, it is promoting the wearing of the hijab.
“This is to be condemned and because of this France made clear its extremely strong disapproval and hence the campaign has now been withdrawn as of today,” she said on Tuesday, confirming that Paris had issued an official protest through diplomatic channels.
The Council said it was pulling the campaign because the statements were individual people’s opinions rather than the council’s position.
“We have taken down these tweet messages while we reflect on a better presentation of this project,” Council of Europe representative Marija Pejcinovic Buric told AFP.
“The tweets reflected statements made by individual participants in one of the project workshops, and do not represent the views of the Council of Europe or its secretary general,” Ms Buric said.