A French senator on Wednesday called for Karim Benzema to be stripped of his French citizenship after Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin suggested the football star was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist party considered to be a terrorist group in several Middle Eastern countries.
“If the minister’s comments are true, we have to consider sanctions against Karim Benzema,” said Valérie Boyer, vice-president of the conservative Les Républicains party, in a statement on X.
Boyer said taking away Benzema’s Golden Ball — the highest individual award a professional football player can receive, which Benzema won in 2022 — could be a “first, symbolic sanction,” and suggested “the deprivation of his nationality” as a second punitive measure against the Franco-Algerian player.
“We cannot accept that a world-famous French binational can dishonor and even betray our country,” Boyer’s statement read.
The French senator’s reaction came after Darmanin claimed on Tuesday that Benzema had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, in an interview on French conservative TV broadcaster CNews, without providing evidence to back up his assertion.
“M. Benzema is notoriously linked with the Muslim Brotherhood, we all know it,” said the French minister, a hardliner on security issues and secularism.
That information was quickly denied by Benzema’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier.
“This is false! Karim Benzema never had any relation with this organization,” Vigier told French daily Le Parisien late Wednesday, adding his team was considering taking legal action against the French minister.
An Islamist party that came to power in Egypt after the Arab Spring until it was ousted by a military coup in 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood receives funding from Qatar, and is considered a terrorist group in several Middle Eastern countries, including Doha’s frenemies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
A devout Muslim who observes fasting during Ramadan and does not shy away from exposing his faith on social media, Benzema now lives in Saudi Arabia following his transfer from Real Madrid to Al-Ittihad — in exchange for a €200 million annual salary — last summer.
Back then, Benzema explained that his religion had played a role in the move.
“It’s important to be in a Muslim country where I already feel that people love me, it’s going to give me a new life,” he said. “I’m a believer, so it’s important for me.”
The display of religious signs in the public domain is a sensitive topic in France, where church and state have been separated by law since 1905.
This extends to sports: Earlier this year, the French football federation (FFF) refused to halt games briefly to allow Muslim players to break their fast — a practice recently implemented in the English and Dutch football leagues — claiming it would violate the principle of secularism.
“The idea is that there is a time for everything: a time to play sports, a time to practice one’s religion,” Eric Borghini, president of the FFF’s federal referees’ commission, told Agence France-Presse at the time.
Asked by French radio broadcaster RMC to clarify Darmanin’s statement, the minister’s cabinet said it had observed a “slow drift in Karim Benzema’s positions toward a hard-line, rigorous form of Islam, typical of the Brotherhood’s ideology of spreading Islamic norms in different areas of society, notably in sport” — which included “proselytizing the Muslim faith” on social media.
While acknowledging that these observations “did not amount to [grounds for] legal action,” the cabinet argued they “constitut[ed] a particularly blurred signal from an athlete with such a large following.”