June 1, 2015 / 2:44 AM / in 2 years

French far-right leader says Egypt visit failed to change immigration view

Marine Le Pen (L), the leader of France's far-right National Front party, walks after leaving the building of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in central Moscow, Russia, May 26, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

CAIRO (Reuters) - The leader of France’s far right National Front party said on Sunday that a visit to Egypt to meet with the country’s religious and political leaders had no effect on her views on Arab and Muslim immigration to France.

Since taking over from her father and becoming head of the National Front, Marine Le Pen has sought to rid the party of its anti-Semitic image and position it as an anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic force offering protectionist policies to shelter France from globalization.

Le Pen arrived in Egypt last week for a meeting with the grand imam of Al Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest authority, the pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church, and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb.

While she said she had agreed with Mehleb and Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb on the threat of Islamic extremism to Europe and the region, Le Pen said she would not be reviewing her position on immigration from Muslim countries following the trip.

“No, my feelings have not changed at all regarding illegal immigration,” she said when asked by Reuters if the discussions with Egyptian political and religious leaders had offered alternatives to her party’s hardline position on immigration.

“We can’t just welcome (immigrants) in France - the only solution is that we protect them in their country and for them to continue to live in their country,” she said.

Opinion polls this year have suggested Le Pen will head the field in the first round of presidential elections due in 2017. However, pollsters say she will not be able to muster enough support to triumph in the subsequent second-round ballot.

Le Pen also said that regional partners were key to curbing immigration to Europe but that turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, and the Western response to it, have made the immigration situation much worse for France.

    “Egypt, for us, is the castle that will protect us” from immigration to France, Le Pen said.

Reporting By Shadi Bushra; Editing by Diane Craft

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