Safwat Hegazy (Photo: Al-Ahram)
France said Thursday it had banned four Muslim preachers from entering France to attend an Islamic conference, saying their "calls for hatred and violence" were a threat to public order.
President Nicolas Sarkozy had wanted to ban the high-profile Islamic clerics from attending the conference next month in the wake of a series of killings by Al-Qaeda inspired gunman Mohamed Merah that shocked France.
Saudi clerics Ayed Bin Abdallah Al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar, Egyptian cleric Safwat Hegazi and a former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri are banned from entering France, a statement said.
"These people's positions and statements calling for hatred and violence seriously damage republican principles and, in the current context, represent a serious threat to public order," said the statement from Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Interior Minister Claude Gueant.
The ministers also voiced "regret" that prominent Swiss intellectual Tariq Ramadan has been invited to the April 6-9 meeting organised by the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF).
They said his "positions and statements are against the republican spirit, which does not do any service to France's Muslims".
France cannot prevent Ramadan from entering as Switzerland is a member of Europe's visa-free Schengen zone.
Influential Qatar-based preacher Qaradawi and Mahmud Al-Masri of Egypt have decided not to come for the conference, the statement said.
Ramadan is considered one of Europe's leading Muslim thinkers and was an advisor to former British prime minister Tony Blair.
His grandfather founded Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, of which his father was a senior member exiled by former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
He is known for promoting a modernised form of Islam and for his opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. He has been barred from entering US territory since 2004.
Sarkozy said on Monday that Qaradawi, 86, an influential Qatar-based Sunni Muslim cleric, was not welcome in France.
Qaradawi, who hosts a popular show on Al-Jazeera satellite television, backed the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and has launched a fund-raising effort for the Syrian opposition.
That ban, which has now turned into a withdrawal, was criticised by the International Union of Muslim Scholars which Qaradawi heads.
The union said that Qaradawi is "a moderate scholar who contributed to combating extremism in Islamic thought."
The cleric is accused of having made anti-Semitic and homophobic statements and was banned from entering Britain in 2008. He has been banned from entering the United States since 1999.