PARIS (AP) — A French court has overturned a ban on burkinis issued in Cannes — the first in a series of local bans on the Muslim full-body swimwear this summer that set off a heated controversy at home and a wave of outrage abroad.
The court in Nice concluded that the Cannes decree violates basic freedoms and is illegal because there were no proven risks of disruption to public order, or reasons of hygiene or decency for the ban in the famous Riviera city resort, according to a copy of the judgment obtained Tuesday by the Associated Press.
The decision followed a ruling by a French top court regarding a similar ban in the nearby town of Villeneuve-Loubet that set a legal precedent.
After the Council of State overturned that ban last week, human rights groups said they will challenge similar bans issued in 30 or so municipalities. More rulings are expected in the next few days as local courts are hearing other contested town decrees.
The last Nice ruling is a largely symbolic victory for the two human rights groups that introduced the challenge, since the Cannes ban, issued late last month, was expected to end on Wednesday night anyway. But it sends a signal to several mayors who have said they won't revoke their bans even after the top court's legal precedent.
Meanwhile, the national debate on the place of Islam in the strictly secular country continued. Prime Minister Manual Valls, who supported the bans, made a new reference to the burkini controversy with a comment on Marianne, an allegorical figure of the French Republic.
Valls said during a socialist meeting in southern France Thursday night that "Marianne, the symbol of the Republic, is bare breast because she's feeding the people, she doesn't wear a veil because she's free."
The comment immediately triggered countless reactions on social networks. Mathilde Larrere, a historian specialized in the French Revolution, derided Valls in a series of tweets that have since gone viral, telling him: "Marianne is bare breast because it's an allegory, moron!"
The expert wrote that Marianne has nothing to do with being a symbol of women or feminism, but instead "her bare breast is modeled on allegories from the Antiquity, notably the allegory of liberty." She noticed that the figure of Marianne was chosen to embody the French republic at a time when women were reduced to the status of minors and barred from voting.
Larrere also argued that Marianne is not always represented with a bare breast, but she's always shown with her head covered, often with a Phrygian cap, an ironic allusion to Valls saying Marianne doesn't wear a veil.
Marianne holds a place of honor in French town halls and official buildings. Her profile appears on official government documents, on stamps and on coins.