Benzema, French minister clash over ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ claim
The lawyer of Karim Benzema has hit back at France’s Interior Minister after he accused the French football star who plays for Saudi team Al-Ittihad of links to the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist group.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin made the accusations after the reigning Ballon d’Or winner and former Real Madrid forward posted a message on social media about the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas.
“All our prayers are for the inhabitants of Gaza who are once again victims of these unjust bombings which spare no women or children,” Benzema wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
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Hamas on October 7 launched shock raids into Israel, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and seizing about 200 hostages.
Israel has since then launched wave after wave of retaliatory air strikes, killing more than 3,000 Palestinians in Gaza.
Darmanin, speaking on the CNews Channel, alleged that Benzema “has a notorious link with the Muslim Brotherhood”, a Sunni Muslim Islamist group with its origins in Egypt that is now banned by Cairo.
“This is false! Karim Benzema has never had the slightest relationship with this organisation,” Benzema’s layer Hugues Vigier said in a statement.
He said that Benzema was expressing “natural compassion” with “what many today describe as war crimes being committed in Gaza, but which does not detract from the horror of the terrorist acts of October 7, something not open to discussion”.
The lawyer added that he was planning to file a complaint against Darmanin for his comments.
A source close to Darmanin doubled down on the minister’s comments, criticising Benzema over an alleged “drift” towards a tougher interpretation of Islam over the last years.
But his lawyer Vigier said: “We are once again witnessing an intolerable exploitation of Karim Benzema and the ‘symbolic figure’ that we like to make him.”
Benzema, 35, who was born in France to parents of Algerian origin, has been one of the standout French stars of the last decade.
He joined the Saudi club on a hugely lucrative three-year deal this year after 14 seasons with Real Madrid where he lifted five Champions Leagues, four La Liga titles and three Copas del Rey.
But after a stellar 2021-22 season when he led Real to Champions League glory and was rewarded with the Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player, he was troubled by injuries that ruled him out of France’s World Cup campaign in Qatar last year.
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Darmanin, 41, has carved out a reputation as a hardliner in the mould of his political mentor ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and makes no secret of his own presidential ambitions.
French hard-left figurehead and three-time presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon weighed in on the controversy to back Benzema while admitting: “I don’t know you and I don’t know anything about football.”
“The government and its friends have chosen to demonise you,” he said, accusing the authorities of seeing Benzema as “French only on paper”.
Benzema is not the only Muslim football star to enter the debate, with Liverpool and Egypt player Mohamed Salah calling for humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza and an end to “massacres”.