Benzema sues French interior minister for slander. GETTY IMAGES

After the Ballon d'Or winner posted on his social media that he was "sending all my prayers to the inhabitants of Gaza", French Minister Gérald Darmanin accused the French international of having "notorious links" with the "Muslim Brotherhood".

Lawyers for Karim Benzema, the French footballer now trying to return to Europe with Saudi club Al-Ittihad and formerly with Real Madrid, with whom he won the Ballon d'Or and numerous titles, filed a defamation lawsuit against French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Tuesday. 

According to the complaint seen by AFP, Darmanin accused him of having "notorious" links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Referring to the Ballon d'Or, the French official admitted that "Karim Benzema, as we all know, has notorious links with the Muslim Brotherhood," according to a statement he made on Cnews on 16 October. 

It all began when Darmanin replied to a post on the French footballer's account in which he said he "sends all his prayers to the inhabitants of Gaza, who are once again victims of unjust bombardments that spare neither women nor children" 

The footballer's lawyer Hugues Vigier was quick to refute the minister's accusations. "This is false! Karim Benzema has never had the slightest link with this organisation," he said in a statement.

Karim Benzema feels 'instrumentalised' by his fame. GETTY IMAGES
Karim Benzema feels 'instrumentalised' by his fame. GETTY IMAGES

"The striker's lawyer, who at the time hinted at the possibility of filing a complaint, which he did last Tuesday, argued that "praying for civilians under bombs on 15 October does not constitute 'propaganda for Hamas' or acts of collaboration". 

Benzema's lawyer denounced the "unacceptable exploitation of Karim Benzema and the symbol he has become". The complaint states: "The minister's statements undermine his honour and reputation. It has been submitted to the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), the only body with the power to prosecute and judge members of the government for crimes committed in the exercise of their functions. 

Benzema is a particularly relevant figure because of his prominence in the media. This aspect is at the heart of the complaint lodged by the footballer and his lawyer. 

The French international insists that he has "never had the slightest link with the Muslim Brotherhood". "I see to what extent I am being used as an instrument in political games because of my fame, which is all the more scandalous in view of the dramatic events since 7 October, which deserve something other than these statements," he noted.

AFP spoke to Darmanin and his team last October. They confirmed that the French minister's entourage believes that "for several years now, we have been observing a slow drift in Karim Benzema's positions towards a strict, rigorous Islam". 

In support of this view, they point to gestures such as his refusal to sing the national anthem when playing for France or, according to Darmanin's team, his "proselytising on social media about Muslim worship, such as fasting, prayer, pilgrimage to Mecca" or his "support for the publication of the Russian MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, a real call to hate after the publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in the French press". 

The Muslim Brotherhood is a religious and political group. It practices the Sunni branch of Islam. It is characterised by its desire to establish Sharia, or Islamic law, based on the Koran. They see Islam not just as a religion but also as a way of life and advocate using the holy book to "lay the foundations of families, communities and even countries".