Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, French National Front political party leader, speaks during a news conference at a hotel in Beirut, Feb. 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Right-wing French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen canceled a scheduled meeting with Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim religious leader Tuesday after she was told to wear a headscarf during her two-day visit to the country. The move triggered controversy with some calling the incident Le Pen’s stunt ahead of the French presidential election in April and May.

Le Pen was offered a headscarf when she arrived at Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian's office in Beirut. However, when she refused to wear it she was reportedly told that customs were different in Lebanon. Following this, she walked back to her car and left.

"You can pass on my respects to the Grand Mufti, but I will not cover myself up," Le Pen told reporters. "I consider the headscarf a symbol of a woman's submission. I will not put on the veil."

Le Pen also said she had informed the mufti’s office the night before that she would not cover her head and that they did not cancel the meeting.

"They tried to impose it upon me," Le Pen said.

However, according to a statement issued by the mufti’s office, Le Pen’s aides were told in advance that she would be required to wear the headscarf for the meeting.

"This is the protocol" at the mufti's office, the statement said. "The mufti's office regrets this inappropriate behavior in such meetings."

The move to not wear the scarf is believed to be a publicity stunt by the French National Front leader.

"Everybody expected her to spark a new controversy, and right now Le Pen is embroiled in a new scandal, so ... people will perceive that as an attempt to divert attention from the legal consequences of her actions over the past few years," Yasser Louati, a human rights and civil liberties activist in Paris, told Al Jazeera.

"This was a trap and a set-up because she wanted to send a message to her own voters and supporters that she somehow refused to respect the local customs in a Muslim-majority country," Louati said.

Le Pen is not the only one who has, in the past, refused to cover her head while visiting conservative countries. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, Democrat Hillary Clinton and former first ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama did not wear headscarves during their diplomatic visits to Saudi Arabia, where it's apparently mandatory for a woman to cover her head and body while in public.