France concluded the first round of voting for its presidential election on Sunday, with Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen coming out on top.

Macron took 23.7 percent of the vote, followed by Le Pen with 21.7. With the rest of the votes going to other candidates, and neither Macron or Le Pen taking above 50 percent of the vote, a run-off will take place between the two on May 7. 

Polls suggest that Macron – who is the founder and leader of the centrist En Marche! party – is the clear favorite to win the election overall, but Le Pen – the leader of the far-right National Front party – isn't out of the race yet.

Islamophobia, refugees and immigration are major political issues in France. As one of the former colonizing powers in the Arab world, France has an extensive history with the region and continues to play a significant role in regional geo-political relations. 

Here's how Macron and Le Pen stand on issues relating to the Middle East and North Africa. 

1. Islam

Macron: Unlike many in French politics, Macron has not come out against Muslim attire like the hijab or the infamous burkini. In October, he said France had made a mistake in unfairly targeting Muslims, suggesting the country needs to be less firm in enforcing secularism.

"No religion is a problem in France today," he said at a rally. "If the state should be neutral, which is at the heart of secularism, we have a duty to let everybody practice their religion with dignity."

Le Pen: Known for her Islamophobic rhetoric, Le Pen went on trial in 2015 for her anti-Muslim hate speech. In a 2010 rally, Le Pen compared praying Muslims to Nazi occupation. The court however, acquitted her of the charges. 

She has been a vocal opponent of the hijab and niqab in France, as well as advocating restrictions on halal meat and criticizing prayer rooms in work places.

Earlier this year, she drew significant media attention after refusing to wear a headscarf to meet the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, during a visit to the country

2. Immigration and refugees

Macron: In January, Macron said that "closing national borders" would not improve European security. He does however believe that border security should be increased, both at land and at sea.

Macron also praised Germany's open arms policy toward refugees, saying it "saved" Europe's "collective dignity." He strongly defended Merkel against criticism saying, “Nothing is more wrong than (the) abject simplifications” made by people who say that “by opening the borders to migrants, the chancellor exposed Europe to severe dangers," according to Euractiv.

Le Pen: Staunchly opposed to open immigration, Le Pen would make significant cuts to the number of immigrants allowed to enter France. She would also ban birthright citizenship and the automatic right to nationality for the spouses of French citizens, according to Al Jazeera.

"I call for the immediate restoration of our national borders and the equally immediate cessation of relocating migrants among our towns and villages," Le Pen said in December, criticizing Germany's acceptance of refugees. 

3. Syria

Macron: Following the suspected chemical attack in Syria earlier this month, Macron called for intervention against Assad, if it is proven that he was behind the attack. 

"An international intervention is needed ... My preference is that there should be an intervention under the auspices of the United Nations. A military intervention," Macron said, according to Reuters.

Le Pen: Throughout her campaign, Le Pen has spoken out against international intervention. She criticized U.S. President Donald Trump after his recent military strike in Syria.

"I am a little surprised because Trump had said repeatedly that he didn't intend the United States to be the world's policeman any longer and that is exactly what he did yesterday," she said.

"Is it too much to ask to wait for the results of an independent international investigation (into the chemical attack) before carrying out this kind of strike?"

Le Pen has also referred to Assad as "a much more reassuring solution for France than the Islamic State."

4. Gulf countries

Macron: Some have suggested that Macron's pro-business and pro-globalization stances will benefit GCC countries.

"A victory for Emmanuel Macron would be the best outcome for the Gulf states," leading political analyst Dr. Manuel Almeida wrote in an editorial for Arab News this month. 

"His specific foreign policy views are still largely unknown, but his pragmatism and pro-European and globalization stances would result in a constructive and responsible Middle East policy," he said. 

Le Pen: When it comes to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Le Pen wants France to cool its warm relations with the Gulf nations. If elected, she will seek to limit economic and diplomatic engagement with the GCC. 

"We call for applying some restrictions in the field of economic and diplomatic exchanges with countries, which openly or bluntly support Islamic fundamentalism (Qatar, Saudi Arabia)," Le Pen's campaign manager told Sputnik News.

Currently Frances maintains large arms deals with Saudi Arabia, while Qatar invests significantly in the French economy. 

5. Colonialism and Algeria

Macron: In a February TV interview, Macron called France's colonial actions in Algeria "genuinely barbaric". He said these actions "constitute a part of" France's past that needs to be confronted and apologized for. 

Macron drew significant criticism for the comments but defended them, saying: "we must face this common, complex past if we want to move on and get along."

Le Pen: Far from recognizing the atrocities committed by French colonialism in Algeria and other countries, Le Pen has said former colonies were improved greatly.

“(French) colonization gave a lot to former colonies, especially Algeria," she said over the weekend.

She added that thanks to colonization, Algeria has  "hospitals, roads and schools… Many Algerians of good faith admit that.”