The former French President has vowed to impose a nationwide ban on burkinis if he is re-elected into the post next year.
While launching his campaign to succeed Francois Hollande in next year’s election, he put the issue of French identity front and centre.
“I refuse to let the burkini impose itself in French beaches and swimming pools...there must be a law to ban it throughout the Republic's territory,” he said to applause.
“Our identity is under threat when we accept an immigration policy that makes no sense.”
In an interview last week, Mr Sarkozy declared wearing a burkini to be “a political act, militant, a provocation”.
More than a dozen French cities and communes have banned the swimwear in a trend started by the Riviera city of Cannes.
France’s highest administrative court is examining the legality of the by-laws, which have been brought in individually with varying wording alluding to clothing “respectful to morality and secular principles”.
Some bans have alluded to a threat to public order, while other mayors have specifically put them in the context of terror attacks, extremism and fear.
Mr Sarkozy, who served as French President from 2007 to 2012, is campaigning to be the conservative candidate for next year’s elections.
Thousands of supporters waving French flags chanted ”Nicolas! Nicolas!“ and applauded as he gave a speech in Chateaurenard on Thursday evening.
"I want to be the president who guarantees the safety of France and of every French person," he said, alluding to Isis-inspired terror attacks that have killed 230 people in France since January 2015.
Responding to criticism from the current Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, Mr Sarkozy said: "The French people are not fascist because they consider there are security problems…in my speech there is no fear, there is no hatred, there is just common sense."
The politician is angling to gain votes from the far-right Front National (FN) for his Les Republicains party.
For months Mr Sarkozy lagged in opinion polls behind Alain Juppe, a more centrist former Prime Minister who is his main rival for the November primaries that will choose a conservative candidate for the election.
But his popularity has risen after the Isis-inspired attacks in Nice and Normandy.
Additional reporting by Reuters
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies