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First Muslim immigrants join Dutch cabinet as junior ministers

Controversy over dual citizenship

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

AMSTERDAM - As a city councilman, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the son of a Moroccan clergyman, helped immigrants find jobs, put their toddlers in school to learn Dutch and doled out stern advice: integrate or leave.

Last month, Aboutaleb was sworn in as a junior minister in the Dutch Cabinet. Joining him is Nebahat Albayrak, a Turkish-born member of parliament. They are the first Muslims to reach the inner core of political power in the Netherlands, and are among only a few immigrants to rise to even second-rung Cabinet positions in Western Europe.

Albayrak and Aboutaleb are among immigrants who call themselves the ”New Dutch”. They have worked their way up the ladder of politics at a time when open doubt is expressed whether the Netherlands can comfortably absorb its Muslim minority.

At the same time, their rarity highlights how hard it is to break into what some immigrants see as an exclusive network of the native elite. About one million of the 16 million Dutch have a Muslim background, and are struggling to enter the country’s professional ranks.

Aboutaleb, the new deputy minister for social affairs, and Albayrak, the deputy minister of justice, are among the most visible successes in a nation troubled by failures in its vaunted system of multiculturalism - which came under scrutiny after Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim in 2004. But others have risen to less high-profile positions in local politics and to middle management jobs in business.


According to Sadik Harchaoui, a Moroccan who heads the national Institute of Multicultural Development, this is the new Europe, and the Netherlands is setting the example. He feels that in 15 to 20 years it will be a normal thing for Muslims.

While statistics are not ready available, Muslim integration does appear to be happening in many areas of the Netherlands. In Dutch municipal elections last year, the number of city council members with a background in Turkey and Morocco, the Muslim countries with the largest immigrant communities in the Netherlands, jumped by 62 percent, to 223. The number of immigrants from those countries in the 150-seat national parliament now is seven, a gain of two.

Aboutaleb and Albayrak belong to the Labour (PvdA), which draws a disproportionately large immigrant vote in national and local elections.

Albayrak, 38, came from Turkey with her six siblings when she was 18 months old. Her parents moved to the Netherlands to work and intended to return to Turkey after their children were educated. They never did. She joined the party while a university student, earned a degree in international law and was elected to parliament in 1998. In last November’s elections, she was second on her party’s list of candidates.

Aboutaleb, 45, settled in the Netherlands thirty years ago when his mother and family joined the father, who had come to the Netherlands several years earlier. He studied telecommunications and worked as a news broadcaster, but always had political ambitions.

Their rise to a seat at the cabinet table prompted a non-confidence motion from strident anti-immigration advocate Geert Wilders who bolted from the Conservative Liberal VVD a few years ago to form his own freedom party. The nine-seat Wilders-led faction in the Second Chamber earned plenty of political flack for the motion and no support.