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“It was heartbreaking”: Muslim mayor accepts Dutch election result | The Netherlands


SShortly after the announcement that populist Geert Wilders and his anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) had won the most votes of any party in the Dutch election, Ahmed Marcouch found himself comforting his child eight years old, distraught.

Earlier in the day, a teacher at his son’s school explained the election results, citing the stark differences between the parties. Marcouch’s son was now terrified that the family would have to leave the country.

“It was heartbreaking,” Marcouch said. But for Marcouch, the Moroccan-born mayor of the eastern Dutch city of Arnhem, it was also a worrying sign of the depth to which politics had veered into the personal realm.

“He’s the mayor’s son,” he said. “And he’s afraid that the government – ​​this party – will exclude them from this society.”

Since 2017, the Labor Party politician has been at the helm of Arnhem, seeking to bring together nearly 170,000 residents whose nationalities span more than 100 countries.

But the election propelled him into uncharted territory. Over the past ten days, Marcouch, a Muslim who arrived in the Netherlands at the age of 10 and was directly targeted by Wilders during his political career, wondered how best to heal the wounds exposed. naked by the results.

The PVV became the most voted party in the province of Gelderland, where Arnhem is located, with more than 20% support for promises including rejecting all new asylum applications, banning the Islamic headscarf in public buildings, the expulsion of dual national criminals and ending the free movement of EU workers.

Aside from these eye-catching promises, what Marcouch saw in the result was a backlash against traditional parties and institutions from people frustrated by skyrocketing housing prices and soaring costs of living. “For 40 years, they have heard promises. “Vote for me and your life will become better,” Marcouch said. “But they haven’t seen any change in their situation.”

This reality paved the way for Wilders, he believes. “In the meantime, they see Wilders expressing their anger, their disappointment. They didn’t hear any solutions, but he expressed their fears,” he said. “All he had to do was say, ‘I feel your pain.’ All it took was for people to vote for his party.”

Marcouch described the result as a wake-up call for politicians, as it revealed how a long-standing failure to address these problems had given way to what he called a “threat to democracy” in the Netherlands. “Dutch society is one of the richest in the world. But not all citizens benefit from this wealth.”

He cited the lack of affordable housing as an example. “We are facing a social crisis, like we have a climate crisis or an energy crisis,” he said. “It’s not because of immigrants or refugees. It is because of the mismanagement of politicians. It’s because of political choices. We must deal with anger.

He began taking steps in this direction, organizing a dialogue a few days after the elections to allow residents to share their views. “For me, right now, it’s very important to connect people, to get them to fight against this negative polarization,” he said.

Among those still reeling from the results are many members of the Muslim community. “I really understand the shock of a victory for a party that has systematically humiliated Muslims for decades, that wants to ban mosques, the Koran and wants to deprive Muslims of their fundamental rights,” he said.

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In 2017, after Marcouch’s appointment as mayor of Arnhem was announced, Wilders was one of those people. who showed up visited the city to protest, describing Marcouch in a statement as “more suited to be mayor of Rabat” than of Arnhem.

“He tried to humiliate me, but he didn’t,” said Marcouch, who responded in 2017 by emphasizing that everyone – including Wilders – was welcome in the city.

“But of course the problem is the signal he sent to all the young people named Ahmed or Mohamed or Fatima. With this kind of protest, he was saying that even if you try your best and get to a place where you have the competence to become mayor, that is not enough to be accepted,” he said. “And that’s the tragedy of this kind of talk.”

Days after the election, he again expressed concern that some young Muslims felt excluded from Dutch society. “I think it’s really important to pay attention to these young people and these members of our community and support them and tell them that this is the voice of a very small minority. The majority of our society is against this.”

Although negotiations are likely to drag on as Wilders tries to muster enough support to lead the country’s parliament, Marcouch insisted the election had delivered an unequivocal outcome when it comes to eroding trust in democratic institutions.

What is needed now is sustainable funding in areas such as education, housing and security, he said. “We need this type of investment to regain voter confidence and make people understand that democracy will work for them too. Because our democracy doesn’t work for everyone.”



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