News24

Rotterdam gets a Muslim mayor

2008-10-17 20:07

Amsterdam - Rotterdam, the second largest Dutch city, will have a Moroccan-born Muslim mayor from January 1, as Ahmed Aboutaleb was presented on Friday as future mayor by the city council.

The government still has to approve 47-year-old Aboutaleb's appointment, but this is considered a formality.

The Labour politician is the first mayor to be born and raised outside the Netherlands. He is also the first Muslim to become a mayor in the Netherlands.

Aboutaleb was born in Morocco and migrated to the Netherlands at the age of 14. He is currently deputy minister of social affairs, and before served as an alderman in Amsterdam.

The second largest party of the Rotterdam city council, Leefbaar Rotterdam, responded furiously to development, slamming the fact that Aboutaleb has double nationality, Moroccan and Dutch.

This was supported by the national Freedom Party PVV, whose legislator Fleur Agema announced it would request an emergency debate in Parliament about Aboutaleb's likely appointment.

It is the second time in two years Aboutaleb's Moroccan citizenship has caused controversy in Dutch politics.

On his appointment as deputy minister, the Freedom Party also criticised the fact that Aboutaleb held double citizenship, "at the least creating the appearance of double loyalties," legislator Agema said.

Both the national Freedom party and the local Leefbaar Rotterdam advocate a strict immigration policy and harsh measures against crime by migrants.

However, Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen (Labour) praised Aboutaleb, calling him "highly capable" - although he criticised the fact that Labour now has three mayoral posts of the Netherlands' four biggest cities, while it also occupies a majority in cities of intermediate size.

"Not having any mayor from the largest government party Christian Democrats will complicate receiving national funding for local projects," Cohen said.

Moroccan citizens cannot revoke their citizenship. Even their children born in the Netherlands are automatically Moroccan citizens.

Repeated Dutch attempts to negotiate with Morocco about granting its citizens the right to revoke their Moroccan citizenship have failed.

Some 45% of the 582 000 citizens of Rotterdam were not born in the Netherlands, or have foreign-born parents.

In Rotterdam, which has a broad range of socio-economic problems, crime involving the migrant community is an ongoing issue that causes tension with Dutch-born citizens. - Sapa-dpa