A new Moroccan Mayor for Rotterdam

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This is the first time a person of foreign descent has been appointed to run a city in the Netherlands. Ahmed Aboutaleb, of Moroccan descent and holder of dual nationalities, assumed duties as the new mayor of the second largest city in the Netherlands, Rotterdam, on Monday, January 5.

The 47 year old Ahmed Aboutaleb is not a newcomer on the political scene. A sure bet for the Dutch labour party, PvdA, Mr. Aboutaleb was secretary of state for social affairs, where he built a solid reputation as a serious and effective politician.

The new mayor arrived in the Netherlands at age 14. He started his professional carreer as a journalist and later went on to become a ministerial spokeperson after which he was appointed as a municipal consellor both at the Hague and Amsterdam. Later, Ahmed Aboutaleb’s candicacy as secretary of state for social affairs would be highly recommended by the present finance minitster, Wouter Bos.

Mr. Aboutaleb is seen as a model of integration by the indigenous population, who have welcomed his selection by the municipal authorities openhandedly. He was equally lauded for his numerous calls for peace following the brutal killing of Theo Van Gogh, a controversial film producer, by Mohammed Bouyeri, an islamist, about three years ago. His foreign roots have also made him very popular among immigrant populations.

But despite the wave of appreciation in his favour, he remains focused on the difficult task ahead. One of his first obstacles is to rid himself of his Moroccan nationality, a procedure that is illegal in the cherifian kingdom.

In his acceptance speech, Ahmed Aboutaleb said that the inhabitants of Rotterdam still habour «a lot of fear» and «mistrust» for the immigrant population, thus his decision to clear the stifling apprehension by banking his hopes on «trust». According to him «trust is not only a vital tool for social cohesion but also an economic fuel. Building trust is investing in economic growth. A society in which there is trust is always stronger » he said.

The extreme right wing, on the other hand, has chosen to openly dispise Ahmed Aboutaleb. According to Geert Wilders, MP of the extreme right party, PVV, Ahmed Aboutaleb should rather be appointed for the job in Rabat. Another criticism, against Mr. Aboutaleb’s appointment, has come from the opposition party, Leefbaar Rotterdam, which has accused the new mayor of «holding two passports ».

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