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Arab women at the top of European governments

Over the past few years, women of Arab origins have been appointed to important positions in European political life. In this report, we will mention the four most well-known women, one Palestinian and three Moroccans.

Khadija Arib

Khadija AribThe Dutch-Moroccan, Khadija Arib, was elected on 13 January as Speaker of the Dutch House of Representatives. This is unprecedented in the Netherlands, which has a population of 17 million, about 380,000 of whom are of Moroccan origin.

Arib, who has been an MP for the Dutch Labour party since 1998, with a short break between 2006 and 2007, received 83 of the 134 votes.

She was born in Morocco in 1960 and came to the Netherlands when she was a teenager. She was elected as speaker after her predecessor, Anouchka van Miltenburg, resigned in December due to the Teen Drug Dealer agreement, which also led to the resignation of the minister of justice among others.

The Dutch Labour party is considered the second largest party in terms of seats in parliament, 36, after the Liberal party, led by current Prime Minister Mark Rutte, which has 40. The two parties form the current ruling coalition.

Arib is not the only political official of Moroccan origin to be appointed to a prestigious position in the Netherlands; Ahmed Aboutaleb has been Mayor of Rotterdam, the country’s second largest city, since 2009.

Sawsan Chebli

Sawsan ChebliSawsan Chebli is a Palestinian Muslim immigrant currently serving as the spokeswoman for the German Foreign Minister.

Chebli, who is from an uneducated Palestinian family, has succeeded in becoming the first woman not of German origin to act as a policy adviser on intercultural issues to the Berlin city administration.

On 24 January 2014, Chebli was appointed as the German foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, making her the first Muslim woman in German history to occupy this prestigious position.

She is the first Arab and second Muslim to be appointed to an important position in the new German government, after Aygul Ozkan, of Turkish origin, was appointed as the minister of immigration affairs, refugees and integration in Germany. A first for Germany.

Chebli’s family was forced to move to Lebanon after the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. They lived in Lebanon for nearly 20 years before they immigrated to Germany, where Sawsan was born. She is now 35 and grew up under difficult conditions, as she remained stateless until she was 15.

Her parents did not support her educational path as they were illiterate and only spoke Arabic at home. In spite of being raised as the eleventh of 12 children, she was able to overcome her difficult circumstances and earned her high school degree and went to university to study political science. Her choice of studies was not a coincidence, as Sawsan says. The fact that she grew up as a Palestinian refugee allowed her to understand at a young age how politics could contribute to determining the fate of an entire family.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

Najat Vallaud-BelkacemNajat is a French politician who held the position of minister of women’s affairs and official spokeswoman for Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government during Francois Hollande’s presidency, from 16 May 2012 to 2 April 2014. She was then appointed minister of women’s affairs and minister of youth affairs and sports in Manuel Valls’s government.

Belkacem is considered a model for the success of immigrant Arab women in France, given the fact that she is the youngest minister in the French government and is handling women’s affairs as well as youth and sports’ affairs, along with her tasks as the official government spokeswoman.

The 36-year-old, who always appears smiling, is a dual national of France and Morocco. She was born in the village of Bni Chiker, in the Nador province in northern Morocco. In 1982 she left and moved to France with her mother to follow her father, who worked as a labourer in Leon. She has six siblings and comes from an impoverished family.

She excelled in her studies and continued her higher education specialising in law and political science. After she obtained French citizenship at 18, she started planning her professional career. Belkacem started her career working as a legal advisor at a law firm in the State Council in Leon. She joined the Socialist party in 2002 and worked as an advisor in the office of Gerard Collomb, mayor of Leon, who was also a member of the French Senate.

After Hollande won the presidential elections in May 2012, Belkacem was appointed minister of women’s affairs and official government spokeswoman. This made her the youngest minister in Jean-Jacques Ayrault’s government. The Guardian newspaper called her “the new face of France” as she represents a new young generation.

Rachida Dati

Rachida DatiRachida Dati was born on 27 November 1965 and she’s a French politician of Moroccan origin. Her father is Moroccan and her mother is Algerian and she is considered the first woman of Arab origin to be appointed as a minister in the French government.

Dati was a spokesperson for the Nicolas Sarkozy government during the 2007 presidential elections, and served as the Keeper of the Seals and minister of justice in Francois Fillon’s first and second government from May 2007 to 23 June 2009. She was also elected as mayor of the seventh arrondissement of Paris on 29 March 2008 and has been a member of the European Parliament since 14 July 2009.

She was born in the city of Saint-Remy to an impoverished and uneducated immigrant family. Her father was a bricklayer and she was the second child of 12 children. She worked as a nurse’s assistant to fund her education, in which she excelled, and studied law at Pantheon-Assas University, and a Masters in Economics and Company Management.

In 2002 she began to make a name for herself in politics through Nicolas Sarkozy, who was minister of interior at the time. He appointed her as an advisor on an anti-delinquency project. Dati acted as the link between Sarkozy and the youth in the French suburbs, which witnessed widespread of acts of violence in late 2005. She played a vital role in improving relations between Sarkozy and the immigrant communities in French suburbs.

In 2006, Dati joined the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party led by Sarkozy. In 2007, she was appointed as spokesperson for Sarkozy during his battle in the presidential elections. After his victory, he appointed her minister of justice, making her the first Arab to occupy that position in a European country. She served in Francois Fillon’s first and second governments until she stepped down in May 2009.

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