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Screenshot from Islam Party website

Media hype boosts controversial leader of Belgian Sharia party

A party whose aim is to create an Islamic State in Belgium, is hoping to win seats in Belgium's municipal elections, scheduled to take place on 14 October this year. Two members of the Islam Party were elected in 2012, including one in the notorious Molenbeek area of Brussels. This year, the party hopes to win in 28 municipalities in all.

Published: July 13, 2018, 10:15 am

    Among its policies is the separation of men and women on public transport. “It’s a project born out of the request of women, who were really harassed, who were really abused, by people who are poorly educated, by perverts it must be said,” Abdelhay Bakkali Tahiri, President of the Islam Party, told Euronews. “In Japan it works very well, there are cars reserved for women during the rush hour.”

    Ann Gilles-Goris, a Molenbeek Councillor, responded to the policy, telling Euronews: “We build a society by building bridges, by putting people together, by allowing them to experience everyday life together. If we start to separate men and women, I think we’re doing the wrong thing.”

    Molenbeek is notorious for being a hotbed of extremism, with a number of Islamists behind the Paris and Brussels attacks having called it home.

    The Islam Party also wants to bring in Sharia law in Belgium, which is home to more than 800 000 registered Muslims. Hasni Abidi, Director of the Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World (CERMAM), in Geneva says the party should not be banned. “We can not ban a political party even if this party advocates extreme ideas because the political landscape has enough room for all these parties.”

    Redouane Ahrouch meanwhile intends to surf the media hype to conquer the community of Anderlecht. On the lists of the Islam party for the Communaux 2018 elections, the leader of the Islam party is more than keen to reinforce his status as communal councillor, even though he was fired from his job as a busdriver.

    His recent dismissal by the STIB, Brussels public transport authority, has only strengthened the resolve of Ahrouch make the most of the growing media attention of the last few months. The Anderlecht communal councillor still wears his working clothes – now dirty – and his cap marked STIB for interviews.

    The strong man of the Islam Party was fired by his employer for his comments on the separation between men and women on public transport. The Brussels public transport company has judged them to be at odds with its values. But Ahrouch says he looks forward to getting his job back before the end of his notice. Convinced that this dismissal was purely political, he has already contacted his lawyer: “The trial that will follow will demonstrate whether justice is truly independent.”

    Ahrouch is the founder of the party Islam. During a recent TV debate he also refused to look the French-speaking Belgian journalist Emmanuelle Praet in the eye because she is a woman. “I listen to her, that’s enough,” he said.

    During the political debate on RTL-TVI, Ahrouch refused to acknowlegde Praet, Belgian daily La Derniere Heure reported.

    “Is there a law that requires someone to shake hands?” the party founder asked at the interview. “I do not think so? I have respect, but that does not mean that I have to touch someone.” The atmosphere did not improve. When journalist Praet spoke, Ahrouch refused to look at her, even when the woman explicitly asked for it. “I listen to her, that’s enough”, was his response.

    These controversies have given Ahrouch an unexpected media visibility, and the possibility of expressing his views in public. In the run-up to the communal elections, it is difficult to think of better publicity.

    Latifa Ahmiri, also communal councillor in Anderlecht and a Muslim from the Socialist Party, is convinced that STIB has made a big mistake because Ahrouch’s dismissal has afforded him free publicity. She does not share her colleague’s ideas, but believes that he has the right to express them. “The political commitment of a citizen should not be a pretext for a dismissal. Otherwise, who would dare to go into politics?”

    For six years, Redouane Arhouch missed no meeting in the Anderlecht commune. His fellow municipal councillors note an exceptional attendance rate and equally impressive inactivity. Described as “colourless”, “insipid” or “insignificant”, the strong man of the Islam Party does not say hello to anyone, sits down and leaves.

    Abdelhay Bakkali Tahiri told the media: “Redouane Ahrouch is at the origin of a large part of the ideas. Even though I am the president, he remains our leader. He’s too brash to be president. Someone needed to soften the edges.”

    Ahrouche campaigns however without justifying his party’s positions with religion. He never mentions Islam or the Quran. Therefore most voters are surprised to learn that the “charismatic” leader of the party aspires to a “Belgium that must start from scratch to become an Islamic state. A real state.”

    In October, the communal elections will show whether the recent controversies have had an impact, positive or negative, on the results of the Islam party.

    President Bakkali Tahiri and those concerned are convinced that if Ahrouch does not succeed, someone else will.

    Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken denounced the party’s programme: “Women do not have rights in their shariah world. And it starts with separate public transport. I am disgusted by this ISLAM party. This is spitting on Europe.”

    The party is not the first Islamic party in Europe; similar parties have made headway in the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden. In Sweden however, the Jasin party was denied registration by the country’s electoral commission after revelations of extremism.

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