14-07-13

Belgium: The dirty fingers of Laurette Onkelinx

PS.Onkelinx.jpg

As a reminder:

20.2.2007 

For the past few months, with public accusations being arrowed in, with house searches – even arrests, the trials & tribulations of the Belgian Muslim Executive has been making front pages news, alas more on the judiciary side than on the religious side. Although Islam is still the only large recognized religion that is not treated on an equal footing with others, one can see in the continual external interferences (and the action of those that want to profit from it) the germ of ruin. 
To measure the scope of this disaster, some knowledge of earlier events is a must. The Executive of the Muslim of Belgium (EMB) is the officially recognized negotiator by the Belgian government on matters of Muslim faith. It was created by a royal decree on 3rd July 1998. One year earlier, following the shock following the gruesome discovery of the little Loubna Benaïssa’s body, the political world had at long last taken heed of the necessity to hurry Islam institutionalization’s process, which had dried out since 1974, year of its recognition in Belgium. There had been, already, a Higher Muslim Council of Belgium, but without real competences and above all without means. 

There is no choice but to accept that even before its creation, suspicions and questionable compromises punctuated a decade (the 90s) when the milestones of a shaky EMB were put together. Every candidate had to sign a charter to reassure the democratic parties, which stipulated: “I assert on my honor that I adhere to the Islam faith, respecting its prescriptions and its teachings of fellowship, tolerance, integrity, and to take a stand with regard to my functions in the faith’s exclusive interest and this in the respect of the Kingdom’s Constitution, of the laws and institutions of the Belgian people”. But this was not enough for the Justice Minister of the times, Tony Van Parys (CD&V), who laid down as a further condition to the EMB’s creation the possibility to have a “right to examine” the elected candidates. 
This screening allowed the Justice Minister, on basis of State Security secret reports, to rule out from the outset about 20 “undesirable” candidates, without any grounds, nor possibility for the failed candidates to resort to an appeal. Anyway, it was the best possible way to stir up suspicion regarding an Institution that was lauded by foreign observers as being a European 1st. But this violation of the basic democratic rules enabled many political opponent voters to be reassured. A “compromise à la Belge”…. with colonial scents. 

Some Members of Parliament, even the catholic President of the Equality of Chances Center, Johan Leman, played also a role in this organised suspicion….. Several days after the first election on 13 December 1998, the Dominican Father dared state this shocking phrase: “15% of the elected members were subversive elements”. Thus it is one of the master pieces of this case that does not hesitate to discredit the Institution under construction. The media headlines of the times are persuasive: “The Brussels Muslim in Panic” (La Lanterne –the Lantern), “Elections being boycotted?” (La Libre Belgique – the Free Belgium), “Are the elections already disputed?” (Le Vif – from life/on the spot), “Extremist risk due to political desert?” (La Libre), “Danger of a fundamentalist takeover in the Assembly of the Muslims”, “the process is at risk” (le Vif). 

Blackmail 

The Muslim notables, for reasons of “realpolitik”, accepted with a heavy heart this blackmail: short listing or revocation of the EMB. Condoning thus, in one go, a dangerous and liberticidal distortion. The EMB could have provoked a healthy crisis by protesting and in giving back its mandate due to “interferences from the political power”. Unfortunately the EMB preferred to play with a fickle political logic in order to hope, on the very long term, for a real “recognition”. In itself, a typical instance of the rapport: “dominated – dominating” as one can recognize it in the relations North-South….. 

Yassin Didier Beyens, the President of the Belgium Higher Council of Muslims (predecessor of the EMB), will have the honesty to admit: “We were all extremely disturbed to have to pay such a high tribute for the success of the project”. But were we not the prisoners of the social contract with the State, the very same we knew we had, from the start, to give up some of our freedom to? No, that day, the State was not the “Providence” for Muslims”. Without any guilt, the Justice Minister Van Parys discarded an unwanted card onto him by sending a surprising and perfidious letter to a failed Turkish candidate following the screening: “If Dr. Beyens stated that your are an undesirable, one has to see this attitude in the light to what happened before. Hoping that these explanations will enable you to understand the reasoning behind Mr. Beyens’ decision, Your’s most sincerely…..” For Yassin Beyens, “the politic opponent was throwing back to me the hot bucket without clarifying his position and was indeed fusing up a delayed action bomb”. 

During the 1999 elections, the financial inspector Nordin Maloujahmoune took over from Dr. Beyens as the first elected representative of the Muslin faith. Under suspicion of embezzlements and misappropriations, he was the object of an internal “putsch” in 2003. Re-instated in his functions by a court decision, he was anyhow relieved from his duties by a vote of no confidence. A very lengthy and costly inquest, bedecked with 11 house searches and inflammatory press articles, did, in the end, fully, exonerate Nordin Maloujahmoum…. in June 2005! 

In 2003, the General Assembly elected a new President, the economist Mohamed Boulif. With the then Justice Minister, Marc Verwilghen (VLD)’s refusal to ratify the new composition of the Executive, the Kern (the limited council of ministers) proposed two mediators, the Senator Meryem Kacar (SP-A) and the Senator Philippe Moureaux (PS), to formulate propositions to clear the situation. The upshot of it was a “Moureaux Report” which helped to “thaw” somewhat the relations. The team presided over by Boulif was finally accepted by the Kern. But a few months later, the climate worsened again, with suspicions and accusations of “embezzlements”. 

Thus from 1999 to 2005, the EMB went through a troubled period, when cases were often blocked. The task is nevertheless vast: recognition of mosques, of Imans, their training (the Islamic faith teacher’s status), the Muslim “patches” in the cemeteries, the chaplaincy….. In a general (Muslim) indifference, the EMB tried to resolve one or the other of these case, between two scandals. 


A “new” EMB 

Meanwhile, the new (and present) Justice Minister, Laurette Onkelinx (PS), alerted by a letter dated February 2004 signed by Kissi Benjelloul, member of the General Assembly of the Executive and President of a handful of cultural associations, decided to introduce a bill to set up a Commission to deal with organizing general elections for the renewal of the temporal representative organs of the Muslim faith. However, in June 2004, the State Council gave a negative notice because it would have been a disproportionate interference. Following this “mishap” the Minister got a law voted on the sly, on 20th July 2004, one of the fastest laws of the History of the Belgian Parliament, and this without any referral to the EMB still presided by Mohamed Boulif. Although, on 17 November 2004, during her speech in the Brussels’ Town Hall , the Minister Onkelinx was laudatory towards the President Boulif : “I would already like to state, Mr. Boulif, it is years now since we work together, and it is always a great pleasure for me, because there is always this will from you, with the Executive, to build, to be partners not only reliable but enthusiastic, credible too, partners who constantly make efforts to be close to the Authority to bring solutions for the benefit of the whole Muslim community”. How does one explain this 180° about-face by the Minister? Was Mohammed Boulif thus paying his proximity with the CDH? Was he considered too independent? This remains a mystery….. 

The commission setting up new elections, planned for May 2005, was set up only a few weeks later, after the law was voted, with two Muslim “guarantors”, one of them the Sociologist Hassan Bousseta (…. gone over since to the PS). The EMB as well as several Muslim associations applied for legal remedy to the Council of State and to the arbitration Court to render null this process declared “illegal”, until now without any success. 

It is thus in a dreadful climate that, on 20 March 2005, the election of a new EMB took place, boycotted by almost all the whole Moroccan community, which felt that this ballot was indeed an election farce, while the Turks rallied by the Diyanet (institution for Turkish religious affairs), monopolized de facto the ballot….. A foreseeable result, which gave rise to a certain embarrassment for the Minister, as she did absolutely not want to cut herself from her Belgian-Moroccan election base….. The new team, presided by the Diyanet’s employee: Coskun Beyazgül, holder of the official Turkish religious teachings and of the ULB (free Brussels’ University), Philology and oriental History department, option Islamology. He made important concessions, during April 2005, to allow the Moroccans and notably Kissi Benjelloul, enthroned Vice-President with a minute result (about 400 votes), to hope for an hypothetical “representativeness” of the Belgian Muslims. It would have been understood, that these “arrangements à la belge” had as a goal to allow the Minister not to loose face and to reassure her Moroccan election base. 

The Justice Minister’s ex-husband, Abbes Guenned, seems to be playing a not negligible role in this case. His post in her cabinet (where he works on the “cults” case) allows him to take care of this fiery case which touches on the recognitions of mosques and of Imans. If for many, this man has a devilish reputation, he states that there is only a will to blacken the Minister, and that he had been fully cleared by the Moroccan judge who was dealing with the drug case that concerned him. He also won the Belgian trial against the satirical «catholic right-wing» newspaper Père Ubu for calumny. 

The «scandals» 

As we have seen it, straight from its inception the EMB has been the theater of financial accusations of all kinds, justified or not. In view of the recent happenings, it is still not finished! Thus the Minister of Justice (and of the Religions) had frozen in 2004 a subsidy granted to the EMB, following, one is told, the discovery that the accounting management was “careless”. In the month of December 2004, faced with a risk of being closed down, the EMB contracted a loan from a financial association “Hefboom” for a total of 80.000 euros, this, to pay the unpaid salaries and general outgoings. 
The subsidy granted by Laurette Onkelinx was, in the end, only paid in the month of June 2005…. and to the new team presided by Coskün Beyazgül. Will this new one repay the loan contracted by the old team? For the present President, Coskün Beyazgül, close to the Turkish Diyanet, the business is under « inquiry», and hence he cannot intervene. Abdelmajid Mhauchi, member of the old EMB, denies this solemn affirmation: the business would not really be under inquiry, and the present President would be using this pretext in order not to pay back the loan. Meanwhile, two months ago, several families received a bailiff’s visit, with some of them being at risk of loosing their personal property in order to pay back a sum that they had not at all stolen… In one word, Kafka under a political-Muslim sauce. 

More recently, on the Tuesday 16th January, Mohamed Boulif was incarcerated into the Forest prison for “breach of trust”, regarding a sum of 60.000 to 100.000 euros not (or not enough) justified. Furthermore, an invoice of 31.000 euros (to buy computers) via his brother-in-law’s business SGI, is raising as well some sort of problem. Do not forget that the SGI company is the EMB’s appointed creditor since 1998, well before Mohamed Boulif’s Presidency. The media speaks of “ghost” computers, but according to the EMB’s IT adviser, Imran Akhtar, they are stored in an EMB’s room and a bailiff drew up an inventory when the new team arrived. Why, then, is a certain press still spreading false information? This is a complete mystery! 

Here is another detail of this case: few months ago, a €100 postal money order was sent to the prisoner Trabelsi, sentenced for setting up a terrorist attack in Belgium. Some mass media did not hesitate to point the finger to Mohamed Boulif. However, this money order is anonymous: the only name on it is the “Muslin Executive”. As for the post office, it explains that for amounts of less than €1,000, it is not necessary to note down the sender’s name…The obvious goal seems to want to damage! Nothing in fact seems to spare Mohamed Boulif, a well appreciated and considered upstanding man by a large majority of the Muslims of this country, and that feel his arrest is unjust. 

This is not the end. The “Soir” dated of the 6th January 2007 revealed that invoices have been bumped up as well for the «Ramadan’s nights». The EMB “justified” the €15,000 through the press, but at the same time a few voices from the General Assembly are being heard criticizing a still non-open and unserious management… In the magazine Le Vif l’Express dated 18 January 2007, Marie-Cécile Royen paints an apocalyptic picture of the present EMB. Every which way, she states that Kissi Benjelloul, the present Vice-President of the EMB’s French speaking wing, could have contributed to Boulif’s downfall. Still according to her, complaints coming from the Belgium Mosques Union (UMB) and from one Mimoun Ayada (thrown out by the Al Mouhsinine mosque) are accusing this man regarding certain amounts. Moreover, the EMB would have squandered a lot of money in its investments which would have brought the institution into a “great poverty”, of which the staff would have been the major looser in December 2006. 

Who is benefiting from the crime? 

Since the beginning in 1999, the EMB has not had a moment of peace and quiet. The screening got the worm settled in the fruit: with the excessive interferences and the Muslim opportunists, the Institution has quickly become a bunch of people in the service of a political and law and order logic. 

The man on whom a lot of the resentments are focused today, is actually the EMB’s Vice President: Kissi Benjelloul. Many see in him a man ready to do anything in order to achieve his goals. Which ones? Retired butcher, he was trying to control the Halal meat (meat prepared according to Coranic law) through his own label. A juicy business that the EMB is trying to coordinate and about which Mohamed Boulif and others want also to say something, especially concerning the granting of the « Halal » label. Could Boulif’s reputation been smeared in order to be definitely pushed aside of this market? Kissi Benejlloul is defending this, showing disinterest for the case and stating his “brotherhood” with Boulif whom he hopes will be set free as soon as possible. Moreover, he pretends not to have any ties with the Ministrer and even less with the Moroccan Embassy. But, according to Le Vif-L’Express, this man would have pledged his allegiance to the King of Morocco. He would be known also in the Gulf States, and in Morocco he seems to command a real power, so he says….He remains a controversial man that arouses rejection for many, in spite of having a paradoxical side and being popular! In the month of December 2006, he was arrested in connection with buying a refrigerated lorry, but was set free the next day. 

The Brusselese examining magistrate Claise, who is the in-charge for several cases, thus will have a lot to do. Right now, the presumption of innocence is dominant, prudence is a must, as all, until proven guilty to the contrary are presumed innocent! 

When are all these uncertainties going to end? 

The first of these uncertainties…. Concerns the length of the present Executive’s mandate, which still needs to be determined by the General Assembly according to its present President. Ditto for the internal policy which still has not seen the light of day. Hassan Bousseta, himself, is criticizing its management – that says it all! Beside this, some Muslim citizens such as Abdelghani Ben Moussa continue to inform his fellow citizens on the political interferences (). Furthermore, he had been himself candidate at the 20th March 2005 ballot, but was ruled out by the “Commission” as he had not accepted to put his name down in the cultural ethnic categories (Turks, Moroccans, converts….), there are actually three pending demands for remedy of ultra vires on this very instance with the Council of State. A favorable and constructive decree can indeed any moment put paid to the 20th March 20005 electoral process. 

Mohsin Mouedden 
Article published in "Journal du Mardi" week of 23 January 2007
http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/02/362864.html
Photo: Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Laurette Onkelinx who is president of the French-speaking Socialists in Brussels. On June, 3th 2011 the newspaper Belang van Limburg wrote that 'Deputy Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx will possibly be the new Prime Minister of Brussels'.