Interview by Mohamed Selim
Hoping to inspire Egyptians ahead of the May presidential elections Cemile Giousouf, the first Turkish Muslim member of Germany’s Bundestag (parliament), granted Daily News Egypt’s Germany correspondent her first interview with an Arab newspaper.
Giousouf, who was elected to represent the city of Hagen, from the state of North Rhine Westphalia (NRW), in September, at the age of 35, believes Egyptians might be able to learn from her story as they pursue good governance and democracy during a turbulent time. Regardless of her ethnic background, religion and name, Giousouf was fielded by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to run for election. Chancellor Merkel herself endorsed her in a campaign rally a few weeks before the elections.
Q: Where were you when the news broke that you’d been elected to the 18th Bundestag?
After the polls were closed at 6 o’clock, it became clear that I hadn’t won my constituency directly, but as the evening went on, an overwhelming good nationwide CDU result became more obvious. With a growing optimism due to the good general results of the CDU, which would enable my entrance into the Bundestag, my team and I left the official election party at the Mayor’s Hall and went to a local bar. There we waited tensely but optimistically for the final results. Late that night the official result from the vote count made one thing clear: I was a member of the Bundestag.
Q: Why did you run for the Bundestag to represent the city of Hagen?
My candidacy for the city of Hagen was based on a perfect coincidence. After my decision to run for the Bundestag, Mr.Armin Laschet, Chairman of the CDU in NRW (North Rine-Westphalia, the most populous state of Germany), introduced me to the local CDU group of Hagen, which was actually looking for a direct candidate. The sympathies on both sides and my enthusiasm for the city and its outskirts seemed like a fruitful ground for a successful cooperation.
My personal experience of disadvantages, particularly in the field of education, played, certainly, a role towards my candidacy. The need for a more permeable education system that does not restrict the highest education to children from families with an academic background, but to establish an education system which offers every child equal opportunities is one of my main interests. Moreover, having studied political science at University of Bonn, and with the engagement of the German-Turkish Forum, I came in contact with the CDU and my political engagement fell more and more into place. Seeing myself as an active, highly motivated and goal-driven person, and with the experiences from my position at the Ministry for Employment, Integration and Social Affairs of NRW, the candidacy for the Bundestag seemed like a challenge that I am willing to face in order to represent the interests and concerns of the people, in particular from my constituency, but also from beyond. Last but not least, I hope that I can be a role model for people with a similar background to get engaged in politics and to represent the interest of all German citizens.
Q: How did your family react when you shared the news that you would run in the election?
At first they were quite proud of it and genuinely supported the idea. Whose parents wouldn’t? But the longer the election campaign went on, the busier I got, and my amount of spare time has indeed diminished. In such moments, they were complaining about my decision to run for election and the side-effects of not being able to visit them more often. But in general they were really supportive, especially with their indispensable morale boost.
Q: Why did you choose the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in particular?
While studying, I became engaged in the German-Turkish Forum, which was established and initiated by the CDU in 1997.There, I got to know many highly proactive, open-minded Christian democrats. They represented and are still representing a progressive mentality within the party which was very appealing to me. So, I wanted to become not only a part of this internal process, but at the same time play an active role in it. Secondly, the party’s position in family-related politics was very convincing to me, in contrast to other parties such as the Social Democratic Party (SPD) or the Greens. In my opinion, the emphasis that the CDU places on social values is more appealing to migrants than people would expect. Last but not least, a third decisive aspect is the religious bedrock of the party. I experienced and experience the “C” for Christian in the CDU is more like a “B” as for belief and its values.
Q: Did your religion cause any hindrances and/or scepticism among the CDU’s rank-and-file members?
People can be sceptical of a Muslim in the Christian Democratic Party. But, as I already said, the CDU is undergoing an opening-up process and active politicians of immigrant backgrounds or religions other than Christianity are no longer as “exotic” as one might assume. At a federal state level, Aygül Özkan, is a Minister in Lower Saxony and the last federal CDU’s Executive Board had four members with different ethnic backgrounds.The reaction in my constituency, Hagen, in the Ennepe Ruhr Kreis, after my nomination seemed to be: “We will become known as the first constituency with a Turkish-Muslim direct candidate and we will go down in CDU history with this nomination.”
Yet, in the beginning, I faced some reservations in my constituency and had to enforce my position against another candidate. But with more than two thirds of the votes, I got the support of the CDU party members in Hagen. During the campaign it became more and more clear that all other topics, but my belief or origin, were way more decisive for the electorate.
Q: How do you evaluate Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU leadership?
The strong election outcome for the CDU shows the level of trust the German citizens have in the CDU and Angela Merkel as its leader. She is a strong woman and stands for stable and reliable politics. She is seen as the strongest woman in Europe at the moment, in a still mainly male-dominated setting. Her calm, controlled and always very professional thought-through way of leadership garners strong admiration.
Q: You are very popular in the Arab and Muslim worlds, what is your message to all the youth, especially the women, who look up to you?
Given my achievement to become the first Muslim woman representing CDU in the Bundestag, I consider myself an example that the contemporary world enables one to both be a Muslim and be a political representative in a European country. In this sense, my position as a federal MP with Muslim faith opposes cliché-ridden perceptions of Muslim women. There are so many young women all around the world like me; it is an honour, if I can reflect their achievements in any way.
Q: The question right now in the Arab-Spring-stricken countries is about the role of political Islam; do you believe, as a CDU parliamentarian, that religion should be abolished from the political sphere?
As I already said, the religious bedrock in the party profile was one decisive argument for me to become a member of the CDU. Religion does play a role in my life and influences my political way of thinking. Personally, I do not see the necessity of banning religion from the political sphere and the CDU is a prime example that religious values and politics can co-exist. Nevertheless, it is very important, particularly nowadays with the events taking place in the context of the Arab Spring, to inform the public about, for example, the differences between the Islamic faith and religious extremism. It is very crucial to respond to the apparent fear and prejudices with an open, informative discourse. As a federal MP, I will have the chance to intensify this discourse with the aim to make these prejudices obsolete in the future.
Q: As your origins are Turkish and you fluently speak the language, how do you evaluate Prime Minister’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s legacy? And do you believe that one day Turkey will be a member of the European Union?
For me, as a democrat, I can only wish for Turkish people that Turkey joins the EU at some point. In democracy, human rights in general and the freedom of press, Turkey is still far away from European standards. For example, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s … latest reaction to demonstrations in Istanbul last summer, was a big mistake. But I also think the chosen way of the European Union, the strong emphasis on the membership-conditions and the outspoken, mutual expectation of a full EU-accession on behalf of Turkey offers Erdogan a clear path to follow in order to be welcomed without reservations. I personally think Turkey has already started this path but still needs to follow through.
Q: Where will you be in 10-years? And are you eyeing the German Chancellery?
My aim as a federal MP is to encourage young people, regardless of their ethnic origin, to increase their political participation. In the meantime, I … have a mandate to represent the interests of my constituency for the next four years. Taking a look into the future, my priority is to do the best I can within this legislative period.