Shhaideh set for Romanian Prime Minister: Romania’s changing perceptions of Islam

“Her presence within this rank of government is commendable to say the least, as well as pivotal in changing current perceptions of Muslims as a threat”

The news that Romania might soon be seeing their first female Muslim prime minister, Sevil Shhaideh, come into power shows  positive progress in attitudes towards Islam in this part of the world. This comes after a lawsuit was filed against the construction of a mega-mosque in the country’s capital, Bucharest, following outrage at the initial decision do begin this.

The construction of the mosque was originally part of a deal with Turkey in which a Romanian Orthodox church would also be built in Istanbul, however it was revealed in July 2015 that this part of the agreement could no longer be met due to Turkish laws. Nonetheless, plans for the Romanian mosque continued, with Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, calling this “the most beautiful expression of dialogue and solidarity between the two countries.” Unfortunately, this expression of solidarity seems ever more distant due to multicultural intolerance and apparent right-wing powers. Victor Ponta, who was president at the time of the agreement with Turkey and a great advocate for the construction of the mega-mosque, commented on the turn of events, stating  “I’m sorry that in our country there are still irresponsible people playing with so sensitive and important things such as peace, respect and interfaith solidarity.” However, with the recent news about Shhaideh, perhaps we are seeing another turnaround in attitudes.

Aside from breaking gender boundaries, Shhaideh is part of a religion which makes up just 0.3% of Romania’s population, thus her presence within this rank of government is commendable to say the least, as well as pivotal in changing current perceptions of Muslims as a threat. There are already Muslims present in ‘Western’ governments and positions of power, as there have been for many years, from human rights activist such a Malcolm X to the current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. [See List of American Muslims and List of British Muslims]

This evident increase in the number of Muslims in power in non-Muslim countries includes both those who work as ambassadors for Muslim institutions/countries as well as those whose position is not affiliated with their religion. Both of these are significant, the first in ensuring that a voice is given on behalf of a these people, whilst the second proves that Muslims are not solely being viewed as a part of their religion but rather theyare awarded positions on their own merit separate from their beliefs.

This said, Islamic countries are also electing non-Muslim leaders to head their states and have done so for years. [See list here]

It will be interesting to see how this story progresses in the new year.If Shhaideh is ultimately not voted in as Romania’s new prime minister, the fact that she has reached where she has is a testament to changing attitudes towards minorities and step towards creating a more tolerant and diversified society.

Paul Ivan (@paul2ivan): Senior Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre (EPC).







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