Muslims Executive body in Belgium loses recognition after transparent reforms failure
After 26 years, the Executive of the Muslims of Belgium (EMB) is no longer the official interlocutor of the Islamic faith community and the Belgian government. Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne wants to pave the way for a new Muslim executive in the country, more "inclusive, pluralistic, representative and transparent".
Van Quickenborne has withdrawn the recognition of the old one, after the procedure for this had already started in February. The information released by the Belgian newspaper De Tijd this Thursday 15 September has been confirmed by the minister through a press release. The registered letter to EMB members in which the recognition withdrawal is announced was sent out yesterday.
Subsidies to cut external influences
The decision is the culmination of a long battle between Van Quickenborne and the Muslim Executive. In exchange for a subsidy of more than 500,000 euros per year, he wanted the Muslim Executive to work on the establishment of a more modern, Belgian version of Islam, without influence from countries such as Morocco or Saudi Arabia.
The Executive presented reform proposals in February, but they did not go far enough for Van Quickenborne. The procedure for withdrawal of recognition started that same month. Since then, there has been no progress on the file.
"The mandate of the members of the EMB has expired almost 2.5 years. EMB decisions are made by only a few members of the board of directors. Despite repeated promises from the EMB, there are still no credible democratic elections in prospect," said Van Quickenborne.
In 1996 the EMB officially became a discussion partner for the government, as a point of contact for the Muslim community in Belgium. The institution is responsible for applying recognition of mosques, organizing Islamic religious education, appointing and training imams and setting up Muslim plots in public cemeteries.
The State Security established in the autumn of 2020 that there was foreign interference. Besides, Van Quickenborne remarks that the EMB was not very transparent.
"Despite a council of 17 elected members who were supposed to represent the different strands of the Muslim community, the administration was de facto in the hands of a few individuals," he said.
The board of directors has not met since October 2019. An evaluation report from 2020 made by the EMB itself listed several shortcomings such as a lack of female representation and infiltration by extremists.
Despite two notices of default in July and October 2021, the Muslim executive did not take steps to organize elections to make the body "inclusive, pluralistic, representative and transparent", regretted Van Quickenborne.
"Despite many promises, the necessary steps have still not been taken. As a result, the Muslim community in our country does not have the representation to which it is entitled. That stands in the way of the integration of Muslims in our country."
"I have never experienced such amateurism," highlighted the minister. "And that for an organ that plays a crucial role for the Muslim community in our country. It deserves better and that is why I have decided to withdraw the recognition."
He calls on the Muslim community in Belgium to organize itself "in a transparent, independent and pluralistic manner, based on religious freedom and the democratic and free character" of Belgian society.
© BELGA PHOTO (CHRISTOPHE KETELS) Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne pictured during visit to the Brussels Justice Palace, Friday 25 March 2022.