Dispute over Muslim MP leads to fall of Dutch coalition

The centre-right Dutch Government unexpectedly collapsed last night after growing tensions over its notoriously tough immigration minister, ‘Iron Rita’ Verdonk.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister, announced that he would hand his resignation to Queen Beatrix today after he failed to heal rifts in his coalition over Ms Verdonk’s decision to strip Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born MP and world-renowned critic of Islam, of her passport.

The announcement, which will almost certainly lead to early elections, came moments after three ministers from the tiny D-66 party quit the Cabinet, demanding the resignation of Ms Verdonk.

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They wanted to force her out of government for precipitously stripping Ms Hirsi Ali of her Dutch citizenship last month after a television documentary detailed how the Somali-born feminist lied about her family name when she applied for asylum in the Netherlands.

Ms Hirsi Ali, 36, resigned as an MP and announced that she was moving to the US to work for a right-wing think-tank.

On Tuesday Ms Verdonk reversed her decision, restoring Ms Hirsi Ali’s citizenship but leaving her own political credibility in tatters.

The Government’s collapse came even as it won a noconfidence motion in parliament over the affair. The motion was backed by D-66, leaving the small party with no option but to withdraw its ministers from the Cabinet, a decision that deprives Mr Balkenende of his majority. Ms Verdonk, a former prison governor who has made herself both the most loved and most hated politician in the country by introducing Europe’s toughest immigration laws, stripped Ms Hirsi Ali of her citizenship within days of the documentary, claiming that under Dutch law one forfeits rights to a passport if one lied to get it.

Ms Verdonk was at the time conducting an ultimately futile campaign to win the leadership of her own party, the right-wing VVD, in an attempt to become the country’s first female prime minister.

Critics said that she stripped Ms Hirsi Ali of her passport so quickly in an attempt to burnish her tough image before the party elections.

Ms Hirsi Ali, whose family name is Hirsi Megan, used her grandfather’s name when she applied for asylum in 1992 to escape an arranged marriage. She became an MP and political ally of Ms Verdonk, supporting legislation to cut immigration and promote integration of immigrants, partly by the introduction of Dutch language and culture tests.

The former Muslim became known as an articulate critic of Islam after the murder of the Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic extremist. Mr Van Gogh was stabbed to death in broad daylight in Amsterdam after he made a film with Ms Hirsi Ali about domestic violence in Islamic communities.

A note was pinned to his chest, pledging to kill Ms Hirsi Ali, who lives under 24-hour police guard.


1992 Ayaan Hirsi Ali arrives in The Netherlands and asks for political asylum under a false name, claiming to flee from forced marriage

May 16, 2006 Verdonk declares Hirsi Ali’s Dutch citizenship invalid because she gave a false name during the naturalisation process. Hirsi Ali resigns from parliament

June 27 Verdonk informs parliament that Hirsi Ali will be allowed to keep her passport

June 29 Government survives motion calling for Verdonk’s resignation. D-66 party pulls out of Goverment in protest

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Times, UK
June 29, 2006
Anthony Browne, Europe Correspondent

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