Zemouri is a Dutch-Moroccan candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Netherlands.
Rabat – Charifa Zemouri is an up-and-coming politician in the Netherlands. Through her studies and experience as a Dutch-Moroccan woman, she has managed to reach the upper echelons of Dutch power with her upcoming candidacy in the 2021 parliamentary elections.
With a background in public health and an expertise in the spread of infectious diseases, Zemouri appears to be in the right place at the right time. Morocco World News spoke to this exciting young politician about her background, her emergence in politics, and what drives her.
Zemouri’s family comes from the small rural village of Beni Ahmed near Chefchaouen. Local poverty meant Zemouri’s father had to find his fortune elsewhere and he moved to Amsterdam in the early 1970s. She was born and raised in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.
“Life was good in Amsterdam,” Charifa Zemouri told Morocco World News, “but I faced the challenges of being a girl from a family with a migration background.” Zemouri’s family, like most migrant families, became part of the working class, something that challenged her and shaped her perspective on life in the Netherlands.
In 2011 after graduating from high school, Zemouri decided to study health sciences in Amsterdam. After working as a scientific researcher she pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Dentistry.
Her 2020 thesis on the spread of infectious diseases through aerosols came to the attention of Denk, a Dutch political party grappling with the COVID-19 crisis. The party’s leader and fellow Dutch-Moroccan Farid Azarkan was impressed and offered her a position as policy advisor.
“All of the sudden, my research became very important,” Zemouri explained. As Dutch politics grappled with the pandemic, experts like Zemouri became a much wanted commodity. Soon, Zemouri was the go-to liaison on the COVID-19 pandemic, writing speeches and motions and informing the party on its coronavirus and public health policies.
“That was a great honor,” Zemouri explained. “I never had any real interest in politics before that moment,” she told MWN. Like many Dutch civilians she was disenchanted with politics as a place of political brinkmanship, empty promises, and self-serving individuals.
“When the corona pandemic started me, and the nation as a whole, started to realize how much power politicians have in how we deal with a disease outbreak and general issues in society.”
Zemouri entered politics at an unprecedented time in history. “This is the biggest crisis that Europe has faced since World War II.” The pandemic confronted Charifa Zemouri with the wide gap between science, academia, and politics.
When Denk’s party leader Azarkan offered her the job, Zemouri realized that this was her opportunity to inform decision making, in the evidence-based manner that she had become accustomed to as an academic and a scientist. “I discovered that it is possible to mix science with politics,” she elaborated.
“That’s when I came up with the concept of evidence based politics,” Zemouri explained. Her background as a scientist had ill-prepared her for the political aspects that often determine the outcome of political decisions. “In medical school they do not teach us about politics,” she said, adding that “when you enter the real world, it can be hard to understand political decisions.”
Despite her scientific education, her schooling had done little to explain how political bartering by non-scientists often waters down and changes scientific recommendations.
Dutch liberal politics meant that the concept of personal responsibility was often the driving force behind political decisions. The government aimed to stay out of the citizen’s way, yet “in a health crisis you need a shepherd, someone who takes charge and gets involved.”
Her education did not prepare her for the large impact that politics has on public health. “What does it mean when a populist party rises to power, what does that mean for minorities, how does that impact healthcare, or research?”
Zemouri had a steep learning curve ahead of her as she entered politics in the summer of 2020.
Charifa Zemouri’s background gave her the perfect theoretical foundation to understand the crisis yet her scientific knowledge often seemed completely detached from the political action that lawmakers took. “This is just politics,” was often the only explanation she would receive when pondering this dichotomy.
Zemouri witnessed how political interests and societal expectations watered down scientific recommendations. Luckily, it was a political party aiming to do things differently that welcomed her.
“The team at Denk, we are like a family,” she explained, adding that “we have a very healthy form of communication, involving everyone on an equal basis.” At Denk, Charifa Zemouri found an atmosphere of collaboration and the freedom to express herself. The party’s members of parliament created a safe space for her to think out loud and contribute.
“We always find consensus through compromise, taking everyone’s views into account,” Zemouri said about the internal workings of the party. “I felt a sense of mentorship, acceptance, freedom and safety, the perfect environment for me to move forward.”
Now Zemouri is stepping into the political arena herself as the number 5 on Denk’s list of candidates for parliament. As an up-and-coming politician Charifa Zemouri has a clear opinion on how to tackle the current health crisis in the Netherlands.
“We need evidence-based politics,” Zemouri said confidently. “That applies to the pandemic but extends to our approach in public health and other fields.” She wishes to avoid political games and self-serving politics, saying, “in an ever-changing world, we need politics to be just as dynamic.”
Zemouri intends to stay clear of subjective, “gut-feeling, ideologically driven” opinions. “We need policy based on facts,” she explains, adding, “if we base our policy on evidence we can develop a new political culture which citizens can truly believe and trust in.”
Dutch elite parties often depend on outdated ideology from the 1960s, but “this does not apply to 2021 anymore,” according to Charifa Zemouri. In this dynamic world where borders will eventually disappear, she says, there is no reality that matches the one presented by anti-immigration parties such as Geert Wilders’ PVV.
“Politics has never been my aim, and it will not be my aim,” Zemouri pledged. “Politics, is my tool.”