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Germany

Cemile Giousouf: the face of a new CDU

Young, female, Muslim: Cemile Giousouf is the exception in the CDU. As the Christian Democrat's first female Muslim candidate, she'll be running for the party in September's federal election.

Children wait impatiently for the official start of the festival, with tantalizing slices of lemon cake, cherry streusel and apple tart just out of reach. Around 50 adults and at least as many children have gathered in this kindergarden's back courtyard, and among them is Cemile Giousouf.

She's here to canvass for donations to help rebuild a kindergarden in Passau, which was completely inundated during the flooding earlier this year. But before she's able to take to the small, temporary stage, the children are called upon to provide a little entertainment. Songs are sung, a small play is performed and poems are read aloud.

Giousouf sits in the first row and skims through her notes. "Preparation is key," she says. Later, on stage, she comes across as confident - she wants to keep it short; politicians tend to go on and on, something she wants to avoid, she says with a laugh. One thing is clear: she doesn't want to be a typical politician. Her motto: Act, rather than just talking all the time.

Cemile Giousouf, CDU-Bundestagskandidatin, Wahlkreis Hagen. Die CDU-Bundestagskandidatin Cemile Giousouf bittet um Spenden für einen Kindergarten in Passau, der während der Hochwasserkatastrophe komplett überflutet wurde. Ort - Kindergarten Christophorus in Hagen Copyright: DW/Rayna Breuer

Each appearance and speech is well planned and practiced

Germany-Greece-Germany

Giousouf, in her mid 30s, says her upbringing had many similarities with the typical childhood of a guest worker family, "if such a thing exists."

"My parents wanted a better future for my brother and me," she says. "For this reason, they placed a high value on education. They weren't able to help us much with the actual lessons, but they pulled out all the stops in order for us to have the necessary support."

Giousouf was born in Germany, the child of parents that belonged to a Turkish minority in Greece. At the age of two, Giousouf's mother sent her to Greece to live with her aunt and uncle. Her mother stayed in Germany to work. Two years later, however, she brought her daughter back to Germany.

Giousouf grew up in western city of Leverkusen, and later studied politics in Bonn. In her free time she got involved with the German-Turkish Forum, an organization set up by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. This was where she got her start in politics - and in the party that stands for conservative Christian values.

"In the beginning, I thought like many other people, that the CDU wasn't a party where immigrants could feel at home," she says. "But since 2005 much has changed in the CDU. Integration has been declared a top priority." The CDU has since overtaken the other parties in how they've dealt with the topic.

The "C," the party's Christian profile, doesn't seem to stand in the way. Quite the opposite, in fact. "Religious people, no matter which religion they belong to, have similar interests. German Muslims, just like German Christians, want to have religious education in schools," says Giousouf. "The Greens, by contrast, do not. Instead, they want lessons in ethics."

Sommerfest des St. Christopforus Kindergartens in Hagen Copyright: DW/Rayna Breuer

Giousouf's audience at the St. Christopforus kindergarten in Hagen

A new path for the CDU

A few quick photos, and then Giousouf is off to the next event. The local motorcycle club has organized an open-air festival, with music, bratwurst and games. The CDU's district chairman for Hagen, Christoph Purps, is also in attendance. He sees Giousouf as trendsetter.

"It was time to take this step. In my view, her religion was irrelevant since the different religions have more to unite us rather than divide us," said Purps. The CDU still has more to do in this respect, he says, but it's moving in the right direction.

"In today's CDU, we don't ask whether a person is Catholic or Protestant. And I'm firmly convinced that in a few years we won't even be asking about religion," added Purps.

Handshakes, small talk - one appointment follows the next, not leaving much time for friends and family. "My parents at first welcomed my candidature. But now they complain that I'm hardly ever home," says Giousouf with a laugh.

Cemile Giousouf, CDU-Bundestagskandidatin, Wahlkreis Hagen. Copyright: DW/Rayna Breuer

Giousouf spoke with lcoal voters

Her commitment to politics is clearly paying off. "Actually, I always used to be a non-voter. Very little happens in Germany that benefits the citizens. I stopped trusting politicians years ago," says Joshua, a shop owner in Hagen. But after personally speaking with Giousouf, he's able to picture voting for her in September.

"I find her to be an honest person," he says. "I think that she really wants to change things and will be able to accomplish that."

A role model for immigrants

Giousouf wants to dedicate her time in parliament to the topics of education and family. "Every child must have the chance for a good education. At the moment, the children from academic families are seven times more likely to finish a university degree than children from non-academic families," she says.

In addition, she says conditions for working mothers need to be expanded further. "The CDU has a very good policy for families: places in kindergardens were expanded, and parental benefits were introduced. These are topics that are also a concern for immigrants," says Giousouf. But more needs to be done in these areas, since there are still many women who choose not to have children because they fear it will hinder their career.

Giousouf has not yet thought about what awaits her in Berlin. "For the moment, I'm just going from one appointment to the other and trying to run a good campaign," she says. She hopes, however, to have already accomplished one of her goals: to inspire other people with immigrant backgrounds to consider a career in politics.

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