Mani Hussaini, who came to Norway as a 12-year-old refugee from Syria, was elected with a standing ovation as the next leader of the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth organization AUF over the weekend. He promised to challenge Labour’s leadership and urged AUF’s members to all be “tax enthusiasts.”
“If we want to maintain Norway’s welfare system, we must be willing to pay for it,” Hussaini said in his acceptance speech at AUF’s national meeting on Sunday. He has benefited from Norway’s social welfare state himself, and wants to make sure others get the same chance.
Truls Wickholm, leader of the AUF elections committee that had unanimously nominated Hussaini to the group’s top post, noted that AUF had “chosen a leader who has lived in an asylum center with a family that has received welfare support.” In Labour’s rival conservative party, the Progress Party, “you’d be considered a cost item,” Wickholm told Hussaini. “But now you’ll lead the country’s most important youth organization.”
Moving on from tragedy
AUF is known as the training camp for Labour’s future top politicians, and it suffered a huge tragedy when it was targeted by an ultra-right-wing mass murderer who bombed the then-Labour-led government headquarters and then carried out a massacre at AUF’s summer camp on July 22, 2011. The murderer was trying to wipe out the next generation of Labour officials, angry that the party had promoted immigration and refugee causes over the years. He failed.
Hussaini, age 26 and living in Jessheim, north of Oslo, is the first refugee to lead a major political organization in Norway. He promised to campaign strongly, also against the Labour Party leadership itself, for the need for taxation along with strong emphasis on environmental and social welfare issues. Hussaini wants Labour to have a much greener image than it has had, and to bury the idea of oil drilling off Lofoten once and for all. He also stressed “international solidarity, the fight against racism and climate change as key issues on his agenda. “It’s good that (Labour leader) Jonas (Gahr Støre) has a background in diplomacy, because it’s going to be tough to negotiate with AUF in the future,” Hussaini said.
He added that he considers himself to be “just like any other Norwegian youth, except I have some additional perspectives on freedom and democracy in my baggage.” His appreciation for what he was allowed to become in Norway’s democracy, as opposed to Syria’s, was clear.
Tearful farewell for Pedersen
Hussaini succeeds Eskil Pedersen, who took to tears in his own farewell speech that recounted the tragedy that hit AUF three years ago. “My leadership period was plagued by the worst thing that had ever happened in AUF’s history,” Pedersen said. He said that while he tried to stay calm, “I was torn apart inside, over the unfairness, over the hatred of our values.”
Hussaini was congratulated and Pedersen thanked by many, including former Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, now secretary general of NATO. Party Secretary Raymond Johansen also congratulated Hussaini, saying he was certain that AUF had chosen a new leader who “will make us even better.”