an a woman born in the conservative kingdom of
Saudi Arabia, in the holy city of Mecca no less, really be elected to
public office in the United States after September 11?

Ferial Masry thinks she can.

“My story is a great American success story,” the bubbly 55-year-old told
AFP on the sidelines of the Democratic national convention in Boston. “I
always had a dream, but here is where the dream became real.”

Masry hopes voters in her upmarket California region outside Los Angeles
will extend that dream and send her to the state assembly in November,
becoming the first Saudi-born man or woman ever to win an election in the
United States.

Masry and her Democratic backers are quick to say it’s a long shot — her
district has a long history of voting Republican — but her high-profile
campaign is a sign of the growing visibility of Arab-Americans in US life.

Arab-Americans say they have had an uneasy time in the United States since
the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Most of the attackers came from
Saudi Arabia, and all of them were Arabs.

“Almost everyone in the community has been touched in some way,” said Jean
AbiNader, a US-born Christian of Lebanese descent and a board member of the
Arab-American Institute.

He said visa problems, social wariness toward Arabs and the tightened
restrictions set into law by George W. Bush’s controversial Patriot Act all
affected Arab families here.

Meanwhile strained relations with Saudi Arabia, a longtime US ally whose
cooperation in Bush’s war on terror has come under question, cannot do much
to help Masry’s chances.

But with Democratic challenger John Kerry pledging to rebuild US relations
with allies angered by the war in Iraq, the election of a Saudi woman —
even to a modest state post — would be a public relations coup.

Masry paints herself as someone who has integrated into American society in
the best possible way, retaining enough of her culture not to lose her
identity but nevertheless becoming a 100 percent-loyal US citizen.

Her son served with US forces in Iraq, and she says she wants to help Arabs
migrating to the United States avoid getting sucked into a cultural
isolation that could breed fundamentalist, anti-US feeling.

“I want to help those who are coming here with fear, those afraid of losing
their identities if they integrate,” Masry said.

At the same time, she says, her story has served as an inspiration for
women and moderates in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East,
giving them a dual sign that the United States is welcoming — and that
home-grown extremism is not the only option for the future…


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