Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

AAI 1999 Conference Stresses Arab Empowerment

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

AAI 1999 Conference Stresses Arab Empowerment

Article excerpt


"The substantive speeches [from national leaders to the Arab-American community] mean we've arrived," said president James Zogby of the Arab American Institute (AAI) in Washington, DC, as he reflected on the annual AAI Conference in the Detroit area.

More than 300 participants gathered for the conference, held Nov. 5 to 7 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dearborn. Secret evidence, airport profiling, Palestinian rights and Iraqi sanctions were among the many subjects discussed. The conference, deemed a success both by organizers and attendees, also strongly reinforced the conference theme, "Campaign 2000: Empowering Arab-Americans." The theme of voter registration, adopted by all member groups in the Conference of Presidents of Arab American Organizations and of the American Muslim Political Coordination Council (AMPCC), was emphasized throughout the proceedings.

David Nassar, AAI national field organizer and key coordinator of the "Yalla Vote" campaign, noted the need for all Arab Americans to register to vote. "If we don't vote, we don't count," he said. "If we don't count, then it doesn't matter what the community thinks about various issues."

Conference speaker and 1998 Republican congressional candidate Leslie Touma agreed. "One of the most important issues is voter registration," said Touma, an Arab American who lost her congressional bid in a race with Democratic incumbent Sander Levin. "We identified over 5,000 Arab Americans in my district who were not registered. Five thousand votes could decide who wins an election."

Touma added, "It's important that Arab Americans recognize the power they have."

"Yalla is about empowering the Arab community," said Zogby. Apathy and downright suspicion are pervasive in the Arab-American community, but "if we work together, we can overcome the doubts and frustrations."

Zogby reminisced about the pariah status of the Arab-American community in the past. "In the 1980s, it was not uncommon for campaign donations to be returned to Arabs. But this doesn't happen anymore."

Zogby stressed that two presidential candidates appeared via satellite, Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Sen. John McCain, and there was attendance by nine members of Congress and the chairs of the Republican National Committee, Pat Harrison, and the Democratic National Committee, Joe Andrew.

Conference participants had many workshops to choose from throughout the weekend, ranging from "Political Freedoms at Risk," featuring ACLU legislative counsel Greg Nojeim and Republican Congressman Tom Campbell, to "Arab-Americans and Census 2000," featuring Census Advisory Board member Dr. …

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