Lebanese-American Fayrouz Saad is in the running to become the congresswoman for Michigan’s 11th District. If she wins, Fayrouz Saad will become the first Muslim woman to serve in the U.S. congress!
The hardship in a name
American-born, Fayrouz’s parents emigrated from Lebanon more than 4 decades ago, following the lead of large Lebanese diaspora that stretches from California to Sydney. Fayrouz, who shares a name with one of the Arabic world’s most famous contemporary voices, jokes about the difficulties her name brings when she’s ordering from Starbucks. “In Arabic, it means precious stone. In English, it means at least 17 different spellings on my Starbucks cup”, she quips in her first campaign video. Being young, bright, and beautiful, it’s no wonder that many are taking notice of the woman who might just be the future of the American Democratic Party. “You may not be able to spell my name, but you’ll get to know my face.”
Coming of age in post 9/11
Like many Muslim youth of today, Fayrouz describes the 9/11 attacks, and the fallout from that tragic day, as leading to a coming-of-age. She describes a life prior to that ‘free from discrimination’. In the period after the terrorist attacks, she told the Independent that “[it] was the first time I ever even realised that this was a thing – that there was a stereotype against Arabs and Muslims in this country”. Fearing for their daughter being harmed in the anti-Islamic fervour that gripped the U.S. at that time, her parents made the 45 minutes’ drive from her home to her university campus, to bring her home while they assessed what the post-9/11 world will look like to Muslims. On her return, Fayrouz didn’t know what to expect. Any apprehensions soon evaporated. She found a large group of her friends and neighbours waiting to welcome her back to her dorm. This moment embodied the best of America to her: “I say that I came of age in the post 9/11 era, because of this experience specifically, and really believing that this is what America is, and that this is what I want to be a part of. That’s what I want to fight for! That’s what people want America to be!”.
As beautiful as her story is, it seems important to note that not every Arab-American has been lucky enough to be welcomed with such compassion. But stories like Fayrouz’s are very much a part of reality too. Her draw towards politics was in part due to some of the more negative changes she noticed within the government in that era. She believed there needed to be more diverse voices in the rooms in which key decisions were being made. “I needed to be a voice. I wanted to be part of the policy making process”. Her reason? “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu!”
A Seasoned Operator
Saad has degrees in psychology and political science from the University of Michigan, and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. She has ample political experience, having served on John Kerry’s ill-fated campaign to unseat George W. Bush in 2004, and Obama’s successful campaign in 2008, as well as experience in the Department of Homeland Security during Obama’s tenure as America’s Commander in Chief. In 2015, she was appointed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to serve as the City’s first director of immigrant affairs. “We worked to integrate immigrant communities. I worked on specific economic programs that help immigrants open up businesses. We helped show them how to own their own homes”. While completing her studies at Harvard, Fayrouz authored a policy memo that she submitted to the Mayor of Detroit that outlined ways in which she felt the office of the Mayor could better work with Detroit’s many immigrants.
Champion for Detroit, Champion for Arabs
As well as being known for its large Arab population, Detroit is known as being one of the less successful American stories of the last decade. Fayrouz Saad has come at a time when two significant parts of her identity are in need of a champion! Despite not wanting to bill herself as an “Anti-Trump” candidate, which would be limiting and an injustice to her broad appeal, her position on immigration, healthcare and education, put her in square conflict with the current President. She is also keen on reviving her once industrious city, a significant factor that brought her to the Kennedy School. Keep an eye on her campaign as the 2018 congressional elections near, Fayrouz Saad might be the first to break the Muslimah-glass ceiling of the U.S. Congress!