Egyptian-American woman freed in Egypt goes home on U.S. military plane

Aya Hijazi, an Egyptian who holds U.S. citizenship, was acquitted by a Cairo court on Sunday along with seven others who had worked with street children. Hijazi was released from jail on Tuesday, having been held for nearly three years.

She was flown to Joint Base Andrews, the U.S. military airfield on the outskirts of Washington.

President Donald Trump had privately asked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to help out in the case when Sisi visited the White House on April 3, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lawyers Mobilize at Nation’s Airports After Trump’s Order

On Wednesday, lawyers from the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center who were concerned that the action would affect the project’s clients sent out an email calling for lawyers who could volunteer immediately to go to airports where refugees were scheduled to enter the United States.

“It occurred to us that there were going to be people who were traveling who would land and have their status affected while in midair,” said Betsy Fisher, the group’s policy director.

Even before President Trump issued an order on Friday banning immediate entry into the United States by people from several predominantly Muslim countries, immigration lawyers, having heard rumors of coming action from the White House, were on alert.

While lawyers gathered at airports on Saturday, others were working furiously on litigation. Cecillia Wang, the A.C.L.U.’s deputy legal director, described the scene at her office as “complete chaos.”

‘We can’t become a dictatorship’: Protests erupt across the U.S. against Trump refugee ban

Thousands of demonstrators rallied outside the White House and in cities nationwide Sunday to protest President Trump’s refugee ban, as the executive order continued to halt travel in some locations, despite being partially lifted by federal judges overnight.

In addition to Washington, large protests took place in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta, and at airports in more than 30 cities.

In downtown Washington, protesters lined Pennsylvania Avenue and filled Lafayette Square. They cycled through a variety of chants, and wielded poster boards bearing messages such as “Islamophobia is un-American” and “Dissent is patriotic.”

The travel ban bars entry into the United States from seven predominately Muslim countries. Despite a federal judge’s ruling late Saturday night, and similar court decisions with varying degrees of power, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement Sunday that said the agency would continue to implement the travel rule.

She became the nation’s first Somali American lawmaker. A month later, she was harassed in a D.C. cab for being Muslim.

Less than one month after being elected, Ilhan Omar visited the nation’s capital for policy training at the White House, her historic role didn’t stop a cab driver from targeting her for her religion. Riding in a taxi en route to her hotel Tuesday, after having spent the afternoon at the White House, she “became subjected to the most hateful, derogatory, islamophobic, sexist taunts and threats” she had ever experienced, she wrote in a post on social media.

“The cab driver called me ISIS and threatened to remove my hijab,” she wrote. “I wasn’t really sure how this encounter would end as I attempted to rush out of his cab and retrieve my belongs.”

Trump’s Muslim registry wouldn’t be illegal, constitutional law experts say

The day after Donald Trump won the White House, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote on Twitter that if the president-elect attempts “to implement his unconstitutional campaign promises, we’ll see him in court.”

But when it comes to the immigrant registration program that would target Muslims entering the United States — outlined Wednesday by an adviser to Trump’s transition team — three constitutional lawyers say the ACLU won’t have much of a shot before a judge.

That program, labeled the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, required those entering the U.S. from a list of certain countries — all but one predominantly Muslim — to register when they arrived in the U.S., undergo more thorough interrogation and be fingerprinted. The system, referred to by the acronym NSEERS, was criticized by civil rights groups for targeting a religious group and was phased out in 2011 because it was found to be redundant with other immigration systems.

Robert McCaw, director of government affairs for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said a reinstitution of NSEERS would be akin to “just turning back the clock.” CAIR will lobby heavily against the system as not only discriminatory but also ineffective, McCaw said, if it ends up being proposed by the Trump administration.

He also accused Kobach, an architect of the original NSEERS program when he was with the Justice Department under the George W. Bush administration, of having “a long ax to grind with the Muslim community.”

Civil rights groups to feds: Purge your anti-Muslim training materials

August 14, 2014

(RNS) Civil rights and religious groups say efforts to rid federal agencies of anti-Muslim bias have faltered and prejudice against Muslims persists, particularly in the training of anti-terrorism officers.

On Thursday (Aug. 14), 75 groups — including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Auburn Seminary and the NAACP — sent a letter to the White House urging an audit of federal law enforcement training material.

“The use of anti-Muslim trainers and materials is not only highly offensive, disparaging the faith of millions of Americans, but leads to biased policing that targets individuals and communities based on religion, not evidence of wrongdoing,” the letter reads.

A National Security Council representative said the letter will be reviewed and a response issued.

Anti-Muslim sentiment, flagged several years ago, prompted the White House to order an assessment of the intelligence community’s training materials and policies — but that never happened, the letter charges. Instead, the groups wrote, administration officials settled on expanded sensitivity training and other measures that don’t directly address the continued use of anti-Muslim materials.

The letter states that its allegations are based in part on a July 9 article in The Intercept, an online publication created by journalist Glenn Greenwald. According to its website, its immediate goal is “to provide a platform to report on the documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden,” the former National Security Agency systems analyst now a fugitive living in Russia.

Arab American group urges boycott of White House Iftar dinner

July 14, 2014

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) urged all Arab and Muslims in the United States to boycott the Obama administration’s celebration of the holy month of Ramadan on Monday, arguing the president has condoned the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the spying on some Americans based on their Muslim identities.

Like George W. Bush before him, Obama has hosted an Iftar dinner — the meal after sunset that breaks the day of fasting — each year he’s been in office. Other federal agencies, including the State Department, also hold iftar dinners to commemorate the holiday.

The ADC, the nation’s largest Arab American group, issued a statement citing both the administration’s support for Israel’s bombing campaign in response to airstrikes by the militant group Hamas as reasons not to participate in the administration’s celebrations.

Obama remains overwhelmingly popular with Muslims, although he has recently come under fire since Glenn Greewald and Murtza Hussain reported former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden had documents indicating the NSA had conducted surveillance on five American Muslim leaders.

The custom of celebrating Ramadan in the White House dates back at least to 1996, when then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a dinner during Eid-al-Fitr, the three-day festival marking the end of Ramadan. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan noted in an e-mail Monday that the tradition may go back two centuries, according to accounts from the nation’s early days.

“Some consider President Thomas Jefferson to have hosted the first Iftar by a U.S. president, as he hosted a sunset dinner with an envoy from Tunisia over 200 years ago,” Meehan wrote. “The invited guests tonight include elected officials, members of the diplomatic corps, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths.”

Coptic unity in Washington D.C. area starts to gel since Morsi ouster

For years, Steve Messeh watched his small Egyptian American Coptic Christian community remain splintered in a jumble of weak advocacy groups. But now, since the violent ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, the young Virginia financial analyst is seeing something new: an effort toward real influence.

Messeh belongs to Coptic Solidarity, which on Thursday pulled together perhaps the largest local Egyptian American effort in memory. About 500 people gathered at the White House and outside several media organizations (including at The Washington Post’s building in Northwest) to voice their support for the military’s removal of Morsi in June. Like-minded Copts who Messeh knows are lobbying Capitol Hill policymakers on the topic this month, and a contingent from political parties was in town this week in a drive to mold the Egyptian Americans who supported the coup into a more unified, effective voice.

The same burst of organizing is happening among Egyptian Americans who oppose the military’s removal of Morsi, who was democratically elected. New groups have popped up since Morsi’s overthrow, including Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights, which is focused on the hundreds of civilians killed by the military in recent weeks.

But if the sudden activism this summer among Egyptian Americans, who for decades during the rule of Hosni Mubarak tended to be largely quiet, has solidified and motivated the two camps, it has also embittered them, activists and experts say. People’s positions have become hardened, and Egypt’s politics have become too fraught to discuss among friends and even family.

 

“There is an extremely deep polarization going on among Egyptian Americans,” commented Dalia Mogahed, a Washington-based native of Egypt who is the co-author of “Who Speaks for Islam?” and is a consultant to Muslim groups.

 

Ahmed Ghanim sees the same energy, but from the other side. The Michigan-based activist, who has 35,000 Facebook followers for his Egypt updates, is working with Egyptian Americans who oppose the coup. He’s now working with groups starting in Michigan and Texas.

“Even if we didn’t agree with Morsi, it’s a black comedy when you see an elected president in prison and Mubarak going free,” he said.

The new activism is tempered by the polarization, he said.

The revolution created a lot of Egyptian American interest in Egypt.

“Now everyone is accusing one another of being for or against democracy, or for or against revolution.”

Iftar at the White House- Navigating Power, Privilege & Justice in Ramadan

Last week, I was among several dozen Muslims who attended an iftar at the White House with President Obama. This has now become an annual tradition where the President extends greetings to the Muslim community and occasionally chooses to speak to other relevant issues. Two years ago, for example, President Obama selected this occasion as a platform to weigh in on the sensational anti-Muslim hysteria taking place in the debate around the proposed Cordoba House project in Lower Manhattan, otherwise known as the Ground Zero Mosque. At the time, the critique was mainly from extreme edges of the right wing who managed to make some noise about the President’s alleged “pro-Muslim” leanings.

This time around, most of the push back regarding the iftar I heard was coming from voices within the Muslim community.

-So why did I attend?
I am the executive director of a nonprofit organization that organizes around a number of key issues impacting low-income communities of color while providing direct services to those same community members.

I went because I believe in the process of critical engagement which I define as a long-term commitment to shape, deeply inform and/or passionately contest the often disparate policies and conditions that govern our lives or sustain profound inequalities in the world. Such a process carries with it an admission that we certainly will make mistakes along the way and perhaps even fail to insert ourselves more forcefully around an issue or two.

Ramadan is an ideal time to interrogate how far our private and public actions are from the loftier ideals that our faith traditions call us to. It is a perfect time to scrutinize the privilege that some of us disproportionately benefit from and to honestly consider all the types of unjust power structures and policies we contribute to through our tacit support or deafening silence.

A better alternative to boycotting the White House Iftar

This is the story of two Washington Iftar dinners.
First, the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren invited Muslim leaders to a diplomatic Iftardinner last week and Imam Antepli of Duke University wondered aloud if the event was meaningful. And then the Obama administration invited Muslim leaders to the White House Iftar dinner and Omid Saifi, the Islamic studies professor from University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, called to boycott it.

It’s obvious: We, the American Muslims are struggling to identify the right posture: Boycott, and you sever a diplomatic tie; attend, and you are seen as endorsing a policy.
While I empathize with the demands laid out by Professor Saifi -I believe the Obama administration should abandon overseas drone attacks, halt nationwide racial and religious profiling, and release select Guantanamo Bay prisoners – I knew the boycott will fail to achieve anything beyond creating a social media ripple.

Obama celebrates Islamic holy month at White House with Ramadan dinner
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama saluted Muslim Americans on Thursday for their contributions in helping build the nation as business entrepreneurs, technology innovators and pioneers in medicine.
Obama spoke at a White House dinner he hosted to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The meal, or iftar, breaks the day of fasting when Muslim families and communities eat together after sunset.
Obama said Ramadan is “a time of reflection, a chance to demonstrate ones devotion to God through prayer and through fasting, but it’s also a time for family and friends to come together.”
He said it is a White House tradition to celebrate sacred days of various faiths, adding that these occasions celebrate diversity that defines the country and reaffirms the freedom to worship.