Posted on December 17, 2013 in Countdown

We Need to Hear From You

We know, it’s sad, but this is in fact the last Countdown of the year. We're already counting down to 2014 when we promise to come back with even better material as we aim to give you a unique breakdown and topical analysis of issues in the U.S. and Middle East. Looking ahead to next year, we are eager to get your feedback on what you’re doing in the run-up to the 2014 mid-term elections and—more importantly—what AAI can do to help. We know our members are some of the most active, engaged, informed Arab Americans in the country, and we want to be sure that we’re doing everything we can to make the most of your efforts. We created this brief online survey to make it easier to share your ideas and priorities. It will only take you about 5 minutes to fill out, but it will be an invaluable resource for AAI. Through this, we’ll learn more about what you’re doing, what’s happening in your state, and how AAI should allocate its resources—from our publications to our staff time—to help you make a difference in 2014.

Fill out our end of the year survey

From all of us at AAI, Happy Holidays! 

Judge Smacks down NSA on Phone Records Collection

Remember the Constitution? That thing U.S. officials swear an oath to uphold? The Government sometimes seems like it doesn’t, but we do, and it looks like Judge Richard J. Leon sure does as well. In a refreshing sign that maybe, just maybe, our system still works, the U.S. District Court in D.C. issued a strong rebuke to the National Security Agency (NSA)’s phone records program, finding it likely violates the Constitution. The opinion is thorough and detailed, and explains the frightening scope of the Government’s program. Judge Leon pointed out that the very reason we have a Fourth Amendment – the one that says Americans have a right to be safe from “unreasonable search and seizure” – was created to keep us safe from searches that were conducted “indiscriminately and without regard to [people’s] connection with a crime under investigation.” Well, we think searching everyone’s phone records – and we mean every single American – is exactly what that is. We’ve said that before, and we’re happy to see a federal judge agrees. The whole ruling is worth a read, if only because of the Beatles reference on page 38. Read it while you’re listening to “Here, There, and Everywhere,” or maybe “Get Back.” And call your member of Congress, and tell them to support the USA Freedom Act.

Syrian Refugee Crisis Intensifies

The Washington Post has published a powerful project by Kevin Sullivan and Linda Davidson, documenting the Syrian refugee crisis in detail. Over 2.3 million Syrians have been forced from their homes since the conflict there began, and their exile into neighboring countries – especially Jordan and Lebanon – has fundamentally changed those countries as well as the lives of the Syrians themselves. Estimates indicate that soon one third of Lebanon’s entire population will be Syrian refugees – the equivalent of the entire population of Mexico being exiled to the United States. The numbers and statistics are so staggeringly large that it becomes hard to remember that the stories are about real people, so the Post’s project broke down eighteen unique stories of real individuals and their families, and how their lives have changed. The trauma faced by these victims “is difficult to describe,” a witness said at a congressional hearing yesterday. To make matters worse, the U.S. can’t resettle many of these refugees here, because of a law known as the “material support law.” That law is designed to prevent terrorists from coming to the U.S., but  the wording it uses is incredibly vague, and advocates claim it might extend to anyone who works with rebels against the government, even if they don’t actually do any fighting. That means that if a Syrian refugee had provided any help – even medical care, or supplies, totally separate from fighting – to a rebel group in Syria, the refugee might be considered a terrorist and barred from coming here. We don’t think the Syrian conflict will end any time soon, but we hope everyone can come together to help these innocent victims of this tragedy.

A Victory for Arab American Political Advocacy

Did you open the email we sent you last Friday? Good. Then you already know the good news: Last week, the House of Representatives left for the winter break without taking up AIPAC-backed legislation that would admit Israel into U.S. Visa Waiver program. For months, we’ve been telling you about Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)’s U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, and proposed legislation in the House, that would admit Israel into the Visa Waiver Program under the following stipulation: that Israel would make a “reasonable effort, without jeopardizing [its security], to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.” The problem is, as we have noted countless times over the past three decades, that the Israeli government doesn’t do that. It has a history of systematically targeting Arab Americans, American Muslims and pro-Palestine activists, subjecting them to unjust screening, harassment, detention, and deportation when attempting to enter Israel and Palestine. So as a result of these bills, AAI, Arab Americans, and our allies in Washington embarked on a campaign to raise awareness about the discrimination American citizens face at the Israeli border. Our advocacy efforts paid off and bills that would normally would have passed before Congress left for the year. Considering the stakes and what we were up against, this is a big win for our community. Not only have you helped Congress to see that this was about protecting the rights of all American citizens, we stood up to AIPAC, and that’s pretty awesome. The bill could come back next session, so our work isn’t over yet. Stay tuned.

Back from the Brink: Tunisian Political Deal Announced

Though we’d like to, we’re usually unable to bring you stories of compromise when it relates to politics in the U.S. or the Middle East. But today, we’re happy to be able to write about some positive events taking place in Tunisia. In a deal announced over the weekend, Islamists and secularists have agreed to put an independent interim or caretaker government in place until new elections next year. The deal comes amid deep polarization and a sharp drop in Tunisian attitudes towards Ennahda, Tunisia’s elected Islamist Party. Our polling which we released earlier this year shows that much like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt before the fall of former president Mohamed  Morsi, Ennahda’s approval ratings had settled to 28%. Of those 28%, nearly all were Ennahda supporters. It seems that Ennahda was well aware of their loss in popularity because by the time we had released our polling, the party was already showing signs that it would be willing to relinquish some power in the short run in order to retain long-term relevancy as a viable political entity in the country moving forward. Learning from the events that transpired in Egypt and led to Morsi’s ouster, Ennahda, seems to have made a smart calculation–and with the assassinations of two secular political leaders this year and a country on the brink of chaos, a timely one as well. It will be interesting to see how Ennahda’s move will play out on the streets and moving forward in the political process.