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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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originally published on http://www.aicongress.org

WASHINGTON – May 19, 2011 – Zainab Al-Suwaij, Executive Director of the American Islamic Congress (AIC), attended President Barack Obama’s speech on the Middle East today at the State Department.

Al-Suwaij is an Iraq native who participated in the 1991 uprising that for one week liberated 15 Iraqi provinces. Following the September 11 attacks, she co-founded AIC to promote responsible leadership for the Muslim-American community. She has spent the last six years leading nonviolent training programs in the Middle East, including publishing an Arabic comic book on Martin Luther King.

Al-Suwaij offered the following statement on the President’s speech:

“The freedom ride that began 65 years ago when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus has now come to the Middle East. President Obama correctly observed that through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the Middle East have ‘achieved in six months more than terrorists have in decades.’

“The people of the region have demonstrated a remarkable commitment to nonviolence in the face of deadly assaults by illegitimate rulers. Their courage should dispel stereotypes that for too long dismissed the Middle East’s potential for liberal reform.

“America’s pragmatic policy of the past six decades – banking on dictators – is now revealed as a failed long-term investment strategy. It ignored the forgotten yet central Middle East conflict – between the people of the region and their repressive rulers – which has now exploded onto our TV screens and Twitter feeds.

“Economic development alone cannot address the historic challenge before us, and simply holding elections is a recipe for disaster. To achieve lasting liberty and stability, America needs to take decisive action to nurture civic institutions that respect individual rights. We help build open societies by supporting unconditionally people who share these values.

“We at AIC are already working to translate the values the President expressed into tangible programs: via the ‘Know Your Rights’ education effort in Egypt, the ‘Ambassadors of Peace’ initiative in Iraq, and contests on liberty for young essayists and filmmakers across the region. As Muslim-Americans, we have unique contributions to make during this historic time.”

AIC is a civil-rights organization promoting tolerance and the exchange of ideas among Muslims and between other peoples. With the motto “passionate about moderation,” the organization has offices in Washington, Boston, Egypt, and Iraq.

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