Michigan doctor believes US ready for first Muslim governor

In this Aug. 8, 2017 photo, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed high-fives supporter Sonique Watson in Detroit. The 32-year-old liberal doctor is mounting a strong bid to become the first Muslim governor in the US. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Updated 15 September 2017
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Michigan doctor believes US ready for first Muslim governor

DETROIT, US: Perhaps no state has embraced the political outsider as much as Michigan, where a venture capitalist won the last two governor’s elections and a real estate baron carried the presidential vote. Now Abdul El-Sayed is putting that affinity for newcomers to the test.
El-Sayed, a 32-year-old liberal doctor in Detroit, is mounting a surprisingly robust bid to become the nation’s first Muslim governor.
Democratic leaders are stunned by the sudden emergence of the former Rhodes scholar, who served as Detroit public health director, in the primary field after he quickly raised $1 million.
He is one of four viable Democrats and, for now, three Republicans in a race that his party considers a must-win to re-establish itself after eight years of GOP control of state government.
Michigan has one of the largest Arab populations outside the Middle East, but is it ready to elect a Muslim as chief executive? El-Sayed says yes, though he insists the election will be about his qualifications and grassroots movement.
“I think folks are looking for something fresh, new, exciting, competent. And we offer that,” said the self-assured El-Sayed, who emphasizes his work rebuilding Detroit’s health department after the city’s bankruptcy.
Political insiders are not sure about the religious complexities but are impressed by his fundraising.
“No one expected El-Sayed to raise that kind of money — no one,” said pollster Ed Sarpolus.
The governor’s race in 2018 is wide open with Republican incumbent Rick Snyder, a former business executive, leaving after two terms. Before Republicans swept to power in 2010, Democrats held the governor’s office and one house of the Legislature.
The diverse Democratic field includes front-runner Gretchen Whitmer, a former legislative leader who has raised $1.5 million and has secured labor union support; Shri Thanedar, an immigrant entrepreneur from India who has given his campaign $3.3 million but remains largely unknown for now; and Bill Cobbs, an African-American former Xerox executive who has not collected much money.
The leading GOP contender is state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who joined the race this week. Other Republicans running are Dr. Jim Hines, who has given $438,000 of his own money, and conservative state Sen. Patrick Colbeck.
El-Sayed, the son of Egyptian immigrants, was born in Michigan and grew up in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township. His father and stepmother are mechanical engineering professors who now work as college administrators.
El-Sayed has been known for his speaking ability since his days at the University of Michigan, where he gave the senior speech to fellow graduates. The commencement speaker that day, former President Bill Clinton, said he wished “every person in the world” who is pessimistic about the nation’s religious divide could have heard El-Sayed, who talked about the many opportunities at hand to “change the world.”
Potentially the most progressive candidate in the field, El-Sayed frequently touts government’s ability to help people and cites his initiatives in Detroit to provide free glasses to schoolchildren and increase lead exposure tests.
He criticizes unauthentic “corporate, bought-out” politicians and disavows corporate PAC donations. His fundraising base is dominated by physicians, tech executives and financiers, many from out of state.
El-Sayed is hoping to benefit from an energized Democratic backlash against President Donald Trump, who narrowly carried Michigan in 2016, and from the repercussions of a lead contamination scandal in the city of Flint blamed primarily on Snyder’s administration. Trump has imposed a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries and blamed “both sides” for violence between white supremacists and their opponents in Virginia.
“What better way to send Donald Trump a message than to elect a millennial Muslim guy in a state that he barely took?” said El-Sayed, a former college lacrosse player with a stocky build.
Just two Muslims serve in Congress, neither with an Arabic surname: Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana. El-Sayed and Deedra Abboud, a Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, are among the first Muslims to pursue major statewide offices.
In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 42 percent of US adults said they would be less likely to support a Muslim presidential candidate. El-Sayed, who has faced attacks on social media because of his Islamic faith, keeps his campaign office location secret for safety reasons.
While Whitmer is considered the Democratic favorite, political analysts believe El-Sayed could appeal to anti-establishment activists and backers of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in next summer’s primary.
One voter whom El-Sayed has won over is Sonique Watson, a 26-year-old professional blogger from Detroit who said she felt “a spark” because he seems more like a public servant than a politician.
Yet there are skeptics.
Former Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Whitmer backer, said he questions nominating a candidate without “serious experience” in office.
“There’s no reason for people to fool around here and take a flyer with someone who can give a nice speech but really is not ready for the job,” he said.
Jermain Jones, a 37-year-old Detroit-area political organizer, said it is impossible to overlook the impact of El-Sayed’s religion in rural or blue-collar areas.
“Even the Democratic establishment I don’t think is ready to push an Islamic candidate in a state like Michigan,” Jones said. “Islamophobia is strong in America right now.”


Kosovo police question several women who returned from Syria

Updated 5 min 53 sec ago
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Kosovo police question several women who returned from Syria

  • Kosovo brought back 110 of its citizens from Syria, including 32 women, 74 children and four militants who had gone to fight in the country’s civil war
  • After the collapse of Daesh’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return

PRISTINA: Kosovo police and prosecutors have interrogated several of the women who returned from Syria by plane on Saturday, lawyers who took part in the questioning said on Monday.
Kosovo brought back 110 of its citizens from Syria, including 32 women, 74 children and four militants who had gone to fight in the country’s civil war.
The four fighters were immediately arrested and detained for 30 days awaiting questioning, while women and children were sent to the Foreign Detention Center in the outskirts of Pristina.
“I represented a woman who came back from Syria. She is accused for being part of the terrorist groups and she was in very bad health condition,” lawyer Fehmie Gashi-Bytyqi told Reuters.
A number of visitors were seen in front of the Foreign Detention Center on Monday morning, hoping to see relatives. Children, some small girls wearing hijabs, were outside in the sunny weather playing soccer with police officers.
Doctors were constantly entering and leaving the buildings to carry out medical checks on the returnees.
Merita Bajraktari, who was among the many female lawyers present, said: “My client is accused of being part of terrorist groups and she is also the wife of another person who was returned to Kosovo on Saturday where he was arrested.”
After the collapse of Daesh’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return.
The population of Kosovo is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but largely secular in outlook. More than 300 of its citizens had traveled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.
Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and eight children remain in the conflict zones. The government said it plans to bring back those who are still there.
International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in jail.