Are Arab Americans playing enough of a role in helping to forge US policies?

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Updated 28 April 2022

Are Arab Americans playing enough of a role in helping to forge US policies?

Are Arab Americans playing enough of a role in helping to forge US policies?
  • On the Ray Hanania show, experts discuss how inclusive the Biden administration is when it comes to Arab Americans

Chicago -- Arab Americans are playing a greater role in helping to define US policies and programs through their involvement in the White House and the State Department, members of the Arab American affinity group told Arab News Wednesday.

Nadia Farra, special assistant to Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman covering the Middle East and North Africa, counterterrorism and cyber issues, and Mahmoud El-Hamalawy, press officer at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs covering North Africa, said their role in the State Department’s Arab American affinity group created in 2014 has helped open the door to greater Arab American engagement.

The Arab Americans in Foreign Affairs Agencies employee affinity group is the department’s only employee-based organization concerned with the promotion, protection and utilization of the cultural, linguistic, personal and professional assets that Arab American foreign affairs professionals commonly share. 

“I think the Biden administration definitely has the most Arab American political appointees. Where we come in is working on that recruitment effort and pushing the department to look at Michigan, talk to schools in California and Texas — those populations with greater Arab Americans,” explained Farra, who serves as the Arab American affinity group president.

“Also, we did two recruitment efforts this year, two Facebook Lives with careers.state.gov, where we talked about security clearances, where we talked about what kind of careers are at the departments. I think that pushing on the recruitment side is where you see more Arab Americans. We have had people like Ambassador Philip Habeeb in the 60s and 70s who have had a huge impact on the department. But I think now not only are we having more Arab Americans, we are having a greater diversity of where those Arab Americans come from. Like you mentioned, the 22 countries. I want to see more diversity of that, just more of that. I’m Syrian American and definitely heard of Syrian Americans who have worked in government before. But I really want to get out there and really empower those who come from the more underrepresented communities.”

Farra entered US government service in 2011 as a third-generation public servant. Her father worked as a physician at a US base in Georgia, and her immigrant grandfather taught Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monarch, California.

Farra and El-Hamalawy discussed their roles during an appearance Wednesday on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” which is hosted on the US Arab Radio Network and broadcast on live radio in Detroit, Washington, D.C. and Canada. The radio show is rebroadcast in Chicago on Thursdays and streamed on Arab News Facebook and ArabRadio.us.

El-Hamalawy, an Egyptian American who spent 16 years working at an Arab satellite news outlet, said the Arab American affinity group plays “a significant role” in implementing the goals of President Biden’s partnership with Arab Americans.

“The department itself looks at us as a resource, not necessarily on policy per se but to get our perspective on issues on diversity and inclusion” for all of the various groups and for “underrepresented groups like Arab Americans,” El-Hamalwy said.

Farra added, “Arab Americans are a part of that fabric” that the US government “utilizes as a resource.”

El-Hamalawy noted that the group played an important role in President Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issuing, for the first time, a formal recognition commemorating Arab American Heritage Month last year. And they acknowledged the Arab American role this year, too.

Farra explained that AAIFAA membership is not based on any ethnicity or religion, but rather on a shared affinity for Arab culture. The Arab American affinity group does not just include Americans of Arab heritage but also individuals in federal service who have a shared interest in issues related to the Middle East and who are dedicated to working toward diversity to reflect the region’s population.

“The role of these groups is to kind of advocate…for their membership but to also be advisors to our leadership on…how to reach [our] goal…, which is to make the state department or federal government look more like America. And how to do that within these communities. How to do outreach. How to do recruitment. How to keep retention and just monitor the community’s needs for our membership,” Farra explained.

“It (the Arab American affinity group) is not the oldest by any means, but also we are not the newest. We were started in 2014. What makes us a bit more unique is that we span all foreign affairs agencies. So, we are not just the State Department group. We have members from Treasury. From Energy. So, all over the inner agencies. We have over 500 members. So, we have really grown in the last couple of years.”

El-Hamalawy and Farra said that the door for Arab American engagement in the Biden administration and in public service is more open today than it ever has been. Farra added that Biden recognizes the importance of Arab Americans in helping to confront stereotypes and even contributing to American foreign policy in the Middle East.

“I would say it is the most open it has ever been, and we have some work to do on the way we retain those from underrepresented communities and pulling more from our communities. But I think that the door is absolutely open if you are willing to take the risk…[of] getting into foreign policy and government work. I would say absolutely,” Farra said.

“Something my boss, the deputy secretary, always says is to bring your whole self to work, bring your whole background, bring your whole ties. Because that’s what makes us stronger as a nation…Diversity inclusion isn’t something to do because it is good to do. It is because it makes us stronger and smarter, and I think that is something we just don’t hear enough of. And that diversity includes the Arab American community. And the only other thing I will say is the coalition-building between the other underrepresented groups within the State Department has just really skyrocketed the changes that we have made, so I would really encourage the Arab American community with any initiatives they do to build coalitions with other ethnic groups.”

AAIFAA serves as a resource of relevant ideas and experiences that can be shared among Arab American communities throughout the interagency community. AAIFAA membership is open to all civil and foreign service employees in the department and throughout the interagency community.

El-Hamalawy said that individuals interested in careers in public service at the State Department can visit the website at careers.state.gov.

Listen to the Ray Hanania podcast here.


WHO: Nearly 200 cases of monkeypox reported in more than 20 countries

 An employee of the vaccine company Bavarian Nordic shows a picture of a vaccine virus in Martinsried near Munich. (REUTERS)
An employee of the vaccine company Bavarian Nordic shows a picture of a vaccine virus in Martinsried near Munich. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 May 2022

WHO: Nearly 200 cases of monkeypox reported in more than 20 countries

 An employee of the vaccine company Bavarian Nordic shows a picture of a vaccine virus in Martinsried near Munich. (REUTERS)
  • Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of WHO’s smallpox department, said that “there is no need for mass vaccination,” explaining that monkeypox does not spread easily and typically requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission

LONDON: The World Health Organization says nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries not usually known to have outbreaks of the unusual disease, but described the epidemic as “containable” and proposed creating a stockpile to equitably share the limited vaccines and drugs available worldwide.
During a public briefing on Friday, the UN. health agency said there are still many unanswered questions about what triggered the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa, but there is no evidence that any genetic changes in the virus are responsible.
“The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is not different from the strains we can find in endemic countries and (this outbreak) is probably due more to a change in human behavior,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO’s director of pandemic and epidemic diseases.
Earlier this week, a top adviser to WHO said the outbreak in Europe, US, Israel, Australia and beyond was likely linked to sex at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium. That marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates, and outbreaks haven’t spilled across borders.
Although WHO said nearly 200 monkeypox cases have been reported, that seemed a likely undercount.

FASTFACT

No vaccines have been specifically developed against monkeypox, but WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85 percent effective.

On Friday, Spanish authorities said the number of cases there had risen to 98, including one woman, whose infection is “directly related” to a chain of transmission that had been previously limited to men, according to officials in the region of Madrid.
UK officials added 16 more cases to their monkeypox tally, making Britain’s total 106. And Portugal said its caseload jumped to 74 cases on Friday.
WHO’s Briand said that based on how past outbreaks of the disease in Africa have evolved, the current situation appeared “containable.”
Still, she said WHO expected to see more cases reported in the future, noting “we don’t know if we are just seeing the peak of the iceberg (or) if there are many more cases that are undetected in communities,” she said.
As countries including Britain, Germany, Canada and the US begin evaluating how smallpox vaccines might be used to curb the outbreak, WHO said its expert group was assessing the evidence and would provide guidance soon.
Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of WHO’s smallpox department, said that “there is no need for mass vaccination,” explaining that monkeypox does not spread easily and typically requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission.
No vaccines have been specifically developed against monkeypox, but WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85 percent effective.
She said countries with vaccine supplies could consider them for those at high risk of the disease, like close contacts of patients or health workers, but that monkeypox could mostly be controlled by isolating contacts and continued epidemiological investigations.
Given the limited global supply of smallpox vaccines, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Mike Ryan said the agency would be working with its member countries to potentially develop a centrally controlled stockpile, similar to the ones it has helped manage to distribute during outbreaks of yellow fever, meningitis, and cholera in countries that can’t afford them.
“We’re talking about providing vaccines for a targeted vaccination campaign, for targeted therapeutics,” Ryan said.
“So the volumes don’t necessarily need to be big, but every country may need access to a small amount of vaccine.”
Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue.
People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.


UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’
Updated 27 May 2022

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’
  • Johnson said after the report was issued that he took responsibility for the events but refused to quit
  • Other Conservative lawmakers this week have said they had submitted letters calling for a confidence vote in Johnson

LONDON: A Conservative lawmaker submitted a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson on Friday and another quit a role as an assistant to Britain’s interior minister, putting new pressure on the prime minister over illegal parties at his Downing Street residence during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Bob Neill, the chair of parliament’s justice committee, said an official report on the parties issued on Wednesday showed a pattern of “unacceptable behavior” over months during Britain’s coronavirus crisis, and said he did not find Johnson’s explanations to be credible.
“Trust is the most important commodity in politics, but these events have undermined trust in not just the office of the prime minister, but in the political process itself,” Neill said in a statement. “To rebuild that trust and move on, a change in leadership is required.”
Johnson said after the report was issued that he took responsibility for the events but refused to quit.
Another Conservative lawmaker, Paul Holmes, said earlier on Friday he was resigning from his government role as parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office to focus on representing his constituents.
“It is clear to me that a deep mistrust in both the government and the Conservative Party has been created by these events ... It is distressing to me that this work on your behalf has been tarnished by the toxic culture that seemed to have permeated Number 10,” Holmes said in a statement.
Other Conservative lawmakers this week have said they had submitted letters calling for a confidence vote in Johnson to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee — which would be triggered if 54 such letters are written.
The letters are confidential, so only the chairman of the 1922 Committee knows how many have actually been submitted.
However, Holmes confirmed to Reuters he had not written a letter to call for Johnson to resign.


As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Updated 27 May 2022

As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
  • Prolonged dry periods have been more frequent in recent years due to climate change
  • Farmers build soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water

KATHMANDU: Water scarcity in Kuinkel Thumka, a mountainous village in eastern Nepal, has for years made life difficult for residents — until a few months ago, when they started to capture excess rainfall during the monsoon season.

Located in the Middle Hills, between the Himalayas and Tarai, the village of 850 people lies in Kavrepalanchok district of Bagmati province, where the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), has introduced soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water.

“We built a soil-cement tank in our village eight months ago and started to collect rain,” Gita Kuinkel, a 53-year-old farmer, told Arab News.

“Before this tank, we didn’t have enough water and our lives were hard. It was not enough for our cattle, household chores and irrigation. Now, the water is enough,” she said.

“We don’t have to buy vegetables, we grow and eat vegetables from our own home gardens.”

Cheap soil-cement conservation ponds are constructed in the region with the help of ICIMOD, an intergovernmental research center serving countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, and the Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), a leading Nepali developmental NGO.

The ponds capture excess rainfall during the monsoon, making water available during prolonged dry periods, which in recent years have been more frequent, even in the Himalayas, as South Asia is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves due to climate change.

Sanjeev Bhuchar, a water management expert at ICIMOD, told Arab News that more than 80 percent of Nepal’s 13 million population was dependent on mountain springs as the primary source of water. But the springs are drying up.

“In Nepal and other Himalaya-Hindu Kush countries, depletion of springs is one of the major emerging water crises,” he said.

“There is increasing evidence that spring discharge is decreasing, or in some cases, ceasing altogether.”

Within the past three years, more than 400 ponds have been built across the country, according to Kiran Bhusal, project coordinator at CEAPRED.

“Farmers can easily build such tanks because the procedure is very easy. It is built with mixtures of soil, sand and cement,” he said. “It is helping the people so much.”

Kamala Adhikary, another resident of Kuinkel Thumka, said that it cost the village about $160 to build a water conservation pond, and the standard of living has changed ever since.

“We didn’t have enough water for drinking, we had to buy water from other areas,” she said.

“Now we can wash our clothes, use it for our cattle and even we do farming, and earn money because of it. It improved our economic condition. A lot of problems have been solved.”

 


Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
Updated 27 May 2022

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
  • Number being granted refuge hits 30-year high
  • Most enter via small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risk of prosecution

LONDON: Charities have raised concerns over the potential for asylum seekers to be criminalized or transferred to Rwanda as the number being granted refuge in the UK hits a 30-year high.
The Guardian reported on Friday that Home Office data for the 12 months to March shows 75 percent of asylum claims were granted, with Syrians, Eritreans and Sudanese forming the majority of people making their way from countries with typically high approval rates.
However, most of them entered the UK by small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risks of prosecution under the Nationality and Borders Act passed last month.
The same dataset also showed an increase in the number of Afghans making their way to the UK via the dangerous English Channel crossing, indicating that the resettlement schemes launched after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last year are not working.
“The government has said it is giving Afghans a ‘warm welcome,’ but these figures reveal that many have felt they have been left with no option but to take this dangerous route to make it to the UK,” said Marley Morris, associate director for migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
“The government’s new plans in response to the Channel crossings could mean that Afghan asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda.
“Contrary to the government’s claims, there are few safe routes for people forced into small boats to make it to the UK.”


Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
Updated 27 May 2022

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
  • "We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily," said Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness
  • So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries

GENEVA: Countries should take quick steps to contain the spread of monkeypox and share data about their vaccine stockpiles, a senior World Health Organization official said on Friday.
“We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the UN agency’s annual assembly.
Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa.
It spreads chiefly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases in Europe, the United States and other areas has raised alarms.
So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating.
“For us, we think that the key priority currently is trying to contain this transmission in non-endemic countries,” Briand told a technical briefing for member states.
Needed measures included the early detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing, she added.
Member states should also share information about first generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can also be effective against monkeypox, Briand said.
“We don’t know exactly the number of doses available in the world and so that’s why we encourage countries to come to WHO and tell us what are their stockpiles,” she said. A slide of her presentation described global supplies as “very constrained.”
Currently, WHO officials are advising against mass vaccination, instead suggesting targeted vaccination where available for close contacts of people infected.
“Case investigation, contact tracing, isolation at home will be your best bets,” said Rosamund Lewis, WHO head of the smallpox secretariat which is part of the WHO Emergencies Programme.