How scandal in California opened door to region’s first Arab-Muslim mayor

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Updated 01 September 2023
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How scandal in California opened door to region’s first Arab-Muslim mayor

How scandal in California opened door to region’s first Arab-Muslim mayor
  • Entrepreneur Ali Saleh had helped lead campaign to end high salaries in City of Bell which saw his election as mayor
  • Several elected officials ousted for paying themselves exorbitant wages after campaign led by Arab-American businessman

CHICAGO: When the news broke in 2010 about excessive salaries being paid to the manager and council members in the City of Bell, southeast of Los Angeles, the controversy provoked voters to look for new leaders. 

One person who surfaced to lead a reform political movement in the City of Bell was Ali Saleh, a Muslim-American businessman whose parents immigrated to California from southern Lebanon in the 1970s. 

Saleh — who appeared on The Ray Hanania Radio Show this week — founded BASTA, the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse, which ousted the city’s five members after it was disclosed they were each being paid $100,000 annually, with the manager earning more than $1 million. 

“I was born and raised in the City of Bell. In 2010, we had a scandal unfortunately that happened here where the city manager was making over one million and council members were making close to $100,000,” Saleh told Arab News during the taping of the show Wednesday. 

“In comparison, I currently take a salary which is $670 a month which comes out to be a bit over $8,000 a year. And those council members (took) close to $100,000 each. The scandal was broken by the LA Times. At that time, I was a regular community member, working and trying to raise a family here in the City of Bell. Obviously, property taxes were high and we got involved. We created a community group called BASTA (or) Bell Association to Stop the Abuse.  

“And I was one of the founders of that organization and we were successful in recalling all of the council members and bringing in five new council members. In the City of Bell, like a lot of the small cities here in LA County, we appoint a mayor and vice mayor every year within the council and I had served as the first mayor right after all that had happened here in the City of Bell. I did not expect myself to be able to succeed but I was the top vote getter in a community that is 96 percent Latino.” 

Saleh said the financial scandal fueled support for change among the public and voters that led to his election. 

Although the City of Bell is 96 percent Hispanic, with a small pocket of Lebanese Americans, council members named him the city’s new mayor, the first Muslim-Arab to hold the position in the state. The mayor is appointed by the elected council and changes annually. 

“I ran with being transparent and being able to show the community what we do,” Saleh said. 

“We were able, because of the City of Bell, (ensure) everyone in the State of California has to show their salaries, and what they are making. So, you could basically go on the transparency website in the state and be able to see each government employee and what they are making.” 

After the election Saleh said the decision by the new council members to cut their salaries saved taxpayers nearly $500,000 a year. 

Saleh, a Democrat, said he was never interested in pursuing a career in politics and spent his time working in his family apparel business, which has several branches.  

“I had never had any interest of going into politics. And because of the unfortunate circumstances that happened here in the City of Bell that is how I got into politics,” Saleh said. 

“A lot of Lebanese here in LA County just want to put food on the table for the family and be able to raise a family here. And politics is secondary. But I am seeing a lot of new generations going into politics. When I first got elected in 2011, you didn’t see that much. I probably was the first Lebanese-Muslim mayor here in the state of California. I am hoping the young generations get more involved and take a career into politics and hopefully be able to serve their communities. There is a lot that we can give as Arab Americans to this great country.” 

Saleh said Arab Americans need to build trust among other constituencies and help them understand that they are really like everyone else. 

“I am fortunate to represent a community that is 96 percent Latino and they have entrusted themselves to have an Arab American to be on the city council here. This is my third term. I have been the top vote getter every single time and I am hoping to serve this community in any way possible whether it is on the council — or if I retire, I definitely will stay involved in our community,” said Saleh who is fluent in Spanish and Arabic. 

Saleh said the mostly Lebanese-Arab community constitutes about 2 percent of the city’s population and that there is a mosque and a Muslim Youth Center, which was used as a meeting location for the BASTA political movement. 

Saleh said that the goal of entering politics is to advocate for issues that bring services to the community and engender tolerance and acceptance of all peoples regardless of their heritage or national origins. 

The BASTA movement and the City of Bell show that Arab Americans and Hispanics can work together toward the same goals, he said. 

Saleh made his comments on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, broadcast Wednesday Aug. 30, 2023, on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 radio and Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700 radio. 

You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.


Scientists discover cause of Gulf War syndrome in landmark study

British soldiers from the First Stafford, well known as the “Desert Rats,” stand in a trench on January 6, 1991.
British soldiers from the First Stafford, well known as the “Desert Rats,” stand in a trench on January 6, 1991.
Updated 18 July 2024
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Scientists discover cause of Gulf War syndrome in landmark study

British soldiers from the First Stafford, well known as the “Desert Rats,” stand in a trench on January 6, 1991.
  • Thousands of 1991 war veterans suffered chronic fatigue, PTSD, joint pain and headaches
  • Findings a ‘significant step forward in understanding this baffling and complex illness’

LONDON: Exposure to chemical and biological agents has been identified as the cause of Gulf War syndrome in a landmark study, The Times reported.
In what was described as a “world-first discovery,” scientists found that thousands of soldiers suffering from the syndrome had faulty cell function due to contact with the hazardous agents.
The mysterious illness was first identified in the wake of the Gulf War, with victims suffering from symptoms including post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue, joint pain and headaches.
Many struggled to find medical help and claim compensation as doctors were left baffled by the illness.
Up to 33,000 British veterans who served in the war may be suffering from the syndrome.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence has long argued against the existence of the illness, referring to a 2003 study that found no research identifying a unique syndrome linked to military service in the Gulf.
Scientists in the US have also blamed sarin, the nerve agent, for causing the symptoms, after Iraqi chemical weapons caches were bombed during the war, causing aerial exposure.
But the latest study, in the journal Plos One, could open a path for the syndrome to be recognized as a unique illness.
Veterans who suffered from Gulf War syndrome had an “impaired ion channel function in their cells,” said one of the study’s researchers, Etianne Martini Sasso of Griffith University in Australia.
The impairment resulted in an inability of the body to properly transport calcium.
The element plays a crucial role in muscle contraction, nerve function and hormone regulation.
“The findings from our research provides clear scientific evidence that the health problems experienced by Gulf War veterans can be directly linked to their exposure to specific hazardous agents during their service,” said another of the study’s authors, Prof. Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik.
Discovering the link between exposure to hazardous agents and impaired ion channel function is a “significant step forward in understanding this baffling and complex illness,” she added.
The former Conservative government in the UK imposed a six-year limit on civil cases involving injury or death, preventing veterans of the 1991 war from claiming compensation.
Veterans can still claim a war pension, however.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “We are indebted to all those who served our country in the Gulf wars and have already sponsored significant research into the effects of this conflict on veterans.
“We continue to monitor and welcome any new research that is published around the world and financial support is available to veterans whose illness is due to service through the MoD war pensions and the armed forces occupational pension schemes.”


Sweden to phase out development aid to Iraq next year

Sweden to phase out development aid to Iraq next year
Updated 18 July 2024
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Sweden to phase out development aid to Iraq next year

Sweden to phase out development aid to Iraq next year
  • Sweden said current aid package to Iraq amounts to around $18 million a year

STOCKHOLM: Sweden will phase out development aid to Iraq over the coming year, the government said on Wednesday, as it focuses on giving more effective support to fewer countries.
“Sweden has contributed both humanitarian support and development aid to Iraq for many years,” Johan Forssell, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, said.
“The conditions have changed and Iraq is now a middle-income country with good resources to support its own population.”
The government said its current aid package to Iraq amounts to around 190 million Swedish crowns ($18 million) a year. Next year, the total will be around 100 million, with aid being phased out by June 30, the government said.
Sweden, home to around 200,000 people either born in Iraq or with an Iraqi-born parent, currently gives aid to around 100 countries and Forssell said the money was too widely spread to be effective.


Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police

Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police
Updated 17 min 57 sec ago
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Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police

Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police
  • At least 32 people killed in violent clashes across Bangladesh’s main cities

DHAKA: Mobile internet services were down, businesses closed, and public transportation was disrupted across Bangladeshi cities on Thursday, as authorities ordered troops on to the streets amid deadly clashes with protesting students.
University students have been rallying to demand the removal of government employment quotas after the High Court reinstated a rule that reserves the bulk of jobs for descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.
Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities, and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.
Clashes with police and government supporters began on Sunday after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undermined the students’ cause by suggesting that they supported the “razakars,” or those who had collaborated with the Pakistani military, an enemy occupying force, during the 1971 war.
Since Wednesday, educational institutions, campuses and students’ dormitories have been shut across the country, forcing students on to the streets.
Tensions escalated early on Thursday and about 6,000 border guards were sent to assist police.
“Considering the present situation, we have deployed additional forces to maintain law and order, and protect the people’s lives and properties,” Inamul Huq Sagar, spokesperson at the police headquarters, told Arab News.
“During emergency situations, we always deploy an additional number of forces.”
Authorities have also shut down mobile internet to prevent further mobilization through social media, with Telecommunications Minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak telling reporters services “will be brought back to normal when the situation improves.”
At least 32 people have been killed and hundreds injured since the clashes broke out across Bangladesh’s main cities, according to an AFP count of victims from hospitals around the country.
Most of the violence took place in Dhaka, where students announced a “complete shutdown,” urging private sector workers and businesses to close operations for the day.
“The complete shutdown is a call from the students to the people not to go to offices, and businesses to remain closed. People will stay at home. All the students are on the streets now,” Umama Fatima, coordinator of Students Against Discrimination, one of the protest organizers, told Arab News.
“The protest is underway everywhere in the capital and across the country. In many places, police and the ruling party’s student wing, Bangladesh Chatra League, attacked the protesting students. As I heard, at least four students died in Dhaka on Thursday during clashes with police.”
More than a quarter of Bangladesh’s 170 million population is aged between 15 and 29. Unemployment is highest in this group, contributing 83 percent of the total jobless figure in the country.
The quotas for well-paid government jobs hit them directly.
Mohammad Nahid Islam, another Students Against Discrimination coordinator, told Arab News earlier this week that the protest was not seeking an end to the quota system, merely its reform, so that it continues to protect marginalized groups, but does not disproportionately distribute public service jobs prioritizing the descendants of the 1971 fighters.
“We are demanding the reform by reserving some quota for the underprivileged population,” he said. “We are demanding job recruitment on the basis of merit.”


EU Commission head von der Leyen elected for second term

EU Commission head von der Leyen elected for second term
Updated 18 July 2024
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EU Commission head von der Leyen elected for second term

EU Commission head von der Leyen elected for second term
  • Von der Leyen promises new ‘defense union’
  • Commission chief also vows to stick to climate targets

STRASBOURG: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was elected for a second term on Thursday after pledging to create a continental “defense union” and stay the course on Europe’s green transition while cushioning its burden on industry.
Members of the European Parliament backed von der Leyen’s bid for another five-year term at the helm of the European Union’s powerful executive body with 401 votes in her favor and 284 against in a secret ballot in the 720-member chamber.
In an address to the Parliament in Strasbourg earlier in the day, von der Leyen laid out a program focused on prosperity and security, shaped by the challenges of Russia’s war in Ukraine, global economic competition and climate change.
“The next five years will define Europe’s place in the world for the next five decades. It will decide whether we shape our own future or let it be shaped by events or by others,” von der Leyen said ahead of a secret ballot on her candidacy.
She stressed the need not to backtrack on the “Green Deal” transformation of the EU economy to fight climate change — a key pledge for Green lawmakers, who joined center-right, center-left and liberal groups in backing her for the post.
After pledging to support Ukraine for as long as it takes in its fight against Russia, von der Leyen said Europe’s liberty was at stake and it must invest more in defense.
Von der Leyen, a center-right former German defense minister, pledged to create “a true European Defense Union,” with flagship projects on air and cyber defense.
The plan sparked criticism from the Kremlin, which said it
reflected an attitude of “militarization (and) confrontation.”
Von der Leyen blasted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s recent visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow as an “appeasement mission,” winning broad applause from lawmakers.
Defense policy in Europe has traditionally been the domain of national governments and NATO.
But following Russia’s attack on Ukraine and amid uncertainty over how much Europe will be able to rely on the United States for its protection should Donald Trump win the US presidential election in November, the European Commission is seeking to push more joint European defense projects.
Von der Leyen also promised a raft of climate policies including a legally-binding EU target to cut emissions 90 percent by 2040, compared to 1990 levels.
She also pledged new measures to help European industries stay competitive while they invest in curbing emissions.
Green support
The Greens’ decision to join the informal alliance of parties that supports von der Leyen ensured her margin of victory was fairly comfortable. She needed 361 votes to secure a majority in the chamber.
Her own coalition of the center-right, center-left and liberals has 401 seats, but some of its members were expected to vote against her in the secret vote.
She might also promised tighter EU border controls and stronger police cooperation against crime.
Von der Leyen’s re-election provides continuity in the European Union’s key institution at a time of external and internal challenges — including mounting support for far-right and euroskeptic political parties in the 27-nation bloc.
In the coming weeks, she will propose her team of commissioners, who will face individual hearings from lawmakers before a final vote on the whole Commission later in the year.


Spanish, German police detain four suspected of trafficking drone parts to Hezbollah

Spanish, German police detain four suspected of trafficking drone parts to Hezbollah
Updated 18 July 2024
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Spanish, German police detain four suspected of trafficking drone parts to Hezbollah

Spanish, German police detain four suspected of trafficking drone parts to Hezbollah
  • Several hundred or even a thousand drones could have been assembled by Hezbollah using the parts, according to Spanish police
  • The remains of drones flown by Hezbollah and found in Israel match the type of components seized by the police in Spain and Germany

MADRID: Police detained four suspects — three in Spain and one in Germany — as part of an investigation into the sale of drone parts to Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group in Lebanon, Spanish police said on Thursday.
The investigation was initiated in Spain, where police officers detected Spanish companies owned by Lebanese-born citizens trading in large quantities of parts and components for military drones able to carry explosives, the police said.
Based on an analysis of documents detailing trades of the components within Europe, several hundred or even a thousand drones could have been assembled by Hezbollah using the parts, the Spanish police said in a statement.
The light aircraft, which are hard to detect and stop, are loaded with explosives as heavy as several kilograms and sent into Israel, the police said.
The remains of drones flown by Hezbollah and found in Israel match the type of components seized by the police in Spain and Germany, the statement said.
Israel and Hezbollah have been exchanging fire since Hezbollah announced a “support front” with Palestinians shortly after its ally Hamas attacked southern Israeli border communities on Oct. 7, triggering Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
The fighting in Lebanon has killed more than 100 civilians and more than 300 Hezbollah fighters, according to a Reuters tally, and led to levels of destruction in Lebanese border towns and villages not seen since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war.