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.


One of Rishi Sunak’s bodyguards arrested over alleged bets on UK election date

One of Rishi Sunak’s bodyguards arrested over alleged bets on UK election date
Updated 4 sec ago
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One of Rishi Sunak’s bodyguards arrested over alleged bets on UK election date

One of Rishi Sunak’s bodyguards arrested over alleged bets on UK election date
The arrest came after the Gambling Commission contacted the force
The commission confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election“

LONDON: One of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s police bodyguards has been arrested over alleged bets on the date of Britain’s national election made before it was announced, authorities said Wednesday.
The Metropolitan Police force said that a constable in the Royalty and Specialist Protection Command was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office.
The arrest came after the Gambling Commission contacted the force. The commission, which regulates the gambling industry, confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
Sunak announced May 22 that an election for Parliament would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and the announcement took many people in Sunak’s governing Conservative Party by surprise. Most had assumed the election would be held in the fall.
Betting is a popular activity in the UK, with bookmakers offering odds on everything from sports to elections and the winners of literary prizes. Cheating by acting on inside information is a criminal offense.
The arrested officer was released on bail pending further inquiries and has been removed from duty while the force conducts its own investigation. The officer was not named. British police usually do not identify suspects until they are charged.
Last week Sunak aide Craig Williams, who is running to be reelected to Parliament, acknowledged he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100 pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Williams said the regulator was making “some routine inquiries and I confirm I will fully cooperate with these.”
“I don’t want to be a distraction from the campaign, I should have thought through how it looked,” he said.

Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

Motee Al-Mashar, 24, points to handwriting he made on a wall that reads
Motee Al-Mashar, 24, points to handwriting he made on a wall that reads "Free Palestine" at his apartment in Havana.
Updated 36 min 21 sec ago
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Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

Motee Al-Mashar, 24, points to handwriting he made on a wall that reads "Free Palestine" at his apartment in Havana.
  • Cuba has long handed out bursaries to foreign students
  • Some 1,500 Palestinians, many of them doctors, have studied for free on the island since 1974

HAVANA: Thousands of miles from Gaza, medical student Samar Alghoul is supposed to be living her dream in Cuba, where she and hundreds of other Palestinians have been given the opportunity to study for free.
But, like the Palestinian diaspora all around the world, she is ridden with anxiety watching the decimation of her home from afar.
The 21-year-old lives in a dorm with six other students at the University of Havana, but often dreams of returning to her family’s side, even if it means running toward war.
“It would be easier for me to be with them than to have all these thoughts,” of not knowing “what they drink, what they eat, where they sleep,” Alghoul said of her mother, two brothers and sister who live in the Gaza Strip.
She said her mother tells her: “We are proud of you, we are proud to have someone outside of Gaza who is studying medicine.”
Alghoul is one of 247 Palestinian students, 75 of them from Gaza, who have received a scholarship from the Cuban government, according to figures from Palestinian ambassador Akram Samhan.
Cuba has long handed out bursaries to foreign students. Some 1,500 Palestinians, many of them doctors, have studied for free on the island since 1974, said the ambassador.
Whether studying, living abroad, or staying in refugee camps in the Middle East, millions of Palestinians in the diaspora are watching the destruction wrought back home with horror.
The conflict began on October 7 when the Hamas militant group attacked Israel, leaving 1,194 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,396 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.
Alghoul says her family, who lived in the north of the Gaza Strip, has had to move multiple times to flee bombing and is currently in central Gaza’s Deir Al-Balah.
“They open WhatsApp, send me a message, ‘We’re fine,’ and we don’t know when we’ll have more news,” Alghoul said in Spanish. Like all foreign students, she took intensive language classes when she arrived in Cuba in 2022.
Motee Almashar, 24, from southern Rafah told AFP that he and his Palestinian friends are trying to get back to normal life “to relieve some stress.”
But it’s not easy.
“As soon as you pick up your phone, you see the news,” he said.
Almashar is also too far away to be of much comfort to his mother, devastated after bombing in Rafah last month led to the deaths of his cousins, three uncles, aunt and grandmother.
The conflict has also impacted the students’ ability to make ends meet in Cuba, as they are no longer able to receive money from relatives in Gaza.
Ambassador Samhan said he has launched a drive for donations among Palestinian groups in the United States and elsewhere to help support the students.
Mohammed Refat Almassri, 26, who has lost an uncle and eight cousins in the war, is in his final year of studies and torn over what to do next.
His father is an ambulance driver in the Gaza Strip and he knows there is “an urgent need for doctors,” but cannot afford a flight back home.


Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine

Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine
Updated 19 June 2024
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Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine

Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine
  • Putin thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the “act of care“
  • The Russian children, who were sent to the Songdowon International Children’s Camp on the Pacific coast, are rare outsiders in the country

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said North Korea had hosted children of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine at a summer camp in the reclusive country.
Putin thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the “act of care” during a state visit to Pyongyang to advance Russia’s relations with its closed neighbor as ties with Western countries are ruptured over Ukraine.
The Russian children, who were sent to the Songdowon International Children’s Camp on the Pacific coast, are rare outsiders in the country which shut itself off from the world even more after the Covid pandemic.
“I want to thank our Korean friends and personally comrade Kim Jong Un for organizing the holiday of the children of killed participants of the special military operation in the Korean camp Songdowon,” Putin said, using Moscow’s term for its offensive on Ukraine.
“We highly value this genuine act of care and friendship,” he added.
Moscow has not said how many of its troops have been killed in more than two years of fighting in Ukraine, but the number is believed to be at least in the tens of thousands.
Putin said that the countries were developing tourism ties.
“For the summer season, tours are being organized, focused on holidaying in Korean seaside resorts,” he said.
Russia and North Korea share a short land border, near the city of Vladivostok.
As Moscow touts relations with Pyongyang, regional authorities in the Russian Primorye region bordering North Korea have also upped cooperation.
Local governor Oleg Kozhemyako touted sending children from the region to North Korean camps during a visit by Kim to Russia’s Far East last year, causing some alarm from parents.
In an address to schoolchildren, Kozhemyako said: “When we were like you, we would go there, they had good camps in Korea. That’s why maybe we will agree and send some (children) to pioneer camps... There is the sea there and it is warm.”
In April, he said some 200 school children were ready to holiday in Songdowon.
At the time, the head of the Russian League for a Safe Internet, Yekaterina Mizulina, said she was flooded with complaints from concerned local parents.


India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university

India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university
Updated 19 June 2024
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India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university

India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university
  • Ancient Nalanda university was founded in 427 CE during Gupta empire
  • Present-day Nalanda University is a flagship project of India’s government

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated on Monday a new campus of Nalanda University, an institution located at the site of a 5th-century learning center considered the world’s first residential university.

The ancient Nalanda university in the state of Bihar was founded in 427 CE during the Gupta empire and flourished for more than seven centuries. Its archaeological remains became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016.

The present-day Nalanda University was established in Nalanda district as a public research university by an act of the Indian Parliament in 2010. A flagship project of the Ministry of External Affairs of the government of India, it was proposed by India’s former president A.P. J. Abdul Kalam and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who served as its first chancellor.

Supported by 18 member countries of the East Asia Summit, Nalanda University’s first batch comprised a dozen students enrolled in graduate and postgraduate courses in 2014. The construction of its new campus started in 2017. It was announced as a “net zero green campus,” with solar panels and water treatment and recycling plants.

“It’s a very special day for our education sector,” Modi said during the inauguration ceremony attended by Bihar Governor Rajendra Arlekar, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, and foreign ambassadors.

“Nalanda has a strong connect with our glorious past. This university will surely go a long way in catering to the educational needs of the youth.”

India’s PM Narendra Modi, top officials and foreign diplomats participate in the inauguration of Nalanda University’s new campus in Bihar, June 19, 2024. (PM’s Office)

The ancient Nalanda, whose complex spread over an area of 23 hectares, attracted thousands of students arriving from China, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Tibet to learn medicine, logic, mathematics and Buddhist teachings. It also sent some its best professors to propagate Buddhist philosophy in learning centers across Asia.

“Ancient Nalanda had come up in the 5th century CE and this used to be one of the prime institutions of not only Asia but of the world, because it was the first residential university of the world,” Nalanda University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Abhay Kumar Singh told Arab News.

“The new university is situated at the same place where you have the ancient campus ... Lots of authentic literature on philosophy was produced. Not only philosophy. Sanskrit, grammar, Ayurveda, metallurgic arts, cosmology, astrology and astronomy — all these things were studied here.”

There are conflicting reports on who destroyed the ancient campus. Some Indian historians believe that it was the Turko-Afghan military general Bakhtiyar Khilji during his conquest of northern India, while many Buddhist sources blame local Hindu Brahmins who they say were jealous of Buddhist dominance at that time.

What is undisputed is that when Nalanda was burnt down in the 12th century, most of its scholars fled to Tibet, and exchanges with other Asian learning centers stopped.

“They lost their source of knowledge. These interactions ended 800 years ago ... In 2006, former president Abdul Kalam suggested that we should have ancient Nalanda rejuvenated again. At the same time there was an East Asia Summit. Member countries also suggested that we want the same Nalanda to be revived and we would support the Indian government to establish the center,” Singh said.

“The university was established and 2014 was the first batch of students, just 10 or 12 ... Now we have students from 26 countries. Although the number is not high, the representation of all these countries is here. It’s truly an international university.”

In the past semester, the university had 170 foreign and 50 Indian students enrolled in world peace, Buddhism, comparative religion, philosophy, literature and management courses.

Soon it will be ready to receive more students at the new complex, which has two academic blocks with 40 classrooms and total seating for about 1,900.

“Earlier we were functioning from temporary facilities. This campus has the capacity to accommodate about 7,000 to 8,000 people — both teaching and non-teaching staff combined,” Singh said.

“We initially planned to have more than 2,000 students and for this we need more courses. Right now, we have six master’s degrees and every course takes 40 students. We are now adding more master courses and more students will join.”


Academic blasts Swedish PM after missing out on prisoner swap

Academic blasts Swedish PM after missing out on prisoner swap
Updated 19 June 2024
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Academic blasts Swedish PM after missing out on prisoner swap

Academic blasts Swedish PM after missing out on prisoner swap
  • “Mr. Prime Minister, you decided to leave me behind under huge risk of being executed” Djalali said in an audio recording
  • “I talk to you from Evin prison, inside a horrible cave where I have spent eight years, two months, almost 3,000 days of my life“

STOCKHOLM: Iranian-Swedish Ahmadreza Djalali, an academic who has been on death row in Iran for eight years, attacked Sweden’s prime minister after being excluded from a prisoner swap, in an audio recording obtained by AFP Wednesday.
Two Swedes were released on Saturday in exchange for Hamid Noury, a 63-year-old Iranian former prisons official handed a life sentence in Sweden in 2022 for his role in mass killings in Iranian jails in 1988.
The two Swedes were EU diplomat Johan Floderus, held in Iran since April 2022 accused of espionage, and Iranian-Swede Saeed Azizi, arrested in November.
But Djalali, on death row in Iran since 2017 after having been convicted of espionage, missed out on the swap.
“Mr. Prime Minister, you decided to leave me behind under huge risk of being executed” Jalali said in an audio recording shared with AFP by his wife Vida Mehrannia.
“I talk to you from Evin prison, inside a horrible cave where I have spent eight years, two months, almost 3,000 days of my life,” Djalali said.
Directing his message to Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Djalali asked: “Why not me?“
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom has stressed that Stockholm tried to secure his release, but Tehran refused to discuss his case as it does not recognize dual nationality.
He was granted Swedish citizenship while in jail in Iran.
“It’s just excuses,” Mehrannia told AFP. Her husband’s release “wasn’t important to them, they didn’t want to challenge Iran,” she added.
“I’m so angry, I’m at a loss for words.”
In his message, Djalali dared Kristersson to meet his son and family in front of tv cameras and tell him “why you left his father behind.
“My son was four when I was detained and he is now 12 and a half years old. He spent two thirds of his life without a father,” Djalali said, noting his son had been born in Sweden and grown up among Swedish children.
As a result of the publishing of the recording, Djalali had been denied making calls to Sweden, Mehrannia told AFP.
“But I think it was worth it,” she said. “It was important.”
Amnesty International has called on Sweden’s government to “do everything” to ensure Djalali can return.