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Saudi Woman Running for Office in U.S. On the Riyadh Bombing & the House of Saud

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A day after a bomb killed up to nine in Riyadh, we speak to Ferial Masry of Los Angeles who is attempting to become the first Saudi native to hold elective office in the US. She is running for the California State Assembly. [includes rush transcript]

A group of Saudis allegedly tied to al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for yesterday’s suicide bombing in the capital Riyadh. Four people were killed and more than 140 wounded when a car bomb destroyed a security forces building tied to the Saudi Interior Ministry. A statement by a group calling itself Al Haramain Brigades, published by at least two Islamist Web sites, said the attack targeted special security and anti-terrorism units in the kingdom. The bombing came just days after a US warning of a possible attack in the country. Arabic language media outlets have reported in recent weeks that there have been gun battles in several Saudi cities between government forces and opponents of the regime.

For more than a decade, Osama bin Laden has attacked the Saudi regime for allowing US forces to base themselves in a country that houses the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Some analysts say that the Saudi regime is paying a price for its support of the Bush administration’s policies, most significantly the occupation of Iraq. A new book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward alleges that the Bush administration showed the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar, secret war plans for the bombing of Iraq as early as January 2003 and that the Saudis made a secret deal with the White House to fix oil prices in an effort to aid Bush’s reelection campaign.

Meanwhile, in a less publicized story, a well-known TV host in Saudi Arabia says her husband has surrendered to police to face charges of attempting to kill her. The case of Rania al-Baz has opened an unprecedented public debate in Saudi Arabia about the issue of violence against women. She is accusing her husband of severely beating her, threatening to kill her, and abducting their children. In an unprecedented move, the TV host allowed newspapers to show pictures of her swollen and bruised face and has had repeated surgery for 13 fractures. Her case is the first time domestic violence has received media coverage of this kind in Saudi Arabia. There has been no official comment from Saudi police on the arrest or charges.

Meanwhile, in this country, a Saudi woman is running for a seat in the California State Assembly. Her name is Ferial Masry. If she wins, she will be the first Saudi native to hold an elective office in the US. Masry is running as a Democrat in a heavily republican district after she qualified for a spot on the November ballot as a write-in candidate. And she is up against sizeable odds.

During the primary alone, Masry’s opponent, Audra Strickland, spent more than a half a million dollars. Strickland is the wife of the incumbent, Tony Strickland, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits. Masry opposes the war in Iraq in a district that heavily favors it. Her son, Omar, is an Army sergeant serving in Iraq where he maintains a Web site in Baghdad that includes a Web log that provides a running commentary on the war. In an e-mail message, Omar Masry described how one Iraqi wanted his mother to move back to the Middle East and run for office in Iraq. Masry’s husband is a Navy engineer serving here in the US.

Ferial Masry was born in the holy city of Mecca. She left Saudi Arabia at age 9 to attend boarding school in Egypt. Her parents wanted her to be the first girl in the family to get a formal education. She received a degree in journalism from the University of Cairo, then lived in Britain and Nigeria before moving to the United States in 1979. She now teaches history and government at Cleveland High School in Los Angeles. Her campaign has also caused quite a stir in Saudi Arabia where she says she could never do what she is attempting to do here in Los Angeles. Ferial Masry joins us now in our studio here in Los Angeles.

  • Ferial Masry, born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. She is running as a Democrat for the California State Assembly here in Los Angeles. If she wins, she will become the first Saudi native to hold elective office in the US.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Ferial Masry joins us now in the studio in Los Angeles. Welcome to Democracy Now!. It’s great to have you with us. Can you comment first on this news out of Saudi Arabia, the attack that blew up the police building in Riyadh?

FERIAL MASRY: For me as a Saudi, I know what’s going on is not a surprise. We have been expecting that for a long time. After the Afghani war and the Russia attack, we have seen Islam being used, and a lot of people inside Saudi Arabia started serving with the Mujahideen. They took a lot of people from Saudi Arabia and from the Muslim world to serve there. After they served, the occupation of Saudi Arabia by American forces angered a lot of people there. The Saudi government with the corruption, and there is nothing for the young people there. I think that — before that, actually, the resistance to Saudi government is not just recently. It’s been going on for over 60 years. But hardly anybody heard about it, because it’s like an iron wall around Saudi Arabia. We don’t hear anything. But there is a lot of resistance because the government is really corrupt. There’s no democracy and no institution. And that’s what we see, a result of all of this, and I think people are angry because of what’s going on. And also the Palestinian and Israeli problem has never been solved. The situation is getting worse and people see it every day, the horrible occupation in Palestine, and they see what’s going on in Iraq, and I think it really is going through a real turmoil. It’s really a depressing area. You don’t understand until you live here. People don’t have any hope anymore. Some of the people don’t see any reason for hopes for the future because everything is really bad.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean to say that there are gun battles throughout the country? I mean it is very difficult to get information from Saudi Arabia?

FERIAL MASRY: Yeah. You don’t. But it’s going on for a long time. But there’s —

AMY GOODMAN: Gun battles between who?

FERIAL MASRY: Between people resisting the government. There are a lot of groups resisting the government. The problem is we don’t hear about them. There’s a lot of tribes, a lot of people for example in the east part of Saudi Arabia, which have been resisting the Saudi family, since it established its rule on the country. Then you have people in the south. They don’t like the Saudi family because the Saudis are from one area, and they’re oppressing the whole kingdom. They’re using religion and power to rule. So, now people with the internet and the connection and as I said as a result of this, people become more militant.

AMY GOODMAN: The story of this popular Saudi TV anchor, TV host, the woman who has now come out showing her face beaten up by her husband. Now he has been attested for attempted murder. Can you tell us about her?

FERIAL MASRY: Yeah. I don’t know much about that, but I read about it in the Arabic newspaper. She’s a popular — broadcaster, and I think what happened to her when her husband beat her, I think that it’s very courageous of her that she makes it public, because I think for a society which is very conservative. People keep things in the family. They don’t like to say anything outside the family. So, I think for her to say what she’s saying is good, because it opens a lot of doors for a lot of women. Because I have received a lot of complaints from women in Saudi Arabia. They have almost the same problem or different, being abused by their husband, or the system is not giving them the right and what to do. And the biggest problem there is because of the family. They are scared if they come out with it, you know, it’s not good for the family. So, I’m trying to get some of them organized, don’t just depend on the family. Get to people who have the same problem. You have to understand that it’s not easy. It’s going to be different. You have to do it. Because you are going to open doors for other people, you know to complain and get their rights.

AMY GOODMAN: What has been the reaction in Saudi Arabia to her coming out?

FERIAL MASRY: I think a lot of women, they like it, and I think some of the men, they do, because some of the people — not everybody in Saudi Arabia is abused, but the people feel this guy should be punished. But as I say, the problem is the system. The system is controlled by old, very right-wing people who don’t see it that way, so I think a lot of young people, they agree with her. And a lot of families, they also agree with her. The situation — there is no hope to do it but that way, because the government is not going to interfere.

AMY GOODMAN: But we have to break. When we come back, I want to ask you about running for the California State Assembly. If you win, you will be the first Saudi native to hold elective office in the United States. I also want to ask you about your reaction to the very close relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family. You are listening to and watching Democracy Now!, broadcasting on over 220 radio and television stations around the country. And video and audio streaming on the web at Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: Afghan music. In a few minutes, we’ll be speaking with KPFK journalist Sonali Kolhatkar about Afghan women. Before that, we continue our conversation with a woman who could be making history here in this country as well as Saudi Arabia. Ferial Masry is running for State Assembly in California. If she wins, she will be the first Saudi native to hold elective office here in the United States. Can you talk about your run for office? What made you decide to do this, and the kind of attention that you are getting back home in Saudi Arabia?

FERIAL MASRY: Actually, I was thinking about running in the beginning, but another fellow Democrat was running at the same time, so I didn’t pursue it. Then, at the last minute, he got sick. So, I took over for him. The party asked me if I was still interested. When I told them, yes, I was laughing. My husband asked me why are you laughing, I said, you understand, running is going to make a thing in Saudi Arabia, and in other countries. And they couldn’t believe me until they saw all of the media attention. And actually when I decided to run, I came to the race with no money and no names. I was telling the kids in my class, I’m running and my opponent is going to spend over a half million dollars. And they asked me, how much money do you have, I said, $140. And they said, are you going to beat her? I said yes, I’m going to beat her. They were laughing. I managed to get people excited, because when I decided to run, this group that we have in our area, the Strickland’s, they’re very exclusive. They’re very conservative, ultraconservative, and a lot of people in our area felt they’re not represented. So, I felt like a lot of — most of the time when the Democrats run, they run with a candidate they know is going to lose. So, I told them, I’m not going to lose. If I’m going to run, I’m going to put everything in that race. I decided because I felt like this is the time to energize our pace. Especially with what the country is going through. I think we have to take the race back from them. So, when I got the right in, I got three times the vote and it surprised everybody. They dismissed I was going to win.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re opposed to the invasion of Iraq?

FERIAL MASRY: Yes. That’s actually one of the reasons also, because I was protecting the world with the people in black. And when my son went to the war, that really, in a way, upset me. And I remember the day he went. He was telling me that he was going to go. So, it was a mixed feeling, because I know if he goes, he’s going to do a good job, as a Muslim and an Arab and American, but at the same time, I hate him to go because that’s not war I think he should go to. Because I know that this war is a war of choice. It’s led by a politician, not necessity for this country. So I remember I was telling him — if you go there, I want you to start listening to unspoken words. You are going to a civilization that is 7,000 years old. And I want you to be kind and nice and understand the people there. That was the hardest part. And up until now, I’m opposing the war, I would never agree to this war because it polarized the Middle East. What we see in the Middle East is going to get worse, because unfortunately, the United States is only using muscles to settle the Middle East — to control the oil of the Middle East. I don’t think the people in the Middle East are going to drink their oil. They are going to sell it. I don’t think we need to force ourselves on the Middle East. The Middle East needs have no weapons there, and we need peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Your son Omar, kept a blog, a web blog as he was in Iraq as a soldier, a US soldier.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what he said, what was he chronicling?

FERIAL MASRY: Actually, he had a lot of things in his blog, because he had different ideas. One of them is how to help fellow soldiers. He realized a lot of soldiers don’t understand the culture, and they don’t understand what to do with people, and killing sometimes innocent people. He wanted to teach them about it and make them understand. He also talked to them about Islam and about the culture, and he gives lectures. He also tries to work with women and children. He kept his diary there, and also at the same time, he’s trying be the bridge between the United States, especially his fellow soldiers, and the Arab world. He had some debate with the Arab media. Some of them in the beginning, they couldn’t understand him, so they were confused. How he is a Muslim and Arab and he’s in the American army. That’s one of the things they kept asking, the media, when they interviewed me. I was telling him, don’t forget, he’s an American first and then Arab and Muslim. He tried to say, I did not initiate this war. But we are here, and how to make the people understand that the American soldiers are here, they’re trying to do their best. That’s one of the things that I — in one of his first articles which he wrote, called — “A Nation Born in front of my Eyes,” was a very nice article because he really made me see the connection, and sees the American soldier in a different way, that they were forced to be there. It’s not their choice. They’re trying to do what the leader tells them or the superiors tell them to do. Some of them don’t agree sometimes. Some of them do a good job there.

AMY GOODMAN: Ferial Masry, the relationship between the Saudi regime and the Bush administration. The latest allegation, for example, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, who is nicknamed Bandar Bush because he is so close, particularly to George Bush Sr., the previous president, being told about the war plans in January, 2003, even before General Colin Powell, Secretary of State. Your response?

FERIAL MASRY: I’m not surprised. I mean, everybody in the Middle East knows the connection between the Saudi family and the Bush family. I think there’s an article written, I think, a year ago called “The True Junkie,” which says that the Bush family are junkies to the Saudi money and the Saudi family are junkies to the protection of the United States. I’m not surprised. We all know that even before the first Gulf War, the Saudis were into the conspiracy and that’s why we see a lot of the people in the Arab world upset, and bin Laden and his group are upset because of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the Saudi regime could fall? How threatened it is right now?

FERIAL MASRY: I think it is very threatened. And it’s a matter of time. Because if they don’t open up because the corruption, you won’t believe it. The economy is really bad, and the money is spent on the royal family, not on the people. There are a lot of young people who cannot find jobs. I mean, they cannot even get anywhere, they’re sitting there, they’re bored and some of them are joining the resistance. I’m not surprised if the Saudi regime falls. Unless they change and realize they have to play a different role. Also, the Arab world around them, they are not happy with what they’re doing.

AMY GOODMAN: Ferial Masry, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Again, running for California State Assembly. If she were to win, she would be the first Saudi native ever to hold US elective office. Thank you very much for joining us.

FERIAL MASRY: Thank you.

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