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Meet Abdulrahman El-Sayed who could be elected as America's first Muslim governor

Monday April 24, 2017 10:58 PM, IINA

Abdulrahman El Sayed
[El-Sayed graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007. There he met and married his college sweetheart, Sarah, who is also a physician. (Photo: Abdulrahman El-Sayed Facebook page)]

Egyptian-American Abdulrahman El-Sayed appears to have a restless soul. Born and raised in Michigan, at just 32 years of age he has already given up careers as a doctor, an epidemiology professor and being the director of Detroit's health department.

Yet the time has come for him to make his boldest move yet: beginning his campaign to run for governor of Michigan. Since El-Sayed has never held elected office, it is an ambitious endeavour.

If he wins, he will become the first Muslim governor in the United States, at a time when some of the country’s top politicians have singled out Islam as a public enemy.

The symbolism of becoming the first Muslim governor in the US in this political climate is not lost on El-Sayed, who said one can’t ignore the “troubling conversations” the country had been having prior to the election of President Donald Trump in November, Middle East Eye (MEE) reported.

Such discussions “were trampling on the ideals many of us hold dear, [including that] all men are created equal,” he said.

The candidate is hoping his position as a political outsider will appeal to Michigan voters disillusioned by the status quo.

“As much as folks will look on paper and say ‘He's young, and he’s brown, and his name is Abdul,' they’re not in the rooms when we have conversations with real people,” said El-Sayed, who is currently on a state-wide tour.

Voters want to “take back our politics from the same old candidates who are missing the boat," he added.

It does seem like politicians are missing a lot. Residents of Flint, half of whose constituents are black, have been drinking tainted water for years. This is in part due to "deeply embedded institutional, systemic and historical racism,” a Michigan civil rights report found.

Unemployment across the state has gone up in the past year and almost a fifth of Michigan’s residents are living in poverty. Additionally, a loss of manufacturing jobs has people worried about their futures.
Solving these issues should be a top priority for the state’s leaders, according to El-Sayed.

“We cannot wait until robots continue to take our jobs,” he said during his campaign launch speech.

“We cannot wait until our young people go elsewhere looking for the kinds of economic opportunities we should have built right here at home. Real leaders are people who can stand firmly against the powerful, stand strong with the weak and stand humbly before God", he added.

El-Sayed graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007. There he met and married his college sweetheart, Sarah, who is also a physician.

He was raised by his father Mohamed and his stepmother Jackie and said that he has a very diverse family.

“[I was] raised in a half-white, half-Egyptian household. I have family who is African American and white and Asian and families of all different faiths and no faiths at all," he said. "I’m honored and blessed to see such a swathe of American society in my own living room."

At the age of 30, he left a tenure-track position as a public health professor at Columbia to take up a post as health director of Detroit. But after less than two years on the job, he quit to run for governor. Speaking to MEE, he said the Flint water crisis was what pushed him to pursue public office.

“I was rebuilding a health department that had been shut down, and then watching as the same system... poisoned kids in a city that looked a lot like the city I was trying to protect,” he recalled. "Rather than cutting corners, I thought the best service I could do in this moment was to run for office."

“The work of government has to be for the people, by the people, about the people, and not run like a business,” he added.

Growing up in Michigan, El-Sayed said he was teased lightly for being Muslim, but things took a more racial/religious tone after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Since then, many Muslims feel the alienation has only become worse, and hate crimes have gone up since last year’s election.

There is also speculation that the US Representatives Dan Kildee or Debbie Dingell could run for governor. These names are popular among the Muslim community, but El-Sayed said that he's confident of his stance.

“I honestly think I’m going to win,” he said.

The Democratic primaries will not be until August 2018, ahead of a November election. But the financial health of El-Sayed’s campaign will become more clear in a few months when it has to report the donation figures in June.

For now, the plan, according to communications director, Adam Joseph, is to “visit every corner of the state and talk to every voter who is willing to speak to us".


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