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Masry is first candidate born in Saudi Arabia

Posted: July 4, 2008 12:38 a.m.
Updated: September 4, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Ferial Masry hopes to be the first Saudi Arabian-American to be elected to office in the Nov. 4 general election. Ferial Masry hopes to be the first Saudi Arabian-American to be elected to office in the Nov. 4 general election.
Ferial Masry hopes to be the first Saudi Arabian-American to be elected to office in the Nov. 4 general election.
She teaches American government and democracy, but was born in Mecca and educated in Cairo.

She opposed the war in Iraq, yet her son served as an Army sergeant there for about 18 months and was threatened by Iraqi insurgents.

She’s running for political office in a district that does not necessarily agree with her opposition to the war.

Meet Ferial Masry — high school teacher, mother of a soldier, ambassador for a region halfway around the world and the Democratic nominee for the state’s 37th Assembly District.

While Barack Obama is the first African-American presidential candidate from a major party, Masry hopes to be the first Saudi Arabian-American to be elected to office in the Nov. 4 general election.

“Every day I teach students to believe in the system,” Masry said. “But when seats are being sold to the highest bidder, then how can I face my students and tell them to believe?

“American democracy really has to be reformed. I want to excite people about democracy.”

Reform is something Masry really believes in, as she, herself, is the product of progressive change.

Masry was one of seven children born in the Saudi Arabian holy city of Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed. In an era where Saudi Arabian women were not permitted to have an education, her mother could not read or write.

However, nearby Egypt was more welcoming of women in school, so off to Cairo Masry and her two sisters went to receive a college education.

“My mom sent her daughters away from the Kingdom for an education,” Masry said. “That education gave me an opportunity to succeed. It gave me the tools to fight for equality.”

More than 30 years later, she is trying to bring that fight to the Santa Clarita Valley.

In June, the Newbury Park schoolteacher comfortably defeated Camarillo businessman David Hale for the right to run as a Democrat in the race for the 37th Assembly seat. Now, she faces off against incumbent Audra Strickland, whose husband Tony is running for state Senate.

Masry’s background is as diverse as the district she hopes to represent.

After attending college in Cairo, Masry moved to London. There, she met her husband, Walid, a civil engineer from Lebanon. The two moved to Nigeria before moving to the United States in 1979 seeking greener pastures. Initially living in Glendale, she eventually found herself living in Newbury Park while teaching government at Cleveland High School in Reseda.

Her three children, all adults now, pursued different career paths — her 28-year-old son is serving in Iraq, 26-year-old daughter is studying at Columbia University and 25-year-old son works with computers in San Francisco.

With her background, Masry hopes her will to fight and her words of equality and humanity will carry the day for her in a district that includes portions of Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Locally, the 37th district includes Val Verde and a small portion of the city of Los Angeles to the southwest.

Originally running as the write-in candidate for the 37th Assembly seat in 2004, Masry is running as the Democratic candidate for the third time. In 2004, when she broke ground as the first-ever Saudi-American candidate for political office, more than 74,000 people (41 percent) voted for Masry. Two years later, despite a lower turnout, she earned almost 43 percent of the vote, with more than 58,000 voters selecting Masry as their choice.

As in her previous two attempts, Masry’s theme this year is unchanged — democracy and opportunity.
“I am fighting for democracy here in America,” she said. “I am fighting for democracy not just inside, but outside. I want people to see this is from my heart.”

Masry was referring to the impact of her candidacy in the Middle East, where she is being hailed as a hero. She shared a story with The Signal about a man she met on a recent trip to Saudi Arabia. That man approached Masry and told her she single-handedly “smashed” stereotypes Saudis had of the United States. According to the man, Masry said many Saudis believed they were hated by the United States. Yet, with Masry’s candidacy, those perceptions changed.

“Winning is in the process, not the seat,” she said, pointing out that democracy supersedes issues and candidacies. “A seat can be bought, but the process cannot be bought.”

To her, the fact that she is running multiple times shows that it is more than about the seat — it is about believing.

“Money and name recognition cannot be enough for representation,” Masry said. “We have to go back to American ideals of merit and fighting for what we believe in.

“This is the greatest country in the world.”


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