Ferial Masry: Being The First Saudi Woman To Run For Office

Ferial Masry is a 30+-year resident of California’s 37th Assembly District, where she ran for California State Assembly in 2010. During her time as a resident of the District, she has been a small-business owner, author of an internationally-renowned book about her life, lecturer and a public school teacher.

These opportunities have come from hard work and dedication. Masry was born in Saudi Arabia in an era when girls were not permitted to receive an education. When Masry was 10 years old, her mother moved her and her sisters to Egypt so they could receive an education and have an opportunity for a better life. In her story she shares how she has taken on that better life and is pushing others to do the same.

The New Agenda and MALA are proud to launch the “Women of the USA,” a campaign to showcase Muslim women’s stories and voices.  Our goal is to spotlight the diversity and accomplishments of Muslim American women.  If you would like to share your story as part of this series, please submit your information here. Join the conversation by using #WOTUSA, and share your voice with us.

In 2004 I became the first Saudi woman from the Holy City of Mecca to run for office in the history of the United States. A lot considered it a gutsy attempt, to run as a recent immigrant with a Middle Eastern accent, to serve as the Democratic challenger in a staunchly Republican district. It sparked national and international attention. With only $148 in campaign funds, I assembled a campaign as a write-in candidate one month before the 2004 California State Assembly primary election.

I won the write-in campaign against all odd and made history in California for being the second in 150 years to win the write-in, and the first to get three times the votes I needed.

How did I make the transition from the conservative, Islamic country of Saudi Arabia to the modern secular United States and, in the post 9/11 atmosphere, catalyze American voters and the world spectators alike?

When ABC’s Peter Jennings selected me as “Person of the Week” and interviewed me on national television, everyone wanted to know what I was all about. During my campaign, I won worldwide acclaim for my ability to reach people of all faiths, ethnicities, races and social and economic circumstances. My progressive vision of democracy, in addition to personality, and candid communication style, allowed me to cross political lines and gain support from hard-core Republicans opponents.

In keeping with my persistent, positive nature and tremendous outpouring of support, I soon resolved to face the challenge again in 2006, 2008, 2010. I lost the seat, but I won the respect for my principles that democracy worth fighting for. I have never wavered from the belief that democracy is not about winning or losing, it’s about the process and the journey to serve the community at large.

I am recognized as someone who is trying to break new ground and break down barriers. The mother of a U.S. soldier who served in Iraq, I’ve served as an inspiration to people from all backgrounds. I was awarded a 2005 Human Rights Award at the Ronald Reagan Library, and I was the recipient of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Democrat of the Year award.

In 2005 I was invited to the International Jeddah Economic Forum to speak about my experiences with American democracy as a Saudi-born woman who ran for office in my adopted country. In recognition of my impact and achievements, the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah and the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh invited me for a special reception in recognition of my ability to reflect the human side; the commonalities and interests that the Saudi and American people share beyond the images of political conflicts.

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