By Nadia Farra and Dr. Charles Kiamie III
In celebration of National Arab American Heritage Month in April, Arab Americans In Foreign Affairs Agencies (AAIFAA) led several efforts to celebrate, educate, and recognize the contributions of Arab Americans and engage in culture and professional development. This included Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price opening a Department press briefing recognizing Arab American contributions, April 1.
In past years, AAIFAA hosted an annual “hafla,” or gathering, celebrating with Middle Eastern food and music. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they switched to virtual activities this year.
AAIFAA hosted Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, an Emirati columnist and researcher on social, political, and cultural affairs in the Arab world, April 14. Al Qassemi, founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation, led a session entitled “A Journey through Modern Political Art in the Arab World,” where he discussed the political undertones of iconic artworks of the 20th century in the Arab world with an enthusiastic virtual crowd of more than 100 attendees. Al Qassemi showed various artwork by individuals who were motivated by the events around them saying, “they had no camera, but they had their paintbrush.”
AAIFAA held a second event on professional development with a candid discussion about the experiences of Arab Americans working in government, April 28. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Daniel B. Smith opened the session with Hadi Amr, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Maher Bitar, special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs, and Ambassador (ret.) Marcelle M. Wahba.
As AAIFAA celebrates its achievements, the group also reflects on the way forward by supporting efforts to “affirmatively advance equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity,” as stated in Executive Order 13985. Arab Americans have contributed and continue to contribute to the nation’s strength across the globe to champion human rights and America’s values. AAIFAA marks National Arab American Heritage Month—noting these contributions are as old as America itself—and looks forward to participating in a coalition with other employee affinity groups to strengthen the foreign affairs community through diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Nadia Farra is a senior Syria desk officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and chair of Arab Americans In Foreign Affairs Agencies (AAIFAA). Charles E. Kiamie III, Ph.D., is acting director of the Center for Education at USAID and vice-chair of AAIFAA.