Muad Hrezi: The 'unapologetically Muslim' Libyan-American running for Congress
A sports aficionado, avid reader, and hiker. Muad Hrezi grew up in a Libyan-American household as one of six siblings, nestled in Connecticut. Proudly born in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, Muad's parents sought asylum in the states to dodge a regime that wasn't promising a successful future.
"My mum was a homemaker and a substitute teacher, my dad started off parking cars as a valet, and became VP of the company. We grew up in a regular, working-middle class family."
Leaving high school as a five-time all-state honour, Hrezi continued to chase his passion for Track and Field at UNC Chapel Hill, and eventually found himself working between the halls of Capitol Hill.
"I studied health policy in college and started really getting interested in politics and policy in college. [My time as an adviser] led me to run for Congress, so I'm really excited."
At 26 years young, a considerable amount of issues pushed Hrezi to run for Connecticut's 1st Congressional district. However, certain instances opened his eyes to the dire need of progressive policies. Hrezi credits his inspiration after working 2.5 years on the hill.
"Seeing that up front and seeing how broken our politics are and our political system is — or if it's not broken — it's really functional for the powerful elite, not for the vulnerable working class and everyday Americans," Hrezi tells The New Arab.
|Hrezi is adamant in his belief that 'Americans deserve more, have earned more, and should be able to demand more'|
Through his lens, he recognised that crucial work needed to be done. He recalls moments in D.C. that he describes as "frustrating and disillusioning."
Hrezi is adamant in his belief that "Americans deserve more, have earned more, and should be able to demand more."
What started off as a new decade quickly unravelled into the unprecedented events of 2020. Left paralysed, a nation searched for any shred of support from the Trump administration.
Hrezi noted COVID-19 as an economic and public health crisis, while highlighting the wave of countrywide protests following the brutal killing of George Floyd.
"Having this convergence of crises, yet feeling still like our government isn't responsive led me to believe that if this wasn't going to do it — if this wasn't going to make our government a responsive, representative government, then I didn't think that anything would," he said.
"I came to believe that the only way of getting our government working for us again is to change the composition of Congress, and elect more progressives."
To Hrezi, this means supporting those who don't pander to corporate interests, and "who will actually reflect the values and interests of the population they serve."
Connecticut's 1st congressional district has been held by the incumbent Democratic Congressman John Larson since 1999. To a new contender, Hrezi believes his constituents are fully aware of their government's engulfment by corporate interests.
|The district is diverse in many ways, but I think the majority of the district has felt a lot of economic pain and struggling, and desires so much more from the world's most powerful government|
"I think they understand that everything is essentially written against them, and they just want a fair shot. They've put in the work. The productivity of the average American worker has skyrocketed over the past four decades but our wages haven't risen commensurately. People can recognise that and they're really frustrated by that."
Hrezi points out that residents within his district have expressed disappointment, making it clear that "they want a healthcare system that isn't elevating profit over their lives, one that is actually centred around patients, and not centred around profits."
Among other issues important to Connecticut's first congressional district? Climate change and environmental matters.
"I think that they want an environmental policy that is not going to damage this planet and damage the prospects of our future generations. One that is, instead, going to provide a future where we can live cleaner, a future where we can live with this environment and not fighting against it," he tells The New Arab, describing his district as mixed, with a proud Puerto Rican-American community.
Containing a range of socio-economic statuses, Hrezi also states that the district has "pockets of extreme wealth," simultaneously, harbouring many residents in crippling situations.
"The district is diverse in many ways, but I think the majority of the district has felt a lot of economic pain and struggling, and desires so much more from the world's most powerful government."
Moments of exhaustion and disappointment ring true to Muad's encounters with the system. A life-or-death situation left him, literally, set aside while suffering serious pneumonia.
"I was essentially delayed care because my parents owed a huge medical debt to the hospital that they were still paying off, and me, a 17-year old, was unable to pay off that debt at the time and therefore the receptionist asked me to wait at the side as I was unable to breathe. I didn't know it at that time, but I had pneumonia."
Hrezi describes the experience as "outside the realm of normalcy." Feeling like his life wasn't important enough to prioritise, and that wealth was indicating the urgency of his treatment, Muad was puzzled.
"It kind of awakened me to how important our healthcare system was and I was really interested in learning more about why our healthcare system was responding in that way. I was 17, I didn't really know how politics worked. It was just something that felt really wrong, it felt humiliating to be in a situation where I couldn't receive treatment that I deserved."
The pneumonia Muad experienced was triggered by an earlier episode while on a trip to a post-revolution Libya, where, ironically, he felt lucky to be an American citizen due to his exposure to government-funded hospitals.
"Visiting Libya and seeing that despair and how much they had to fight just to earn their freedom, was something that made me feel obliged to really take advantage of the opportunities that I was given in the U.S. That was a major inflection point that kind of galvanised me."
Making strides, Muad's very presence in the Congressional sphere is worthy of recognition. "It's not lost on me the historic nature of this, and the rarity of having a Libyan-American, a young Muslim-American getting involved in the national scene, so I can definitely appreciate that," Hrezi expresses.
He hopes his race will encourage people from all walks of life, especially those his age and who identify with his community. As for his family? They're proudly rooting for him.
|When you are unapologetically Muslim or Arab-American or you practice your faith or look differently, you will be challenged by that. People will challenge you on those identity issues that are core to who you are, and so it's something that I'm aware of and I've kind of had to prepare for, mentally|
"Most Arab-American families are, you know, very inclined towards politics or are aware of politics so my parents definitely know the value of getting involved. They've been super encouraging, super supportive, and they're thrilled to see that I'm getting involved in this realm."
As representation is the bare minimum, Hrezi looks forward to pushing back against Islamophobia through policy.
|Read also: Palestinian, Muslim, woman - American.
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Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans within Congress, albeit a minority, have received tons of support, attached with just as much backlash. From the outside looking in, Hrezi has learned from the campaigns and terms of Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Andre Carson, and Keith Ellison.
"When you are unapologetically Muslim or Arab-American or you practice your faith or look differently, you will be challenged by that. People will challenge you on those identity issues that are core to who you are, and so it's something that I'm aware of and I've kind of had to prepare for, mentally."
Nevertheless, he strongly motivates those from his community to get involved, whether locally or nationally, and to follow their wildest dreams.
"I really believe that we, as Arab-Americans or Muslim-Americans, have so much to offer to our country. [I encourage everyone] to really engage and try to utilise the values that we have and the abilities that we're capable of deploying and use those to benefit our communities. I've seen that from those who have come before me in American politics and I hope to continue down that path."
In the same breath, Hrezi makes it clear that if anyone ever has any questions about how they can get involved, or if they're interested in politics but don't know where to start, to contact his team.
"I would love to see how we can help them out and try to guide them through that process because it is kind of a really arcane and obscure process but they can reach out to us via the email, or via our website, there's an email button up there, so, always happy to help others who are encouraged or inspired by what we're doing here."
Steering away from corporate money and interests, Muad has made a pact to lead a grassroots campaign. "I think that the most critical thing we must do is elect and elevate people who are not taking corporate money and that's something I pledged not to do."
Citing the importance of fuelling his campaign through the people, Hrezi welcomes any US citizens or green card holders to visit hrezi.com to donate.
His advice to foreign nationals in the US or supporters abroad: "They can definitely just promote our content and share our message, let people know about myself and what we're trying to do here; trying to take on the establishment and try to really take back our government and have it working for everyday folks.
"I think people probably understand that the US government is the world's most powerful government, therefore, it has influence all across the world."
You can follow Muad's journey with the touch of a button. "The easiest source is just my website which is hrezi.com, from there you can find our social media pages and you can follow whichever you prefer, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and we'll continue to include more social media platforms. But those are the best ways to stay updated, also, if you join our mailing list, which we do through our website, we'll be sending out exclusive emails to those on the mailing list soon, so I think that for folks who want to see what we're working on — we'll continue to keep people updated through those mediums."
Sarah Essa is a freelance writer based out of NJ/NYC covering MENA-related issues and American culture.
Follow her on Twitter: @Saressaa
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