Five Arab Americans creating Joe Biden's diverse administration

White House has overseen historic expansion of diversity in Washington

President Joe Biden talks with Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counter-terrorism Centre, during a visit to McLean, Virginia. AP
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US President Joe Biden ran a campaign that promised historic diversity at the helm of American policymaking — and his presidency has delivered so far, particularly for Arab Americans.

Almost half of Mr Biden's cabinet secretaries are non-white, 37 per cent of them are women, and the administration has overseen a range of historic diverse appointments, including Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

But that diversity begins to thin when it comes to Mr Biden’s most senior advisers, with a recent study finding, for example, that there is not sufficient black representation in key White House jobs that have more substantive policy influence, though less public visibility.

Although none of the President's senior cabinet members are Arab American, there are 20 serving in key positions throughout the administration.

Here are some of them:

Christine Abizaid, Director of the National Counter-terrorism Centre

During the Obama administration, Christine Abizaid served as the deputy assistant secretary of defence for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. Photo: US Department of State

Ms Abizaid, a Lebanese American, has previously served as a counter-terrorism intelligence official in the Defence Intelligence Agency and on the National Security Council.

During the administration of former president Barack Obama, she served as a senior policy adviser and assistant to the president for homeland security and counter-terrorism and became the deputy assistant secretary of defence for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

According to the White House, Ms Abizaid participated in the West Wing meeting in preparation for a drone strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahiri. Ms Abizaid told Congress that, with the death of Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda's stronghold “is less acute than at any other time since 9/11".

Her father, John Abizaid, was the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and she played football while studying at the University of California — San Diego.

Hady Amr, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel-Palestine at the US State Department

Hady Amr, of Lebanese-American heritage, has returned to the State Department to work on Palestinian-Israeli issues. Photo: US Department of State

Mr Amr made his return to the State Department in a role that was created to specifically to boost US-Palestinian relations in what marks his fifth executive branch post.

The creation of the new post was also meant to improve the diplomatic representation as much as possible, given the US consulate in Jerusalem has yet to reopen.

Mr Amr, who was born in Lebanon, previously held posts at the Department of Defence, the Department of Homeland Security and USAID.

During the Obama administration, he served as deputy special envoy for economics and Gaza for the special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

He is a Brookings Institution fellow and has contributed to the Biden administration’s strategy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He was also a member of Mr Biden’s transition team at the State Department.

Nabeela Barbari, Director of Resilience and Response at the National Security Council

Nabeela Barbari is part of the team tasked with strengthening the nation’s security infrastructure against physical and cyber threats. Photo: US government handout

A Washington native, Ms Barbari is Palestinian American and has served as an executive with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency as well as the Department of Homeland Security during both the Obama and Trump administrations.

Ms Barbari was appointed to the Biden administration under the Executive Office of the President in February 2021.

She is part of the team given the task of strengthening the nation’s security infrastructure against physical and cyber threats. Policy development, emergency management and preparedness against national security threats — from cyber criminals or by natural disaster — are a few of her responsibilities.

Sara Minkara, US Special Adviser on International Disability Rights at the Department of State

Sara Minkara is an advocate, expert and facilitator in the fields of disability, inclusion, authentic leadership and social entrepreneurship. Photo: US Department of State

Sara Minkara was appointed as the special adviser on international disability rights at the State Department.

In this role, she leads the department’s strategy to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities internationally.

Before joining the department, she founded and served as chief executive of Sara Minkara, LLC, which promotes authentic leadership and value-based inclusion.

She also established Empowerment Through Integration, a non-profit organisation committed to developing a more inclusive global society and transforming social and cultural stigmas against disability.

Ms Minkara is a graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Internationally, she has promoted disability rights, diversity, access and inclusion in a range of countries including Lebanon, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Thailand and the UK.

Brenda Abdelall, Senior Adviser at the Office of Civil Rights, Department of Homeland Security

Brenda Abdelall is the daughter of Egyptian immigrants. Photo: US Department of State

The daughter of Egyptian immigrants, Ms Abdelall is a lawyer who has lobbied on behalf of Arab-American and Muslim communities in the US.

In 2014, she became a health policy lobbyist before serving as charities director for Muslim Advocates, an organisation formed in 2005, which aims to overcome political and social stigma against American Muslims.

During the 2020 presidential election, she served as one of the main volunteers for Mr Biden’s “Arab Americans for Biden” group.

Ms Abdelall also taught at New York University — Abu Dhabi, the University of Michigan Law School, and the University of the District of Columbia David A Clarke School of Law. Her courses focused on civil rights, with a focus on the first amendment.

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Updated: December 29, 2022, 8:14 PM
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