Hassan Samrhouni: Leading the Moroccan-American community
Alison Lake is a staff writer at the Washington Post.
On May 19, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Morocco pleaded guilty to funneling money and material support to al-Qaeda. Many Moroccan-Americans living in Washington, D.C. are outraged that Khalid Ouazzani would align himself with a terrorist group and cast a shadow over hard-working Moroccan and Muslim-Americans.
It's time to highlight a positive example of a Moroccan-American activist who has captured the attention and respect of leaders in Washington and Morocco for over two decades. Since first arriving in the Washington area, Hassan Samrhouni has operated as a goodwill ambassador between the U.S. and Morocco. Hassan is president and founder of the Washington Moroccan Club, and CEO of Casablanca Travel and Tours, a full-service travel agency with offices in Casablanca, Morocco and D.C.
Hassan has worked for 20 years to promote the interests of Moroccan-Americans and to create a bridge for relations between the two countries. His overriding goal has been to "explain Morocco to Americans"and help newcomers acclimate to American society. "We Moroccans are some of the best [examples of] Americans today," he said in an interview. "We are Muslim, Arab and African: people with three different diverse traits, and we can be ambassadors for the U.S. around the world."
Hassan is called upon regularly as an "ambassador of goodwill" between the countries. He personally met with Presidents Clinton and Bush Sr., Hillary Clinton and secretaries of state during visits of American delegations to Morocco. King Hassan II of Morocco recognized Hassan's efforts by awarding him the highest honor a Moroccan citizen can receive--the Wissam of National Merit--in 1995.
Before emigrating to the U.S. in 1982, Hassan traveled the world for 15 years, playing soccer for Morocco's wildly popular national team. He joined Wydad Athletic Club in 1966 at age 16, and was deeply imprinted by the club's leadership and influence in Morocco. Established in the 1930s, the club was a pivotal force in the drive for Morocco's independence in 1956, and operated not only as a sports organization but also as impetus for social and cultural change. Wydad ("Love") remains influential in Morocco and was Hassan's inspiration for creating a similar organization here.
Hassan founded a "football" (soccer) club here in Washington, D.C., hoping to transfer the same values of leadership and community development. "I created the Washington Moroccan Club, a community organization, with the same principles of that group of fighters who defined Morocco's independence. Here we defend our culture and place in both American and Moroccan societies." Washington Athletic Club, an extension of the Moroccan Club, competes in the Washington International Soccer League and has a 10-year roster of more than 150 licensed players.
King Hassan II's son, King Mohammed VI, is supportive of Hassan Samrhouni's efforts to assist Moroccans and Americans in both countries. Hassan often voices opinions on political and policy issues in his native country. Affectionately known as "Blue Eyes" back home, Hassan is approachable, modest and friendly. His dual passion for Morocco and the U.S. is evident both in conversation and in how he spends his time.
In March 2010, Hassan's 20 years of leadership in the Washington area culminated in an anniversary celebration and event series attended by many professionals from Morocco and the U.S.: D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, educators and students, journalists, university professors, representatives from think tanks and development organizations, musicians and artists, and, according to Hassan, "Many strong Moroccan and American women--they ran the event!" George Washington, George Mason, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins universities also participated, as did the World Bank. The event will soon evolve into a "caravan," traveling to major U.S. cities with the same plan but on a grander scale.
Hassan and the WMC target both newcomers to the U.S. and established Americans who emigrated from Morocco a generation or two ago. "As Moroccan-Americans move from the service sector to higher education and positions of leadership, we are trying to reach key decision-makers,"Hassan said. The club sponsored political fundraising efforts for both presidential candidates in 2008, and encourages participation in government, with the aim to one day elect a Moroccan-American to higher office.
Hassan loves promoting Morocco and America as a job. "We try to empower our community and teach them they can do anything." This involves assisting and inspiring newcomers to the U.S. "When I spend time talking with someone," he said, "I never ever feel that I am wasting my time. I often see the positive results of a conversation 10 years later, and I know that seeds are planted along the way."
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