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Hala Maksoud Dies at 56; Arab Activist

By Louie Estrada
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 28, 2002; Page C06
Hala Salaam Maksoud, 56, a founder and former president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee who spoke out against stereotypes of the Arab world, especially Arab women, died of pancreatic cancer April 26 at the Washington Hospice.
Dr. Maksoud was born in Beirut. Her uncle was Saeb Saleem, former prime minister of Lebanon. She graduated from American University at Beirut, where she also received a master’s degree in mathematics. She received a master’s degree in government and a doctorate in political theory from Georgetown University.
She came to Washington in 1974, when her husband, Dr. Clovis Maksoud, served as ambassador of the League of Arab States and special representative to the United Nations.
In the aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and oil embargo, she became an influential member of the Arab American community, speaking out against what she said were common misperceptions about Arab women.
She wrote articles, lectured around the world and appeared on television and radio programs to dispel notions that Arab women are uneducated, not well-spoken, and live behind a veil without regard for freedom, said Mokhless Al-Hariri, who worked with Dr. Maksoud at the ADC.
“Her message was very clear,” Al-Hariri said. “Those who chose to live their lives differently should not be looked down upon.”
Dr. Maksoud helped Sen. James Abourezk (D-S.D.) start the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1980 and served as its president from 1996 to 2001, when she resigned because of her illness.
During her tenure, she added more than 80 chapters and forged alliances with other civil rights organizations. The committee’s individual membership grew from about 15,000 to 20,000 during her years as president, according to Ibish Hussein, communications director of the committee.
“She was a tireless traveler who had a unique talent in reaching out to different groups and making a personal connection, whether they were recent immigrants in Detroit or the members of high society,” Hussein said.
She instituted some democratic changes to the organization while she was president, pushing for the election of its board of directors.
Over the years, Dr. Maksoud taught courses on Arab women’s issues at Georgetown University and international relations at George Mason University.
She also was working on a book, “The Islamic Content of Arab Nationalist Thought,” which was due to be published by the University of Florida Press.
She served as secretary of the American Committee on Jerusalem, treasurer of the Committee for the Preservation of the Palestinian Heritage, president of the Association of Arab-American University Graduates and founder and president of the Arab Women’s Council.
In March, she received a lifetime achievement award from the American Immigration Law Foundation.
In addition to her husband, of Washington and a professor of international relations at American University, survivors include a brother and two sisters.