Yemeni-American Women Start Political Consulting Firm in New York

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Amid a small crowd in a Flatbush, Brooklyn, home, two Yemeni-American women whispered into each other’s ears. The room was dim and the low, gray couch on which they sat on lit at the edges by incandescent lamps.

But the private launch party of the presumptive mayoral candidate Scott M. Stringer was in full swing, as the people there waited for Mr. Stringer, the New York City Comptroller, to speak. Outside, children played catch while a security detail stood in front of the door.

As Mr. Stringer spoke, the two women, Rabyaah Althaibani, 41, and Somia Elrowmeim, 33, paid close attention. He was one of the candidates they were scrutinizing to see whether they wanted to offer their political consulting services to his campaign. As soon as the Q. and A. started, their hands were raised.

Somia Elrowmeim, left, and Rabyaah Althaibani discussing the mayoral candidacy of Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. The women founded Arab Women’s Voice, a political consulting firm aimed at connecting candidates for public office with Arabs and Muslims. Gabriella N. Báez/NYT Institute

Ms. Althaibani and Ms. Elrowmeim founded their political consulting firm, Arab Women’s Voice, in April to encourage dialogue between city officials and Arab and Muslim communities, particularly women. One of their long-term goals is to employ Arab and Muslim women.

They said it was fair for aspiring politicians to pay for the services of political consulting to people of color campaigning for the candidates in minority communities.

Most campaigns exclude Arab and Muslim workers, Ms. Althaibani said, and cannot reach those communities the way that someone from the inside can. “These are all people of color, doing this work for free for these campaigns that go and hire white boys from outside of the community — to do what?”

Sundown arrived and Ms. Elrowmeim drove to her favorite restaurant, Rocca Cafe and Lounge, for iftar, the Ramadan fast-breaking meal. The two women were in the middle of an animated conversation, switching between Arabic and English as they discussed whether to work with Mr. Stringer’s campaign. Ms. Althaibani suggested they visit another candidate expected to run for mayor, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Somia Elrowmeim (center), a founder of Arab Women’s Voice, attending an interfaith iftar for women at a church in Manhattan. Gabriella N. Báez/NYT Institute
Rabyaah Althaibani (left) and Sean McElwee attending a “political happy hour” in the East Village. Althaibani, a founder of the political consulting firm Arab Women’s Voice, meets young activists at these weekly happy hours. Gabriella N. Báez/NYT Institute

“Our mission is very clear.” Ms. Althaibani said. “We will only work with politicians that are committed to our people.”

Following President Trump’s travel ban on people emigrating from Muslim countries, including Yemen, the Yemeni-American women decided they had to motivate the marginalized groups to participate in politics.

“After Trump was elected, everything has changed in our community,” Ms. Elrowmeim said. “People, they wake up, they started thinking about what we can do, we can protect our rights. This is our country now.”

Ms. Althaibani migrated from Taiz, Yemen, when she was around 5 years old and started organizing within the Yemeni-American community in the city when she was in high school. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she began working directly with Arab youth through the Arab-American Family Support Center.

Ms. Elrowmeim migrated from Sanaa, Yemen, 12 years ago after she graduated from Sanaa University with a degree in physics and mathematics. Since then she has worked as the adult education and women’s empowerment program manager at the Arab American Association of New York, which has tripled  enrollment bysince she began working on the program nine years ago. She said the trust she has built between the community, particularly Arab and Muslim women, has driven the higher turnout.

“I built this trust between me and the women, and they know, if there is something happening, they can come to me,” Ms. Elrowmeim said. She is the founder of the Union of Arab Women, a group that helps recent Arab migrants.

Althaibani displaying the logo of the firm. Gabriella N. Báez/NYT Institute

Through Arab Women’s Voice, Ms. Elrowmeim and Ms. Althaibani hope to provide a platform from which aspiring candidates can reach the Arab and Muslim communities.

“I will never sell my position for money. I will never abandon the interests of my community,” Ms. Althaibani concluded.

Ms. Elrowmeim is also creating the Women Empowerment Coalition of NYC, intended to solve gender-related issues in minority communities. She said she aspires to run for office someday.

“I have to sacrifice, for my daughters if not for anyone else,” Elrowmeim said. “It’s like her future. I do not want her to grow up in the same society that don’t give them the full authority for women.”


Correction: May 31, 2019

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the form of the Union of Arab Women. It is a group, not an organization.