Dilawar Syed becomes highest ranking Muslim official in US Government amid controversy

On Thursday 8th June, the US senate voted 54-42 to confirm Dilawar Syed to the post of Deputy Administrator for the US Small Business Administration (SBA).

His appointment was welcomed by a number of faith groups and at least one of the major US Muslim umbrella organisations, although there has been some controversy over his relationship with EMGAGE – which describes itself as an ‘Muslim American Advocacy Group’, although it has been dogged by allegations of support for pro-Israeli organisations. This has caused some Muslim groups to distance themselves from EMGAGE and by default the appointment of Dilawar Syed.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in a press statement said that it:

‘Welcomes and stands in full support of Mr. Syed, who, if confirmed, will become the highest-ranking American Muslim in the Biden Administration’

Syed had been originally nominated for the post as far back as 2021, but using so-called filibuster tactics, the Republican senators have supported a concerted campaign to discredit Syed based on his association with Emgage Action, a Muslim community organization to which Syed had previously been a board member. They have successfully managed to block the vote on Syed’s nomination and stalled the process for two years. Early on in the process on June 30th 2021, a letter signed by 8 out of 10 Republican senators on the small business committee, made issue with Syed’s association with Emgage Action, on the basis they said, that Emgage had been ‘vocally anti-Israel’, during the period in May 2021, when an Israeli air assault on Gaza left  at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children dead.

Attempts to smear Dilawar Syed’s name, along with deliberately coordinated tactics to obstruct hearings prompted the following response from Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Action:

‘Muslim advocacy organization, Emgage Action, condemns the obstruction of the hearing of Dilawar Syed as the Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration. This is the fifth time Republicans have obstructed Syed’s hearing. The continued Republican boycott of Dilawar Syed’s nomination is a reflection of bigotry and Islamophobia. Syed’s years of experience as an entrepreneur, and his extensive engagement with small businesses across the nation, render him highly qualified to serve as the Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration.’

They added:

‘We are proud to stand with Dilawar Syed, President Biden’s nominee for Deputy Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration, alongside the President and a growing business, multi-faith, and bipartisan coalition. In particular, we want to thank the Jewish and AAPI communities who have come out with historic and principled responses to support his nomination and condemn racism and bigotry that have surfaced in recent weeks.

Some months later in September 2021, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) sent a letter today to the Chair, Ben Cardin demanding that Dilawar Syed’s appointment be swiftly confirmed. The letter said:

‘Targeting nominees like Mr. Syed for their faith, ethnicity, or place of birth, furthers the perpetual foreigner stereotype to which AAPIs are constantly subjected. We stand firmly against the use of these typecasting misconceptions. These tactics have been rejected by leading civil rights and faith-based organizations and have no place in our government or our nation.’

However, whilst Emgage were publicly expressing their outrage at the ‘unwarranted’ ‘Islamophobic and racist’ campaign against Syed, other umbrella Muslim organisations were expressing their doubts about the integrity of Emgage itself, in particular ironically, their closeness to pro-Israeli organisations, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian groups. In October 2020, one of the largest Muslim organisations in the United States – the United States Council of American Muslims (USCMO) issued a press statement as follows:

specific concerns expressed to USCMO relate to:

· Emgage board members participating in the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI), an offensive programwhich seeks to undermine Muslim solidarity with the cause of Palestinian freedom.

· Emgage directly partnering with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which weaponizes Islamophobia, lobbies to restrict the right to boycott for human rights, and regularly smears American Muslims who speak up for Palestinian human rights, including elected officials like Rep. Ilhan Omar, among other unacceptable conduct.

· Emgage and Emgage leadership directly working with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which has praised anti-Muslim bigots like Daniel Pipes and Ayaan Hirsi Ali while also targeting Muslim Americans who support Palestinian freedom, among other Islamophobic conduct.

 Over the past month, USCMO has been working to investigate these concerns, address them with our friends at Emgage, and develop a positive way forward. Despite strong efforts by everyone involved and some progress, we were not able to reach an agreement. As a result, Emgage is no longer a member of USCMO.’

Emgage has denied that it has any formal relationships with any of the pro-Israeli groups, but this did not stop Muslim students from over 30 US universities – including Yale’s University Muslim Student Association (MSA), from cancelling them from their election campaign voting programmes.

Notwithstanding the controversies, President Biden re-nominated Dilawar Syed again in early 2023 and Ben Cardin, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, was unable to hold back signs of his dismay at the obstacles which had prevented completion of the process earlier. Just ahead of the vote, he remarked: ‘It is about time we get this done’.

After the final vote was announced, a somewhat relieved Cardin, declared in a statement:

‘Small businesses across the country will benefit from Mr. Syed’s confirmation. The vacancy caused harm to small business owners throughout our nation who depend on SBA to be fully staffed in order to access capital, contracting opportunities, and entrepreneurial development training. While his confirmation has been a process fraught with unacceptable delaying tactics, unfounded accusations, and unrelated controversies, Mr. Syed has shown only patience and perseverance. I am confident that America’s small businesses and the communities they support will benefit from him in this role. We look forward to working with Deputy Administrator Syed to build on the small business boom seen under the Biden-Harris Administration.’

Dilawar Syed posted a tweet, which simply said:

Deeply honored by the call to serve America’s small businesses. Grateful to @POTUS [the President of the United States] for his confidence in me




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