Is Orange County Now Part Of The Arab Spring? Local Activists Are Using Social Media To Start A Boycott

Using the hashtag "BoycottArabFest" activists are calling on locals not to attend this month's Arab-American Day Festival in Garden Grove, because of the festival organizer's alleged support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. They also created a Facebook event for the boycott, which currently shows 285 attendees. 

The festival's founder, however, says the allegations simply aren't true.

Ahmad Alam is a Lebanese-American, the owner of an Anaheim-based newspaper called The Arab World and the founder of the Garden Grove-based festival. The free, three-day festival began in 1999, Alam says. This year, it will start on Sep. 23 and have about 200 musicians, singers and dancers and about 80 booths selling food and small items from the Middle East, he says.

Alam has heard about the calls to protest the festival, but he says they make no sense. "This is really weird. These lies just look like somebody is jealous. It's somebody trying to throw lies. I'm not even from Syria." Alam says some of the people calling for the boycott - a group he refers to as "Islamic extremists" - have alleged that money from the festival will be sent to help fund the Syrian regime. Alam called the assertion both "funny" and "stupid." He later added: "No, no, this is a big lie. I don't like the Syrian regime. Period. I am Lebanese." 

​​I tweeted @OC_Arabs, the group that has been posting the boycott hashtag, and asked someone to email me about why they're boycotting the festival. I didn't get an email, but they did tweet back at me saying: "the organizers are mouthpieces of the Syrian regime & continue to spew propaganda" and "the Arab World Newspapers spews pro Assad propaganda even after 3000+ deaths in #SYRIA #BoycottArabFest."  

Rashad Al-Dabbagh, who lives in Anaheim, tweeted about the boycott. He learned about it from an email listserv he's on, the Syrian Emergency Task Force-LA. Al-Dabbagh says he isn't sure whether Alam, the festival's founder, has any connection to Syria. He says he thinks Ray Saeid, who used to work at Alam's paper but recently resigned, must have some kind of ties to the regime, though, saying Saeid "brags about it" on Facebook.  Alam contends that everything his paper writes about Syria is "neutral," adding that they "tell the truth about what's happening there."

Al-Dabbagh says he has gone to the festival several times in the past, despite calls to boycott for different reasons. Although he hasn't decided if he'll attend this year, Al-Dabbagh says he definitely won't support the festival by purchasing anything there. One of his friends purchased a booth at the event, he says, but decided to pull out after learning of the boycott.


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