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US Senate confirms highest-ranking Muslim official in government

Dilawar Syed's nomination as deputy administrator of Small Business Administration was confirmed after more than two years of delays
Dilawar Syed speaks during a Tech Stands Up rally outside city hall in Palo Alto, California, on 14 March 2017 (Associated Press)

The US Senate confirmed Dilawar Syed's nomination as deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, making him the highest-ranking Muslim official in the US government.

The Senate voted 54-42 on Thursday, ending more than two years of delays in Congress. President Joe Biden first nominated Syed in 2021 but everything stalled after Republicans did not appear for votes. Biden renominated him again in 2023.

Senator Ben Cardin, who chairs the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said ahead of the vote: “It is about time we get this done.”

Syed was born in Pakistan. He is a California-based entrepreneur connected to software, health care, and artificial intelligence. During the Obama administration, Syed played an active role in promoting the State Department’s global entrepreneurship programme. 

He also served on Obama’s White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and chaired the White House initiative on the commission's economic growth committee.

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Syed was also previously affiliated with Emgage and served as an Emgage Pac board member. Emgage describes itself as "the first and largest" national Muslim-American political action committee (Pac). 

Emgage has come under criticism for its ties to pro-Israel groups. In 2020, a series of articles published by the Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss explored Emgage's relationships with pro-Israel groups and their disconnect with the larger Muslim-American community. 

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At the time, the US Council of Muslim Organisations announced they had investigated the concerns and would no longer be working with Emgage.

Though Emgage denies any formal relationships with pro-Israel groups, a Middle East Eye investigation found that Emgage had endorsed more than 20 pro-Israel candidates competing in either Congress or state legislature elections that year.

In October 2020, Muslim student groups at more than 30 US universities dropped Emgage from an event aimed at mobilising young voters.

The event, hosted by Yale University's Muslim Student Association (MSA), had initially been advertised with Emgage as a sponsor alongside the Muslim Leadership Lab, a programme at the school.

Following complaints from students and activists across multiple universities, Yale's MSA dropped Emgage from the event completely.

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