Foreign politicians visit O.C.

WESTMINSTER — As she toured Little Saigon, Ghada Said Gerges Amien, an Egyptian civil rights lawyer, was impressed with seeing the structure, order and principles of the American system up close.

"There's respect, understanding, democracy and order," she said in Arabic. "People here have goals, and they succeed."

Amien, a member of the High Council Al Ghad Party for human rights, was one of nine Jordanian and Egyptian politicians and political-minded visitors who found themselves in the heart of the Vietnamese-American stronghold last week as they toured Orange County with the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL).

The foreign politicians were given a warm welcome and a tour of Little Saigon by Assemblyman Van Tran (R-Westminster). The politicians stopped in town as part of an effort to learn about the various cultures that make up the United States.

"It's a great way for the young leaders to see the diversity and culture of America," said Tran, whose Assembly district includes Costa Mesa. "That in our country, it doesn't matter where you come from, but if you work hard and if you're entrepreneurial in spirit, you'll become very successful."

Tran, a member of the Washington, D.C.-based ACYPL, took the nine on a tour of the Asian Garden Mall, which is majority-owned and operated by Vietnamese-Americans, then to a reception at Zen Vegetarian Restaurant on Bolsa Avenue, where members of the community welcomed the group. They were trailed by the area's Vietnamese-language press.

The young Jordanian and Egyptian men and women pointed out the rights the American system gives to the individual — a scenario that's a distant dream when compared to the governments under which they live.

Orange County's diversity provided the guests with not only a snapshot of the United States, but of the world outside of it. They also visited Little Arabia in Anaheim and the Islamic Society of Orange County, where they got a taste of home, before going onto to a weekend of Americana at the O.C. Fair and high-end Western shopping at South Coast Plaza.

The group members — who all hold positions within their governments or are involved with political organizations back home — were invited by ACYPL, a nonprofit organization that promotes educational exchanges and fosters ties between aspiring politicians from the U.S. and their peers from other countries.

Each year, the nonpartisan council provides politicians with a venue to explore other governments, and invites politicians from around the world to come to the U.S. on educational visits. Sponsored in part by the U.S. State Department, the guest must be 25 to 40 years old and elected to a political office.

Yasmein Ahmad Alghasawaneh, a youth member of the Jordanian Al Resalah Kara Branch Office, an organization that creates jobs for young Jordanians, said her trip would allow her to find ways to help the youth and women of her country.

Ahmed Mahmoud Sherif Ahmed Aly Masoud, chairman of the Egyptian Al Wafd Party Youth Committee, said in Arabic he'd like to see Egypt move faster toward democracy, adding that what's great about the United States is that the government respects its people, and in return, the people respect their government.

He said Little Saigon is an example that represents how newcomers can mesh their own culture with America's.

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