Sid Saab: From Lebanon to the State House

Del. Sid Saab, R-Crownsville, remembers when his family waited in line for wheat or bread, or parked the car at the gas station because someone heard the truck was coming that day.

Saab emigrated from Lebanon to the United States in 1990 and found his way to Maryland to be near his wife's family, whom he met in Washington, D.C.

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He now owns a real estate business and is living the American dream, arriving in this country with $700 in his pocket and a desire to get away from the fighting and uncertainty in his home country.

And Wednesday he becomes Maryland's first Lebanese-born delegate.

"I couldn't do what I did here in Lebanon," Saab said. "Because if you are not from the right family ... you're never going to be able to play any part of change" — and, he said, you would never get a seat in the country's parliament.

The internal problems of the small Middle Eastern nation — less than one-third the size of Maryland and with roughly 80 percent of this state's population — have been intensified by Lebanon's position between the only two nations it borders, Syria and Israel.

The Lebanese Civil War began in 1975, four years after Saab was born, bringing sporadic but recurring fighting. He can remember his mother covering her children because the missiles were flying overhead.

The Iranian-backed Islamic group Hezbollah controled a large part of the country, and it could close the airport and cut Lebanon off from the world anytime it wanted, Saab said.

"It is hard to stay in a country that is torn by war," he said. The war "had ended and started so many times that people didn't trust the uncertainty, and even to this day people are fleeing Lebanon."

When he was about 19, Saab came to America on a discounted airline ticket that he got thanks to his father's career with Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's flag carrier. He was given $700, and as far as he could see his only option for success was to stay in the United States.

His first job here was delivering phone books. Another job was collecting advertising payments, and that got him a promotion into selling advertising.

He wanted to join the Air Force and become a pilot, and was attending aviation school to become a flight engineer. But he was told that the position of flight engineer was becoming obsolete. So he focused on other professions.

Saab started the citizen application process as soon as he was eligible, in 1995. In 2004 he became a naturalized citizen.

"I always wanted to be a citizen because I wanted to vote and have my voice heard," he said. "It was a long and drawn-out process."

Saab lives with his wife and three children in Crownsville. Sarah Saab said her husband's upbringing has made him appreciate the little things.

"I'm so proud of him," Sarah said. "He has really battled and persevered."

Although he never got into the Air Force, Saab said he wanted to give something back to the country that had given him so much, and so he decided to run for state office — especially after seeing the damage that taxation and other government measures were doing to business.

He lost his first race in 2010, but won in District 33 November. His parents made the long trek from Lebanon to watch their son take his place among Maryland's delegates in Annapolis Wednesday.

"We are proud of him," said Amal Saab, his father.

"He worked hard," said Huda Saab, his mother.

Saab's children also say they are proud of his father. His youngest, Serena, 5, started calling him "delegate" and saying he would win the "collection" (election).

His son, Zane, 11, said that "in the primary, he worked really hard. I think I want to be a delegate when I grow up."

Saab said his Lebanese background has given him a strong focus on family, which he plans to emphasize in the upcoming session. He said he doesn't have any legislation prepared as yet, but hopes to be active in budget discussions and in fixing Maryland's projected $750 million revenue shortfall for fiscal 2016.

His story, he said, is something that "only happens in America."

"Here, anyone can come, work hard, have the right message, they will have the opportunity," he said. "That is a blessing you don't have anywhere else in the world."

Facts about Lebanon:

  • Capital: Beirut.
  • Population: Roughly 4.47 million.
  • Area: 4,036 square miles.
  • Bordered by Syria and Israel; the Syrian Civil War has sent many refugees into Lebanon.
  • Lebanon is on the Mediterranean coast and has no deserts.
  • It contains some of the oldest continuously inhabited places on Earth; archaeologists have found ruins dating back more than 7,000 years.
  • Before the nation's economy was crippled by the civil war, it was known as the Riviera of the Middle East.

Source: Sid Saab, The World Bank

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http://www.capitalgazette.com/news/ph-ac-cn-lebenese-delegate-20150114-story.html

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