A video camera is focused on the audience before yesterday’s General Assembly meeting at the Islamic Center of Tucson. The community center’s office manager had to be told several times not to record the audience. Shortly after this photo was taken, the administration declared no more photos of the event would be allowed. (Amer Taleb)
By Amer Taleb
It was wild. And by the end of the Islamic Center of Tucson’s first General Assembly meeting of the year, all of the center’s board members were removed from office.
After waiting through a 30-minute delay and listening to the administrators speak about construction projects for two hours, the audience began interrupting.
“We’ve been listening to you for hours!” shouted one man. “When are we gonna speak?”
The bickering went back and forth, much of it from the audience complaining about the administration’s policies and lack of transparency. Sheikh Watheq Al-Obaidi, the center’s religious leader, reminded the roughly 100 people several times to remain calm.
Video played a confusing role in the meeting, one that ultimately ended the entire event.
Even though he was told several times not to, the Islamic Center’s office manager tried to video record the audience. Also, it was unclear why, but one of the board members played a video on the projector of another board member, Bilal El-Aloosy, turning in membership applications to the manager.
ICT Weekend School director Kamel Didan, who filmed the video with El-Aloosy’s permission, said the recording was uncontroversial and didn’t understand why it was shown. As soon as it played, the crowd erupted in anger, attendee Burhan Hamdan stood up and motioned to remove all of the board members.
One after another, the audience started to ‘second’ the motion, and the board tried to end it.
“Meeting adjourned,” said former board chairman Maqsood Ahmad.
He and former board members Jawad Khawaja and Fayez Swailem walked out, could not be found after the meeting and did not respond to email requests for an interview. Former board member Wali Yudeen Abdul Rahim also left and declined an interview.
After they exited the building, the meeting continued and the board members were stripped of their titles in absentia.
“The BOT(board) left the assembly without any excuse, they just ran away,” El-Aloosy said. “So the people voted them out.”
Wearing an ‘I love Libya’ shirt referencing the country’s recent revolution, David Shellouff explained why the walkout bothered him.
“We were lectured … and the minute a question came out, more lecture was thrown at us,” he said. “How can the board of a community walk out of a meeting with its members? You’re here to serve us. You can’t just pick up and run at the first sign of trouble.”
The General Assembly, in this case the audience, is the ‘supreme authority’ over the Islamic Center’s affairs, according to the center’s constitution. The constitution does not specifically say the Assembly can remove the board, but any decision voted on by the Assembly is binding, according to Didan, who is also a member of community center’s constitution committee.
Before the meeting started, president Jamil Anouti was asked by an audience member if the minimum number of people were present to constitute a General Assembly and if the meeting’s decisions would be binding. Anouti said yes.
He and public relations coordinator Ali Rustempasic declined an interview.
El-Aloosy said all of the board members, including himself and Houssam Eljerdi, the only two board members that stayed, lost their positions.
The ICT Membership Committee, which the board recently formed and then abruptly dissolved, was reinstated by a nearly unanimous vote from the General Assembly. El-Aloosy said they’ll run the center until next month’s elections for new board members.
“Everyone on the board is a completely expired person. It’s time for them to move aside. We’re in the USA, and you can’t stay on the board forever,” Didan said. “Like in the Arab Spring, a president is removed and there’s nobody left that knows how to run the country. We don’t want the same thing here in the US, let alone in the mosque.”