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The Seattle Times
Sunday, 7 August, 2005

Hussein Elkhafaifi adjusts the traditional Libyan men's garment for celebrations and feasts as Muad Elghanai, 4, lower left, enjoys a treat at the Libyan hospitality booth at Seattle Center yesterday.

Kamal Elghanai, center, prepares green tea to serve at the Libyan hospitality booth at the Arab Festival at Seattle Center. Behind him are sons Taha (white headgear) and Muad (hands on head). The festival ends today.

DeEtta Jones paints the Tunisian flag at a table where visitors to the Arab Festival could reproduce flags of Arab Middle Eastern countries.

U.S. Arabs Celebrate, Educate At Festival

The stirring notes from the speakers in Fisher Pavilion were the sounds of the oud, a traditional Arab stringed instrument played in an improvisational style called taqsim.

The music provided the backdrop for this year's Arab Festival "a really proud moment for all of us to come together to share who we are as a people," said Koloud "Kay" Tarapolsi, an event organizer and board director of the Arab Center of Washington.

Held at Seattle Center, the three-day event, which ends tonight, features a lecture series, short films, comedians and civil-rights advocates from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

"I hope that events like this will help dispel myths and stereotypes," said Tarapolsi, who worries about the Council on American-Islamic Relations' statistic that "one in four Americans holds a negative stereotype of Muslims."

Clad in an ivory-colored bridal outfit from Syria, Tarapolsi stopped to greet several people by name, kissing them on both cheeks.

One of the main purposes of the event, held every other year at Seattle Center, is to educate people about the Arab world, she said.

It's a diverse world encompassing many cultures, languages and faiths. "There are 22 Arab countries in the Middle East," Tarapolsi said. And in Washington state, she said, 25,000 people can trace their roots to an Arab country.

At the festival, visitors will find 30 booths representing various countries, nonprofit organizations and vendors. This year, the Iraqi booth is simply an empty space where visitors can share their feelings about the war with radio station KBCS-FM (91.3).

Nearby, Lena Tuffaha, a member of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee of Seattle, was working as a volunteer to answer questions about her group. "Our goal in being here is to meet the community, to educate our fellow Americans [on] the issues we care about: the Palestinians, Arabs in Iraq, the negative effects of the Patriot Act and the civil rights of all Americans."

For Tuffaha, human interaction represents the most powerful part of the festival experience.

"The thing that I love about being at the festival is that people get to come and meet you face to face, and that's the best way to break down a stereotype," she said. "That's very important, especially in an age where there's so much inflamed rhetoric about East and West."

Over at the Libyan booth, Gamal Khalil, a chemistry professor at the University of Washington, served refreshments to visitors making their way toward cushions atop a rug-lined floor.

"These are Libyan Americans of this area that want to share their heritage," he said.

Khalil handed his guests steaming cups of green tea with mint, along with kack (a dry pastry) and magrood (a sweet, date-filled snack).

Khalil, of Redmond, said he was expecting his daughter, Iya, from Ithaca, N.Y., to arrive shortly.

Tuffaha's family also joined her at the festival.

"I'm a mom and it makes me feel really good to bring my children here where they can see the beautiful aspects of their culture celebrated," she said.

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315 or

Copyright 2005 The Seattle Times Company

Arab Festival
Arab Festival continues from noon to 9:30 p.m. today at Seattle Center, with activities at Center House, Fisher Pavilion and Eve Alvord Theatre.

Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR:

Arab Festival:

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