Person of the Week: Ferial Masry

Amid the excitement on the floor of the Democratic National Convention sat Ferial Masry, a high school history and government teacher running for a local assembly seat in a Los Angeles suburb. If she wins in November, Ferial will be first person born in Saudi Arabia to hold elected office in the United States.

"I could see when [my students] come in, they bring their parents and say, 'My teacher, you know she is going to be president,' " Masry said. "I say 'No, no, no! Not the president. I can't be the president. Remember I wasn't born here. But I'm going to be in the government!'"

No wonder that this week, she has been sought after by the Arab television networks covering the convention. Ferial has a unique perspective on American politics, and to viewers in the Arab world she is an example of the American experience.

Ferial said she is motivated, more than anything else, by the U.S. Constitution.

"It's a very small document — 7,000 words, five pages — but what it had in it is something visionary and beautiful," she said. "It really emphasized not to put the power into one man or one group."

Masry is deeply involved, like many Americans, in national issues. She is against the war in Iraq, even though she's running in a district that favors it.

Her son Omar is an Army sergeant who just returned home after serving in Iraq for a year and a half. His service makes for good debate at the kitchen table, and Omar and her two other children are only too willing to engage.

"I learned early on to define who I am and not accept society or let anybody define myself," said Masry. "I became an individual different from the people around me."

Born in Muhammad's Birthplace

She was born in Mecca, in western Saudi Arabia, which was the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. She is one of seven children.

Her mother never learned to read or write; in her day, women were not permitted an education. But she sent her girls to be educated in Egypt.

"She sent three little girls to Egypt to be educated," Masry said. "I remember the day she gave us our clothes, and she put candy in my hand, and put us on the airplane and she said 'go.' "

Ferial thrived in school. She graduated from college in Cairo and then married husband Walid, a civil engineer. They lived in Nigeria and Britain, but like many Arabs they believed they would be freer to be themselves in America. They arrived in 1979.

"[America] is the land of tomorrow," Masry said. "It is not bound to the past. I came from a culture that was so drenched in history that I felt I needed something different."

Success Has Not Gone Unnoticed

In Saudi Arabia, her success has not gone unnoticed.

"I was the first woman ever to be on the cover of a Saudi magazine without a headscarf," she said.

Masry would like to be an inspiration to Saudis, as well as Americans.

"I think a lot of people are watching, especially women," she said. "It gives them hope and courage to ask for their rights."

Even with all of her energy and optimism, Masry is a long-shot for November. Her district usually votes Republican.

But even though she'd like to win, for Masry, it's more about the journey and the possibilities.

"I'm a winner already," she said. "The ups and downs, the times you cannot go to sleep, the nightmares, the excitement. I think all of this really has made me feel on top of the world. I'm so grateful. Win or lose, it doesn't matter. I won already. This country is my lifelong dream."

ABC News' Peter Jennings filed this report for World News Tonight.

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