A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2009, page 38
Outside the Beltway
Dr. Tony Saidy
By James G. Abourezk
ONE WOULD consider backgammon the game for which Arab Americans would be noted, a game that was transported to America by millions of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian immigrants. But chess? There are not more than four Arab Americans that I know of who have reached the high status of International Master in chess and beyond. One is the former U.S. chess champion Yasser Seirawan, who, after reigning for a number of years, moved to Holland and gave up competition for marriage to his Dutch sweetheart. Another great one, of Palestinian birth, is International Master Jorge Sammour-Hasboun of Rhode Island, a two-time (a mind-boggling repeat versus all odds) world Internet blitz (5-minute) champ, who has just yielded his title. As well, there is comely young women’s grandmaster Jennifer Shahade of Philadelphia, the former U.S. women’s champion who unfortunately has retired to pursue a writing career.
The other is Dr. Tony Saidy, who still plays—but not, according to his own testimony, as well as he once did when he twice won the American Open crown. At his peak Tony was rated at 2532, or 6th in the U.S., and gained the title of International Master. One supposes that chess ability would begin dropping off as one gets a bit older, and Tony is the first to admit that it has. He once introduced me to Yasser Seirawan when he was U.S. champion. We played two games, and it took Yasser all of 30 seconds to defeat me in both games.
During Tony’s peak years, he played against a number of world chess champions—Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Tigran Petrosian—not beating them, but battling a couple of them to a draw, which, in my mind, is a sort of victory when playing people of their caliber.
Tony Saidy is a true Renaissance man. Aside from his chess expertise, he is politically active, both in the Arab-American community of Los Angeles, and on the national level as well. He supported Ralph Nader early on, but threw his support to John Kerry in 2004, and to Dennis Kucinich in the 2008 primaries. And he voted, without illusions, for Barack Obama in last November’s election.
Tony has served as president of the Los Angeles chapter of ADC on two different occasions. He was active around 1990 and, as he puts it, was brought out of mothballs in 2006 to serve again.
Tony’s father, Fred Saidy, was a screenwriter in Hollywood who later moved to New York to write plays on Broadway. He wrote a number of librettos for Broadway musicals, his best-known hit being “Finian’s Rainbow,” which he co-authored with Yip Harburg. That 1947 musical satire on racism was just revived this March to rave reviews by the New York critics.
When Tony was still in kneepants his family moved from Los Angeles to New York, and he grew up in Brooklyn and Queens. He went to college at Fordham University in New York City, then to medical school at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
Most medical doctors I know have developed an affinity for money—that is, for making as much of it as they can. But there are some who were telling the truth when asked why they wanted to be a doctor, the ones who said, “I want to help people.” That was Tony’s life story. After a stint with the Peace Corps, he worked in public medicine for all of his career, drawing a salary as a tuberculosis specialist from the Los Angeles County Health Department.
Despite the professional workload he undertook as a public physician, his passion has been to inform his friends politically, and to frustrate his enemies. For a number of years—I am unable to count them now—he has been sending me newspaper and magazine clippings which focus on political events. I’ve never seen the inside of his apartment, but one can easily imagine every square inch of space covered with stacks of periodicals and books. I once received a newspaper clipping from him with a date on it that was at least 10 months old. Since the advent of the Internet, Tony has sent electronic clippings to an ever-lengthening list of people on his mailing list. In addition to being a recipient of numerous articles online from him, I still receive newspaper clippings. What he will do with his time once the newspapers all go broke is anybody’s guess.
Although he’s now retired from the practice of medicine, Tony’s political activities have not slowed with age. He’s been married to two women, but that was in the past. He calls his “offspring” two books on chess (one, The Battle of Chess Ideas, was called by Chess Canada magazine “fuel for the soul”) and is currently working on a humorous memoir of his chess career. He’s much too busy kibbitzing chess, attending opera, spouting off on current events and still clipping news items to send to his friends to have time for regrets. After all, in chess one cannot take back a move.
James G. Abourezk is a former U.S. senator (D-SD) and founder of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He currently practices law in Sioux Falls, SD.