Muad Hrezi, Connecticut’s 27-year-old longshot candidate for U.S. Congress, is concerned about campaign finance. “The game has been rigged,” he proclaimed when he kicked off his campaign in September 2021. “When some of our leaders take millions from Wall Street, the defense industry, and health insurers … it means that they’re fighting for them,” he said.
For whom is Hrezi fighting? Based on publicly available federal elections data, the Libyan American’s campaign appears to be bankrolled by an ensemble of Islamists, accused terrorists and terrorism financiers, and senior officials allegedly tied to Libya’s violent and illiberal Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Hrezi has secured impressive fundraising figures in his bid to unseat 11-term Congressman John Larson (D-CT), raking in nearly $500,000 since launching his campaign for Connecticut’s First District. Many of these contributions came from out-of-state donors, with just 72 of 242 individual donations raised in 2021 coming from Connecticut residents.
A substitute teacher and part-time Lyft driver, Hrezi talks the talk of a bona fide progressive, endorsing the “Green New Deal” and calling for a $15 minimum wage. Yet, his donor base includes individuals who do not appear to support these liberal ideals.
Many of Hrezi’s donors are deeply invested in the outcome of Libya’s civil war, which began prior to the 2011 overthrow of dictator Mu’ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī. In particular, some of Hrezi’s backers have supported Islamist-aligned political parties and militias in control of West Libya, while they have opposed the secular and military factions in the country’s east.
Hrezi enjoys the full support of the Libyan American Alliance (LAA), a political advocacy group led by Muslim Brotherhood-linked ideologues. LAA is opposed to the Libyan National Army and its leader, General Khalifa Haftar, and it has lobbied for legislation that singles out the general for alleged “war crimes.”
LAA previously promoted the Islamist-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli, and it has hosted senior Libyan officials that were affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood institutions. For instance, the organization held an online webinar in May 2020 featuring Khaled Al-Mishri, the Chairman of Libya’s High Council of State and a founding member of the Justice and Construction Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya.
In December, the K Street nonprofit shared a campaign advertisement featuring Hrezi on its Facebook page, inviting “everyone to support his campaign and contribute” to electing the first Libyan American Congressman.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)3 nonprofits such as LAA cannot “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” Violators may have their tax-exempt status revoked.
If elected, Hrezi could potentially serve as LAA’s chief advocate inside the Beltway. Indeed, he has already proved his worth to the nonprofit, joining LAA in a June lobby session with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to discuss “international and national issues” of importance, and praising the organization in a March 7 webinar interview.
In addition to supporting Hrezi’s political aspirations, LAA leaders have donated generously to his campaign. LAA President Esam Omeish donated $5,000, and the group’s executive director Mongi Dhaouadi donated $800.
Omeish’s contributions to the Hrezi campaign are alarming. In 2017, the Libyan House of Representatives’ Defense and National Security Committee labeled the LAA director a terrorist and “an international Muslim Brotherhood member.” Indeed, Omeish previously served as president of the Muslim American Society, an organization whose founding members once acknowledged was the U.S. branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Omeish has lionized Libya’s jihadist martyrs on social media, referred to the Libyan Dawn militia as “moderately Islamist” after it overthrew a democratically-elected government in Tripoli, and endorsed an Al Qaeda-linked militia in a letter to President Barack Obama. He was initially hopeful that the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, whose militias have contributed to violence and instability in Libya, could “provide a better platform” to Libyans “and a more coherent agenda of national action.”
Dhaouadi, LAA’s director, is a member of the American Bureau of Ennahda, Tunisia’s official Muslim Brotherhood political party, and he helps cultivate the Islamist party’s image on Capitol Hill. He has shared extreme anti-Israel statements on social media and denied that Palestinian attacks against Israelis represent terrorism.
LAA did not respond to questions sent via email about its partnership with Hrezi and support for his campaign.
Another prominent Libyan American activist, Emadeddin Muntasser, served as the Secretary General of the Libyan American Public Affairs Council and has contributed $6,000 to Hrezi’s Congressional bid. He also assisted the political newcomer by organizing a meet-and-greet featuring Hrezi in “a discussion about a moral foreign policy within the [Middle East and North Africa] region.”
Muntasser is a convicted felon accused of using an Islamic charity to finance “the cause of violent jihad,” according to the New York Post, which reported his involvement in Democratic races around the country. Along with Omeish, Muntasser wrote to Obama in 2016 to express support for the Revolutionary Council of Derna, an Al Qaeda-linked militia which he described as “an alliance of moderate Islamists and local city council leaders.”
In addition to Libyan American activists, Hrezi’s donors from the Libyan political sphere extend to the highest levels of public office. Mustafa Abushugar, who donated $950 to the Hrezi campaign, was briefly the prime minister of Libya, until he was ousted with a vote of no confidence. The vote came after announcing a cabinet which was “believed to include several members of the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Reuters reported.
Aly Ramadan Abuzaakouk, another Hrezi donor, served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of National Salvation, which was installed by Islamist militias that seized Tripoli in 2014. Along with Omeish, Abuzaakouk is on a list of 75 individuals identified as terrorists by Libya’s secular House of Representatives party.
As a nuclear engineer, Naeem Al-Gheriany was an advisor to Libya’s post-revolutionary government and was its first Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. He was a member of the American-Libyan Council, one of more than a half dozen pro-Islamist lobbies that Omeish helped to establish following Al-Qadhdhāfī’s ouster. So far, Hrezi has earned $5,800 from Al-Gheriany.
Besides enjoying support from Islamist bureaucrats and politicians, some of Hrezi’s donors have been accused of harboring connections to Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip. Similar to the movement in Libya, Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood that works within a democratic framework to impose theocratic principles. On numerous occasions, the organization has summarily executed suspected collaborators working with Israel.
Hatem El-Hady, who gave $1,750 to the Hrezi campaign, was president of KindHearts, a charity shuttered in 2006 for allegedly funding Hamas. Treasury Department officials claim that KindHearts was founded to resume the operations of two defunct charities: the Al Qaeda-linked Global Relief Foundation and the Holy Land Foundation, a massive Islamic charity whose leaders received lengthy prison sentences for financing Hamas.
Another donor, Ayman Aishat, was denied U.S. citizenship thanks to his association with the Holy Land Foundation. He is also a resource director with the Muslim Legal Fund of America, an NGO that seeks to free Muslim terrorists from legal custody. (Aishat is a permanent legal resident of the U.S.)
In addition to Omeish and Dhaouadi, at least three others who contributed to Hrezi’s campaign hold leadership positions with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. A self-described “Muslim civil liberties organization,” CAIR was labeled an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2009 Holy Land Foundation retrial, and a U.S. federal judge noted that there is “ample evidence” of CAIR’s relationship with Hamas.
Hrezi’s campaign did not reply to email requests to discuss his donors or their involvement with foreign Islamist movements.
Residents of Connecticut’s First District may be surprised to learn about Hrezi’s Islamist patrons, and how they might influence his agenda on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues. In interviews and campaign ads, the political novice focused on a progressive agenda that, in many ways, is at odds with the theocratic values espoused by his donors.
Hrezi’s connection with his Muslim Brotherhood base extends beyond the typical donor-candidate relationship; he has lobbied Congress on behalf of a nonprofit that is deeply immersed in internal Libyan politics. In return, Hrezi’s backers have mobilized to support the rookie candidate, possibly violating IRS laws in the process.
If the game has been rigged, as Hrezi declared after launching his campaign, he has learned to play it like a seasoned professional.
Benjamin Baird is the director of Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.