United States’ politics have become intimately tied to Arab politics since 9/11 and the start of the ongoing war in Iraq. In a 2007 Zogby poll, sixty one percent of Arab American voters cited Iraq as the top issue in the election. Sixty six percent of Arab American voters also ranked Palestine very high on the list of issues of importance to them in the presidential election.
There are about three and a half million Arab Americans. More than half of this community is Christian, and the majority are of Lebanese origin. Arab Americans are actively involved in the political life of America.
In the past, Arab Americans, especially the more affluent ones, voted Republican. But currently the majority of Arab Americans vote Democratic. The same poll showed that sixty two percent are Democrats and 25% Republicans. Republican candidates tend to support the permanent presence of American troops in the Middle East and are more vocal in support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
In the vote on Super Tuesday, Democrats confirmed two liberal presidential candidates as the front-runner nominees. As The Arab American News went to press, Hillary Clinton had 1045 delegates and Barack Obama had 960. 2025 are required to win the nomination. On the Republican side, John McCain had a commanding lead with 707 delegates while Mitt Romney had 294 and Mike Huckabee has 95. The nominee needs 1191 delegates.
Ron Paul, the only “dovish” Republican candidate that Arabs tend to support, is likely to soon vanish from the race.
A few days before Super Tuesday, the Arabs took an electronic straw poll, sponsored by Aljazeera. The Aljazeera network reports internationally on U.S. elections and educates Arabs about American politics in the Middle East. Aljazeera viewers were asked to vote electronically for their choice for U.S. president. The majority voted for Obama; Ron Paul was the nominee for the Republicans. Obama scored 61% and Paul 10%, a distant second.
There has been no uniformity of sentiment among Arab Americans on the results of Super Tuesday. It is erroneous to assume that this diverse community votes as a bloc and is guided by one single issue. The majority of Arab Americans are assimilated into American society. The process of integration of minorities in society widens the latitude of their opinions.
“Arab Americans should be greatly encouraged by Tuesday’s Democratic primary results,” says Abdeen Jabara, a civil rights attorney and the former President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Jabara continues, “Senator Obama’s credible showing and the number of convention delegates that he garnered demonstrate that he is not only still a serious contender for the nomination, but that his message of change is resonating with large segments of an American public, of which Arab Americans are a part, who are deeply unsatisfied by the status quo and the business-as-usual prescriptions for America’s foreign and domestic policy ills. This was a truly historic day and Arab Americans can be proud of the part they played in it.”
Maysoon Haddad, an Iraqi American, is fascinated by Super Tuesday. He represents many Arab Americans and many people living abroad who are impressed with Americans’ respect for the rule of law in electing politicians: “As an American originally from Iraq, I watch Super Tuesday, admire the system and appreciate the real democracy and am hoping to see the same thing happening in Iraq.”
Haddad holds a Republican point of view on the continued U.S. military presence in his home country, Iraq: “I’m looking for a president who supports the war wholeheartedly; a president who doesn’t want to rapidly decrease the United States presence in Iraq and who doesn’t waiver with public opinion. A quick troop withdrawal is asking for trouble and an exact time line might be too much— giving away too much to the enemy and allowing them to form a time line to attack our troops or harm other Americans.”
The 500,000 strong Arab American community of Dearborn, Michigan, is diverse in politics and ethnicity. M. Kay Siblani, the Executive Editor of the Dearborn weekly, The Arab American News, supports Obama as her candidate who will overhaul American politics. Siblani says, “Super Tuesday proved that Arab Americans and American Muslims must forge ties with African American voters. They must all work harder together to get Barack Obama elected. Clinton or McCain in the White House would be a disaster for the country and the world.”
In Washington, Subhi Ghandour runs a center for political and cultural dialogue. His electronic newsletter is well respected and has a wide circulation among Arab intellectuals. In a conversation with him about the U.S. elections he explained that Arabs do not have a better choice than Obama “in dealing with the Arab Israeli peace process, ending the Iraq occupation with diplomacy and opening channels of dialogue with Iran and Syria.” Ghandour added that Obama cannot be expected to see the entire world through a Palestine lens, and that “Arab Americans must chose among the existing candidates, even if there is no ideal custom-made candidate to fully suit Arab preferences.”
Arab sentiments on Obama are not at all uniform, especially among Palestinians. The Electronic Intifada, a Palestinian activist website, angrily criticized the senator from Illinois, who “offered not a single word of criticism of Israel, of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians.”(Arabisto.com)
In contrast, Obama fascinates Jim Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, an organization promoting Arab American access to mainstream politics. Zogby opines, “It appears from the excitement he generates that Barack has tapped into a deep vein in the contemporary American psyche. While it is always useful to parse out the positions he has taken on critical issues, and even to weigh in the balance the importance of ‘experience’ versus ‘judgment,’ or ‘change’ versus ‘Washington’ — these being the matters discussed by the candidates — they, alone, do not explain the phenomenon we are witnessing. Something more profound is occurring in this election. And it appears to be wrapped up in the person of Barack Obama, himself.” (Huffington Post, Dec. 14, 2007).
On Super Tuesday, the midpoint in the race, Obama has come close to matching Clinton’s popularity. Many of his supporters believe that he will gain momentum over the next few months and be chosen as the Democratic candidate to face McCain, his Republican counterpart.
Obama’s Arab American supporters believe that a man with such a diverse international, interfaith, and inter-racial background is bound to make America more inclusive domestically and globally.
For Arab Americans, the 2008 presidential election offers a strategic opportunity to tie America with the Arab world not through war and fear of terror but through ideas and aspirations.
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