Palm Beach Gardens, Florida - There are about 3.5 million Arab Americans. According to a 2007 Zogby poll, 61 percent of Arab American voters mention Iraq as the leading issue in the election, and 66 percent also rank "Palestine" as very high on their list of concerns.
In the past, Arab Americans – especially the more affluent – voted Republican. The same poll, however, shows that currently 62 percent of Arab Americans vote Democratic and 25 percent vote Republican.
In the vote on Super Tuesday, 5 February, Democrats confirmed two liberal presidential candidates as the front-runner nominees: Hilary Clinton with 1045 delegates (out of the 2025 required for winning the nomination) and Barack Obama with 960 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 Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera viewers – who are for the most part Arabs or interested in Arab affairs – were asked to vote electronically for their choice for US president. A majority of Arabs, 61 percent, voted for Obama; Ron Paul came in at a distant second, with 10 percent.
"Arab Americans should be greatly encouraged by last Tuesday's Democratic primary results," says Abdeen Jabara, a civil rights attorney and the former President of Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Jabara continues, "Senator Obama's … 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. She 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, appreciate real democracy and hope to see the same thing happening in Iraq."
Haddad holds a Republican point of view on the continued US military presence in her 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. A quick troop withdrawal is asking for trouble."
The Arab American community of Dearborn, Michigan, is 300,000 strong and diverse in ethnicity and its views on politics. M. Kay Siblani, the Executive Director of Dearborn Weekly: The Arab American News, supports Obama as the 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."
In Washington, Subhi Ghandour runs a centre for political and cultural dialogue. His electronic newsletter, Alhewar, is well respected and has a wide circulation among Arab intellectuals. In a conversation with him about the US 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."
Obama, as a community organiser, appreciates the power of listening and respect of the adversary. He realises that the Syrian and Iranian regimes are challenging, but he knows that they have real issues worth negotiating. 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 requirements."
Obama is a reliable defender of Israel, but he believes that the longer Israel delays a final resolution of the conflict the less secure it will become. Similarly, he knows that the Palestinians can only win their struggle by concentrating on a strategy of non-violence and civil empowerment.
Arab sentiments on Obama are not at all uniform, especially among Palestinians. The Electronic Intifada, a Palestinian activist website, angrily criticised 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 unliveable for millions of Palestinians."
On Super Tuesday, the midpoint in the race, Obama came close to matching Clinton's popularity, and has since become the front-runner following the next set of primaries. Many of his supporters believe that he will continue to gain momentum over the next few months and be chosen as the Democratic candidate to face McCain, the likely Republican nominee.
Obama's Arab American supporters see that a man with such a diverse international, interfaith, and inter-racial background is bound to make America more inclusive – both domestically and globally. He is a Christian American with the gift of respect and appreciation for Islam. He is a US leader and a citizen of the global village.
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.
* Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Lebanese-American Middle East analyst. He was previously the Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches for the Middle East. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Daily Star, 8 February 2007, www.dailystar.com.lb
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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