By Munir K. Nasser
Chief Correspondent, Washington, DC
Many US analysts are predicting that Arab American voters could be the deciding factor on who will win the White House for the next four years.
The major presidential candidates energetically courted the estimated 1.2 million Arab-American voters concentrated in several major metropolitan centers of the United States as their potential to tip the balance in the tight race became clear.
As the frequency and intensity of candidate outreach increased this year, Arab-Americans have come to recognize the importance of their vote and the impact they can have on domestic and foreign policy concerns.
Arab American leaders point to meetings by both major presidential candidates and their top aides with Michigan's Arab-American voters. They believe that although Michigan’s 150,000 voters account for only four percent of the state's registered voters could provide the winning margin in Michigan where polls showed Al Gore and George W. Bush running virtually even.
As the election drew toward its close, a number of Michigan's Arab-American organizations endorsed Bush. Similarly, a major American Muslim group, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council, which includes many Arab-Americans in its national leadership, threw its backing to the Texas governor. In addition, Arab-Americans have raised more than $1 million in political contributions for Governor Bush, according to Newsweek magazine.
In recognition of their enhanced political clout, this year's presidential candidates have sought the community's support in critical battleground states such as Michigan. Both state parties have sent direct mail pieces to thousands of registered Arab American voters focusing on issues of concern to their community. A Republican mailing campaign to Arab Americans stressed on promises to end the policy of racial profiling of the Clinton-Gore administration, under which Arab American air travelers have experienced harassment and delay simply because of their ethnic heritage. The mailing said that “Governor Bush knows this is wrong and will work to see that indiscriminate uses of passenger profiling are stopped."
The Republican appeal also promised to address the issue of secret evidence, under which new immigrants, often Arabs or Muslims, face deportation or even imprisonment based on evidence they've never seen and never able to dispute.
The Republican appeal to Arab American voters also promised that Bush will work to end sanctions against Iraq. "Governor Bush's foreign policy does not impose new sanctions that use food as a diplomatic weapon,” the letter said. “Bush recognizes that these sanctions are rarely effective in achieving foreign policy objectives and hurt innocent people, especially children.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic mailing campaign to Arab Americans tackled Middle East issues of concern to them.
On Jerusalem, the mailing said: "Gore/Lieberman is the only ticket in this election that will not move the US Embassy to Jerusalem until the two parties decide the matter through negotiations.” On Iraq: "While supportive of sanctions, Vice President Gore has also been a strong backer of increases in the oil-for-food program and wants to see more humanitarian aid going into Iraq.”
On Secret Evidence, the Democratic mailing said: "Gore/Lieberman is the only ticket supporting the bipartisan bill to repeal the use of secret evidence.''
On Profiling: "Despite what many are saying, the Gore commission actively reviewed security procedures and advocated the implementation of a computerized system as opposed to an employee-run system, which has significantly reduced the number of profiling complaints. Recognizing that profiling of any sort is unacceptable, Gore has publicly endorsed legislation that makes all forms of profiling illegal."
A nationwide poll of Arab Americans released in October showed Bush gaining 40 percent of intended votes to Gore's 28 percent. Ralph Nader received 15 percent, far higher than the one to five percent ratings he typically receives in nationwide polls.
Many US analysts believe the political visibility of Arab Americans in this election came as a result of decades of active organizing in the community. Many Arab American activists, led by James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, were the architects of the upsurge of political organizing and public relations work that produced the unprecedented attention to the Arab-American community in this political year.
Their efforts started in 1985 when the Arab American Institute focused on training leaders to work within the domestic electoral process for a community agenda. Earlier, the work of organizations such as the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA), now part of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), had created a network aimed chiefly at foreign policy issues. ADC was created by former U.S. Senator James Abourezk (D-South Dakota) to combat stereotyping of Arab-Americans.
Over the years, Arab-American representation in political institutions has grown with their active involvement in the political process. The US Senate currently has one member of Arab descent, freshman Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Michigan) but has previously included both Senator
Abourezk and Senator George Mitchell (D-Maine), the Clinton envoy honored for his work finding a peace settlement for Northern Ireland.
There are currently six Arab-American Representatives in the House of Representatives including eleven term Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-West Virginia) as well as a number of former Congressmen. Many citizens of Arab descent serve in local city councils, state legislatures, and political party central committees. Arab-Americans are found at high levels throughout major institutions of American life, such as business, universities, the judiciary, and government.
The Arab American population is estimated between 2-3 million citizens of Arab descent who come from at least six Arab who have overwhelmingly settled in cities in the northeastern United States. According to the Arab American Institute (AAI), some 41 percent are concentrated in 20 metropolitan areas, including New York City and nearby New Jersey, the Washington-DC area, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit/Dearborn, and Cleveland, Ohio among others. Sixty-six percent live in only ten states; the states of California, New York and Michigan are home to 33 percent of the Americans of Arab descent.
Most Americans of Arab descent came to the United States in two principal waves. The first was from 1880-1920, mainly Christians from the provinces of the former Ottoman Empire that are today Lebanon and Syria. Perhaps 259,000 in total, they have now had almost one hundred years of assimilation into the American society.
After the Second World War, Arab immigration began again with displaced Palestinians in particular. They were joined throughout the 1950s and 1960s by Egyptians, Jordanians, Iraqis, then in the 1970s by more Lebanese and Yemenis and North Africans.
According to AAI, "six of 10" Arab-Americans are either Syrian or Lebanese. They constitute 70 percent of the Arab Americans in the Northeast. Lebanese Americans dominate the Arab-American community in the southern United States while their proportion is lowest in the West.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )