For Arab Americans, the presidential election between the democratic incumbent Barack Obama and his republican challenger Mitt Romney is less pivotal than the one in 2008. Then Senator Obama stood in to restore hope to Americans and to right the course of America after 8 years of war and economic disasters. Arab and Muslim Americans are not one issue voters; they are as diverse in their political leanings as any other ethnic or religious group in the country. But the one single issue unites both Arab and Muslim Americans is how the president of the United States deals with the Arab Israeli conflict and whether he can or cannot implement the U.S. policy position of having a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine.
Although there are no accurate figures about the numbers of Arabs and Muslims Americans, there are estimates that put their numbers between 2 million to as high as 8 million.
Upon the election of Barack Obama four years ago, Arab and Muslim American voters saw in him a rare hope that America can finally be this mythical “fair broker” in the Middle East and act more justly toward the Palestinians, as well as end its historic support for the Arab world murderous dictators and finally stand on the side of Arab citizens as opposed to siding with their tormentors.
In the Arab world, Arab citizens also saw hope in Obama’s presidency and admired the American political system that put a man of color and a son of an immigrant as the leader of the most powerful country in the world. This is something that would never happen in the Middle East where families and dynasties rule with holy writ and bound by no law or constitution and where racism and racist policies of all kinds are abound. But four years later, Arab Americans and Arab citizens in the Middle East were dealt a rude awakening. They discovered that Obama, despite his sincere good well and good intentions ended up being a big disappointment, and for some, he was as bad as his predecessor George W. Bush.
For Ray Hanania a syndicated Arab American columnist from Chicago and the host of popular Friday Radio talk show in Dearborn, Michigan, Obama’s presidency was a disappointment as far as the U.S. policy in the Middle East. “I am not as enthusiastic about Obama as I was four years ago” Said Hanania a democrat. “But I would still vote for him anyway simply because he is the better man in this election.”
Arab American callers on Hanania’s show essentially expressed the same sentiments of disappointment over Obama’s failed policies in the Middle East. Obama’s perceived inability or weakness to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end his illegal settlement building in Jerusalem or to bring him to agree with U.S. positions on the conflict was one of the arguments discussed on air against Obama.
One caller “Jamal” who is from Dearborn said that despite that he has heavy heart as far Obama’s failed policies in the region; that said, however, he is leaning to vote for him again.
If former president Bush presidency taught Arab or Muslim Americans one thing about the American politics, it taught them not to trust the Republican Party. Throughout the eighties and nineties Arab and Muslim Americans, identified more with the Republican Party as a conservative social group with conservative family values, and generally pro-life stance.
But this affinity with the republicans came to end in the aftermath of September 11 attacks when both communities, as a result, felt the brunt of the government encroachment on their civil rights and civil liberties. The invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by a republican president came only to cement the breaking of Muslim and Arab Americans from the Republican Party.
Several Muslim Americans from South Carolina, a solidly republican state, expressed their deep disappointment with Barack Obama when I discussed this election with them. One doctor from the upstate who opted not to have his name mentioned here told me that Obama has continued the same hateful policies of George W. Bush against Muslims here and abroad. “Obama kept the Patriot Act law on books, which is viewed as the government anti-Muslim legal instrument, he also used drones attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East that caused the death of hundreds of innocent civilians and wreaked havoc in the communities it attacked.” He said.
Moreover, the Obama administration is currently arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out an Amnesty International lawsuit that challenges the government secret surveillance program that spies on Americans without a warrant. The secret spying program was enacted by former president Bush administration seven years ago.
As an ethnic and immigrant group, many Arab and Muslim voters think that Obama’s economic policies are better for the country while distrust Romney’s pro-big business policies as well as his stance on the Middle East.
Romney reluctance to formulate a U.S. policy on the Middle East other than letting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dictate what the US Middle Policy should look like to suite the Israeli interests is disquieting for many Arab American leaders I spoke with on this issue. Romney’s advisors such as Dan Senor, his senior foreign policy advisor, meanwhile tend to come from the right wing of the Republican Party and when it comes it Israel they support the extreme Israeli right wing policies.
Boston area Arab American cardiologist Dr. Wael Husami expressed deep reservations with Obama’s economic policies and his health care program. “As a physician, Obama’s health care program will unfairly cut into the margin of profit in the private medical practice,” said Dr. Husami.
Despite his personal reservations over Obama’s domestic policies, and his less than stellar foreign policy in the Middle East, however, Dr. Husami has made up his mind to vote for Obama hoping that he will do a better job as a second term president.
(Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at : email@example.com)