Arab Americans on the Ground in 2016: Half a Million Arab Americans will make a Difference in the Michigan Primaries
Posted by Shadi Matar on March 07, 2016 in Blog
In the lead up to tomorrow’s primary in Michigan, both parties’ candidates have been courting the votes of the sizeable Arab American community, which accounts for at least 5% of the Michigan electorate. With almost half a million Arab Americans in the state, and 147 and 59 delegates on the line for the Democratic and Republican candidates respectively, the community will be a definitive factor in the upcoming primary. Over the last few weeks, many members of the Arab American community have gotten opportunities to meet with Republican and Democratic candidates to engage them on the issues that matter deeply to the nation and the Arab American community.
Fay Beydoun is the Executive Director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce in Dearborn, Michigan. Last week, she saw Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak at Detroit Manufacturing Systems where the candidate gave an almost 40 minute speech that focused on income inequality and misbehavior by corporate elites. Beydoun was impressed with how Clinton spoke about creating jobs and strengthening the economy. “The Arab American community is definitely divided in their support for Hillary or Bernie, but she is definitely the most qualified candidate for the Democrats. The Arab American community is definitely in agreement that her foreign policy is bad, but we still need to have a seat at the table if she is given the nomination.” Beydoun also praised the work by Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and Senator Debbie Stabenow for inviting Arab Americans to attend closed-door receptions to hear from Secretary Clinton away from the cameras. Overall Beydoun was happy to see that this election has encouraged Arab Americans in both parties to get involved in the process.
Amer Zahr is an Arab American comedian, speaker, writer, and adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Law School and has been very vocal about the importance of the Arab American vote in the upcoming Michigan primaries. Zahr is appalled at the language and rhetoric coming from the Republican Party towards Arabs and Muslims. “We have seen that the right is now defined by anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric and because this rhetoric is permissible it has created a huge problem”. He also spoke about the excitement that is being felt by many in the Arab American community in the wake of the primaries. “Bernie Sanders spoke at a United Auto Workers (UAW) rally in Dearborn a few weeks ago and you could see a large presence of Arab Americans in the audience who were not part of the UAW, which shows how his message is really resonating with members of our community”. Zahr feels that Sanders’s campaign resonates with younger Arab Americans because he strikes a different tone than Hillary Clinton on foreign policy and more specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Republican primary in Michigan will make or break the campaigns of the four remaining candidates. Ohio Governor John Kasich has been polling very well in Michigan and has received many endorsements from Senators throughout the state. Paul Sophiea is on the Michigan Middle Eastern Affairs Commission and has found the primary race to be exciting and discouraging at the same time because of the rhetoric used by some candidates. Sophiea says that the Arab American community in Michigan likes Kasich because he has a proven record of working with people across party lines and that divisive politics will not benefit the community. “Kasich’s policies appeal to the Arab American community because his policies seem inclusive and they will grow the economy which is quite different from what we have heard from many of the other Republican candidates.”
With one final chance to make an impression on undecided voters in the state at the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, the candidates focused heavily on the auto industry and how the Michigan government handled the Flint water crisis. Many Arab Americans were in attendance at the debate and some even asking a question to the candidates on national television. Former Michigan State Representative Rashida Tlaib was in attendance for the the Democratic debate in Flint and was disappointed that neither candidate took the time to go visit the Arab American Museum in Dearborn but is more concerned with the rhetoric coming from the Republican candidates. “This rhetoric will have a lasting impact on the country and into the future, we are trying to combat this hate and bigotry that has become part of these campaigns and who we are as a country”
The diversity of perspectives coming from the Arab American community in Michigan is just another example that shows that the community is not monolithic voting bloc. The diversity in our politics means that some look for the candidate that will be cater to their domestic policies, while others look for candidates’ stances on foreign policy. The Michigan primaries are on March 8th and you can hear what the candidates are saying on the issues that matter most to the Arab American community here.