Arab Americans on the Ground in 2016: In Texas, Arab Americans Display Diversity & Electoral Significance

Posted by Shadi Matar on February 29, 2016 in Blog

As the Lone Star State prepares for its upcoming primary election for the 2016 presidential nomination on Super Tuesday, many in the Arab American community throughout the state are choosing different candidates to rally behind. The state’s nearly 300,000 Arab Americans could play an important role in deciding which candidates scoop up more delegates in their bid to secure their party’s nomination. As the case across the country, the Arab American community in Texas does not vote as a monolith but look to key issues and what the candidates are saying to make their choice.

Old Vs. New Guard

Mohammed Nabulsi is a law student at the University of Texas and commented on the state of the Arab American community in Texas from his perspective, “Arab Americans in the South find themselves in a different situation compared to Arabs of the Midwest or East Coast and that includes when it comes to political engagement. Arab Americans in Texas, specifically in the Dallas area, are reluctant to be politically active and do not want to be critical or out of the norm. People here are non-political or vote along Republican lines to be ‘Good Americans’.” Nabulsi also commented on how he sees the distictive attitudes between younger Arab Americans in Texas and their parents, “The younger generations are more politically active than their parents  and are changing the conversation about engagement.” Nabulsi is planning on voting for Senator Bernie Sanders in the upcoming Democratic primary but is more interested in the movement behind Sanders campaign rather than Sanders himself. “I disagree with him [Sanders] on many issues such as foreign policy, but he has opened up the discussion to change how society engages politically. We as Arab Americans must also be engaged in local politics and focus on creating institutions to combat the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry. 

One Piece of the Melting Pot

Houston has one of the largest populations of Arab Americans in the country and has a “majority of minorities”. Houston is the hometown of the famous Arab American Dr. Michael DeBakey who helped revolutionize wartime medicine and Philippe Nassif who recently ran for City Council. Batoul Abuharb and Dina Kesbeh are both first generation Arab Americans from Houston who are voting in this year’s Texas primaries. Kesbeh and Abuharb admit that they both supported different candidates at the beginning of the election cycle but have had to pick a secondary candidate to support. Abuharb initially supported Gov. Jeb Bush or Gov. Martin O’Malley because of their moderate stances on issues and she liked that both had proven track records in their home states of Florida and Maryland. Like most Arab Americans – and Americans generally - Kesbeh said she is looking for a candidate who she aligns with on economic issues; she is looking for someone who will advocate for a raise in the minimum wage and more affordable higher education as well as

Which candidate is best for the Arab American community?

Both Kesbeh and Abuharb agree that they are not single issue voters but that the candidate’s stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one issue that weighs a bit more for them because of their Palestinian heritage. Kesbeh believes that many Arab Americans in Texas “are only focused on the Israel/Palestine issue but if we want to advocate for human rights for Palestinians we need to establish ourselves as a voting group that the candidates will want to cater towards”. Lana Kesbeh is another Arab American in Houston who says that a lot of people in the Arab American community seem to vote based on “who is the lesser of two evils and that will do the least amount of damage to the Arab American community rather than who will advocate for them most”.

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Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim Bigotry

In this election cycle many in the Arab American community have been shocked and outraged at the bigoted statements said by candidates towards the Arab American and American Muslim communities. Abuharb said “this hateful language weakens the values that bring us together as Americans and goes against everything we stand for.” Dina Kesbeh attended an anti-hate rally in late February outside a GOP debate in Houston, Texas and was moved by the different groups who came together to denounce the bigoted rhetoric and narrow minded ideologies that fuel them.

The Arab American community of Texas is just another example of how diverse the community’s attitudes and political identity is across the country. For the Texas primaries on March 1st, the state’s 300,000 Arab Americans will be looking for the candidate that best represents them on their issues – and one who stands against bigotry.