The US is seeing the strangest presidential elections in its history. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the largest anti-racial discrimination demonstrations in recent history, and President Donald Trump's infection with the virus, the US public are divided over the Republican billionaire and his rival Democrat Joe Biden.
Both presidential contenders are faced with a barrage of criticism and accusations. Meanwhile, they are both seeking the swing voters who can determine the election result.
Amid this unconventional race to the White House, where does the Egyptian community in the US stand? Statistics revealed there are hundreds of thousands of Egyptian eligible voters in the world's biggest democracy.
Usually, the Arab community in the USA, especially the Egyptian, is inclined towards the Republican camp, which is the traditionalist party in American politics; opposing abortion and backing moral and religious values, suiting the Arab and Egyptian temperament in general.
In addition, they endorse the principle of “classical liberalism,” which upholds civil rights and law and order with the commitment to economic freedom.
Over time, the Republicans began to lean towards the right and modified their opinions.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party gained momentum by supporting immigrants and the minorities’ rights and “dreamers” and prioritising human rights principles.
Much like the American public, Egyptian voters in the US are divided over the two presidential candidates.
Several months ago, the “Egyptians for Trump 2020” Facebook page was created. Garnering over 2,000 followers, the page was launched by an Egyptian young man, Romani Gayed, 30, who resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
Gayed immigrated to the US more than 15 years ago, where he went to high school and university. He currently works in the field of medical analysis.
Gayed said “as a civil activist, I support Trump's domestic efforts aiming at improving the life of American citizens and his efforts abroad to bring peace to the Middle East and dismantle terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, which was founded during the tenure of his predecessor Barack Obama and had a negative effect on the progress and prosperity of the region, as well as Trump’s backing of Egypt and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.”
He added that he pursues supporting Trump by putting forth the facts regarding the American president and drawing attention to his achievements, which the American media doesn’t give enough attention, as well as encouraging the Egyptian-American community to vote.
Gayed believes Egyptians in the US have benefited from Trump's economic reforms, which have resulted in lowering unemployment rates to their lowest levels in decades. He added that Egyptians in the Middle East have also benefited from the dismantling of the Islamic State terrorist group after the killing of its leader Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi, which in its turn helped Egypt to focus more on developmental and economic projects.
He considers the accusations of racism levelled against Trump are a political game that aims to tarnish his reputation. He sees that the “proof on this is that Trump cared about minorities in America. He has also made permanent subsidies to African-American private universities instead of them asking for it every year as well as decreasing the unemployment rate to its lowest level among African-American and Hispanics.
In addition, he has tightened the laws concerning abortion and signed an executive order to enhance freedom of speech and religious liberty, known as Religious Liberty Executive Order, which promotes religious liberty as a political priority for the administration and demands all federal agencies to take necessary decisions to protect them."
Gayed rejects the criticisms levelled against Trump that his rise to the helm has given the extreme right a push. He says that Trump’s rise has struck a power balance after an extreme leaning towards the left during the previous administration. This balance is viewed by the leftists as extremism, but all the American president’s decisions are to the advantage of the American citizen indiscriminately.
He stated that, as an American-Egyptian, he would like to encourage the Egyptian and Arab community to vote for Trump since his standpoints have been in support of the Arab world in the issues of peace and stopping foreign interventions.
He added that there is an obvious contrast between the Trump’s administration standpoint towards the Egyptian government and backing it in its war against terrorism and the Obama administration which was a blow to peace in Egypt and the Arab world.
Rana Hassan, a university student in Florida, is a swing voter. She has been keen to monitor the stands and viewpoints of both camps.
Hassan said Trump’s supporters reject the accusations of racism levelled against Trump and the recent violent demonstrations. They uphold the right to have arms and use them, refuse immigration, agree with building the Mexico-United States barrier, oppose abortion and consider it immoral and assert they are “pro-life” supporters. They refuse the government's interference in the healthcare programme.
Hassan asserted that Biden's defenders believe the government must have a prominent role in the healthcare programme and there is a necessity to impose more rules to organise the sphere of trade and business. They back abortion and they view it as the “right to choose”, refuse building the Mexico-US barrier, they demand more openness to criticise governmental policies and discuss racism which the US suffers from to find solutions and adjust the way in which the American history is taught.
She sees there is a severe congestion between the two sides and mutual recriminations and accusations of treason; the Republicans accuse the Democratic Party of seeking to transform the country into a socialist state while Democrats warn that Trump’s ideas and his supporters threaten to undermine democracy and freedoms.
There is a strong camp among Egyptians that supports Biden. In spite of the fact there are no activities on social media that reflect this, their support to Biden emanates from their refusal of Trump’s policies.
Sherif Hassan, a university professor in Texas, asserts that he will vote for Biden in the hope that the new administration will amend some of Trump's strategies to be more inclusive.
He explains that Trump’s policies affect US-Egyptians based on several factors, the most important of which is whether they hold a green card or have a US nationality. Green card holders, such as students, visitors and professionals, have faced several difficulties due to the strict immigration and travel laws which affected foreigners in general and some of them couldn’t bring their families, while others couldn’t renew their residency permit.
Like the general American public, Egyptians who have US nationality have been widely affected by the instability of the government and their confidence declined due to misleading information, mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis, the decline of the US international role which was reflected negatively on its global image, in addition to antagonistic speech and the escalation of racial tensions which the minorities suffered from.
Hassan sees that the standpoint of the American presidential candidate and his relationship towards Egypt is a very influential factor according to the voters of Egyptian descent. This doesn’t apply only to the voters from the first generation of Egyptian immigrants to the US but to the second generation as well.
Despite the difference in vision between the two generations, the second generation tends to concur with the first generation and uphold their cultural heritage when it comes to Middle East issues and how the candidates deal with them. However, both candidates’ stands towards such issues haven’t shown much variation.
Mohamed Ahmed, an engineer, said he will vote for Biden, pointing out at the same time that the Egyptian community didn’t benefit from Trump. He doesn’t believe that it has been harmed too.
He also believes that there hasn’t been any American president who has made a direct impact on Egyptians in general. He considers that foreign policies are a very influential factor on the Egyptian-American voters while the impact of the domestic issues on the Egyptian voters is a personal matter and sometimes moral considerations or favouring personal interests play a role.
For instance, some Muslim doctors will vote for Trump so that their incomes or taxes won’t be affected due to changes in the healthcare sector. Ahmed said that “the matter differs concerning moral considerations”.
From his viewpoint, there is no big difference in opinion between the first and second generations of US Egyptian immigrants, but the second generation is more vocal in expression and in upholding rights and duties and they don’t accept any infringement on these rights. He sees there is a great difference in the foreign policies between the two parties, and accordingly the upcoming elections will have a huge impact on the American foreign policy, and by extension on relations with Egypt.
Nada Mohsen, a university student in Texas, says that she prefers Biden, pointing out that Trump didn’t attack Egyptians specifically but he attacked Muslims generally. He has encouraged Islamophobia. For he has described Muslims as terrorists, therefore he supported racist and xenophobic voices. As a result, these voices were emboldened to repeat Trump’s claims against Islam. He encouraged hate crimes and being prejudiced against Muslims. Mohsen points out that the matter isn’t related to racism as much as to Islamophobia. She believes that voting for Biden will be useful for Egyptians because he will “restore the soul of America” to quote Biden himself.
Mohsen said she believes Biden won’t make America better than it has been before Trump, but at least he won’t allow racist and Islamophobic voices to be raised. He won’t describe Muslims as terrorists.
She added that Biden tends to focus on domestic issues and American families. Many a time, he stressed that Americans prefer to listen to their families and how his policies will directly affect them. Mohsen believes that Islamophobia will be the first and foremost issue that will affect the Egyptian voter and the ban which Trump has imposed on Islamic countries, even if Egypt weren’t among these.
Finally, the Egyptian voter in the US is part of the American society and is usually influenced by the same factors that affect the American citizen. However, the decisive factor is the American foreign policy towards Egypt and the Middle East. But in any case, it must be put into consideration that the policies of candidates and American parties maintain constant directions towards Israel and accordingly most of the countries in the region.
*The writer is deputy chief editor and head of the foreign desk of Al-Ahram Daily newspaper