Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, has one of the highest concentrations of Arab American residents – not all of whom are Muslims – in the United States. It is home to the largest mosque in North America as well as the Arab American National Museum.
Arabs have been coming to Dearborn since the 1920s, and back then most of them were Christians. Newer arrivals are predominantly Muslim and come from across the Arab world, although the majority now living in this small city are of Lebanese origin.
In 2008, the USA’s two million Arab Americans voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. Voters in Dearborn are more lukewarm towards the US president this time round.
‘Obama turned his back on us’
Ali, a 26-year-old student, said he could not bring himself to vote, even though he had been an enthusiastic supporter of Obama in 2008.
The young man, who comes from a Lebanese family, said the United States’ first black president had failed to live up to his campaign promises and in particular “had not paid any attention to the country’s Arabs”. Consequently, he said, many of these voters were seriously reconsidering how they will vote.
“The president exploited our community by making us feel he was one of us,” he said. “But once he was in office he turned his back on us and simply carried on with the same old American policies.”
Ali is openly upset about Obama’s first term and insists that many of his fellow Muslims “will not fall into the same trap this time round”.
“I think they are more likely to vote for his [Republican] rival Mitt Romney or simply abstain from voting as a way of showing their displeasure,” he said.
Nevertheless, recent polls indicate that 75% of the country’s Arab American and Muslim voters intend to vote for the president.
Blocking the Republicans
Hussein, a 35-year-old Iraqi-American who works in an Arab restaurant, believes that very few Arab Americans and Muslims are paying much attention to the forthcoming elections, particularly in Dearborn.
Obama, he said, had lost credibility despite fulfilling promises to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He went to war in Libya, his administration is still far too supportive of Israel and the Middle East peace process is dead in the water,” he said.
“Meanwhile, there is a threat of military intervention in Syria to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime and to arm opposition rebels. These are issues that are turning many Arabs away from wanting to support Obama this time around.”
Still, he said, he would vote for Obama, “if only to stop Mitt Romney and his Republican Party, who I absolutely do not want to see in the White House”. ‘He did what he could.’
Hoda, a biology professor from a Lebanese family, says that despite any shortcomings perceived by many Arab Americans, she will definitely be voting for Obama.
“He did what he could in his first term in office in an extremely challenging political and economic environment,” she said. “It would have been absolutely impossible to change everything for the better in the short time given to him.”
She hopes that Obama will have the second term he needs to push through all his promised reforms.
“I will vote for him because he has a credible electoral programme,” she said. “He is much more of a realist and much more transparent as a candidate than Romney.”
Hoda said she believed Romney’s weakness was his mistaken belief that Americans were a superior people and that the USA was the centre of the world.
Not all the people she knows feel the same way, however: “But despite this I have a number of friends who believe in his promises to rebuild the country, or who simply want to have a different president, who will vote for the Republican candidate.”