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Arab American attitudes

Diverse but sharing common values, US Arab Americans continue to stand by their heritage and build their collective identity

James Zogby , Thursday 19 Nov 2020
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Any discussion of Arab Americans must consider, at the outset, both the deep diversity as well as the shared attitudes and concerns that exist within the community. As is the case with most ethnic groups, Arab Americans are not a monolith. They hail from 22 Arabic-speaking countries. They are of different religious traditions. And while three-quarters are native born (some being fourth-generation American born), the rest are foreign-born naturalised citizens. Despite this rich diversity, a recent poll conducted by the Arab American Institute (AAI) revealed a great number of shared attitudes among significant numbers of respondents from all demographic subgroups.

While it has already been reported that the AAI poll found Arab American voters favouring Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 59 per cent to 35 per cent, respectively, also explored were how Arab Americans viewed a number of Middle East related issues and how they evaluated both candidates’ handling of many of these same issues.

Weighed against a list of 14 major policy concerns, only five per cent of Arab Americans ranked resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the only foreign policy issue included in the list — as a priority issue in determining their presidential vote. Nevertheless​, 44 per cent of the respondents indicated that resolving this conflict was one of the most important foreign policy challenges facing the US administration. In fact, this issue was ranked the most important of the seven Middle East-related concerns covered in the poll. In second place, at 33 per cent, was “meeting humanitarian needs in Syria”. “Addressing the political and economic crisis in Lebanon” was third, at 28 per cent. These were followed by ending the war in Yemen, improving relations with the Arab world, countering the threat posed by Iran and stabilising and rebuilding Iraq — seen as important by 16 per cent to 11 per cent of Arab Americans.

​A strong plurality of Arab Americans saw Donald Trump’s handling of each of these foreign policy challenges as ineffective. And by a margin of 48 per cent to 32 per cent​, the community’s voters said they believed that Joe Biden would be best at improving ties with the Arab world.

When asked for their attitudes about “several nations across the Middle East who are playing increasingly important roles”, Arab Americans were most favourably disposed towards Egypt, with 73 per cent saying they had favourable attitudes towards that country. Next in line was Turkey​, with a 68 per cent favourable rating, followed by the United Arab Emirates at 66 per cent, Saudi Arabia at 56 per cent and Iran at 47 per cent.

Some 78 per cent of Arab Americans said they viewed the recently signed UAE and Bahrain agreements with Israel as a positive development, with 63 per cent expressing the hope that “it may contribute to making the Middle East a more peaceful region” and 57 per cent hoping that “it might contribute to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace”.

The AAI poll also asked Arab Americans how they are most likely to define themselves, whether by country of origin, religion or as Arab American. The preferred identity was simply “Arab American” (29 per cent), followed by country of origin (27 per cent), and religion as the preferred self-identity of only 15 per cent. “All three,” Arab American, country of origin and religion, was the choice of 17 per cent. 

More than three-quarters of all Arab Americans said they were “very proud” of their ethnic heritage. It is important to note that they maintain this pride despite the fact that 61 per cent claim they have “personally experienced discrimination because of ethnicity or country of origin”. This fear remains strong​, with 70 per cent of all Arab American respondents saying they are “concerned about facing future discrimination because of their ethnicity or country of origin”.  

In the end, what emerges from this survey of Arab Americans is that with all of its diversity, it is a community proud of its heritage, concerned with discrimination and sharing many attitudes on a range of issues both foreign and domestic.

 


*The writer is president of the Arab American Institute.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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