Dubai: Arab-American votes traditionally go to the Democratic ticket, and will continue to do this year. But this time, they will be fewer than before.
The enthusiasm of the Americans of Arab origins to vote for US president Barack Obama in 2008 presidential elections is expected to decrease in next month’s race, but not to the extent to lean more towards the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, Arab American activists said and polls showed.
“The president’s support among Arab American communities is likely to decline this year,” said Ramzy Baroud, Arab-American Author and Journalist.
And this decline reflects “a growing sense of disenchantment “with Obama and his policies, particularly “among Arab Americans due to his failure to keep his promises regarding the shift of US foreign policy in the Middle East. However, the categorical support of his precedency, if compared to (Republican candidate Mitt) Romney is likely to remain high in November.” Baroud explained to Gulf News, quoting a poll by the Washington-based Arab American Institute (AAI) estimating that nearly 67 per cent of Arab Americans voted for Obama in 2008.
Many Arabs had high expectations from Obama, especially in the Palestinian question, the main and oldest unresolved issue in the Middle East.
“If not pro-Palestinian, at least [he can be] even-handed in his [Obama’s] approach to the Middle East conflict,” said Fawaz Turki, an Arab American journalist living in Washington and the author of several books. “All his promises, including those made in his famous Cairo speech in 2009, turned out to be hot air.”
Entitled, “A new beginning”, Obama’s speech delivered in June 2009 called to improve mutual understanding and relations between Islamic world and the West. While Obama reaffirmed Washington alliance with Israel, calling it unbreakable, he said the Palestinians aspiration for statehood is legitimate, and described Palestinian statelessness as “intolerable”.
However, little was achieved since then on the peace talk’s track between the Palestinians and Israelis. The talks have been stalled now for nearly three years.
Obama “knuckled under” Israeli Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s demands and accepted the Israeli position, in many issues including the policy on colonies, said Turki.
“It wouldn’t have been so bad if Arab American voters had not invested so much in Obama. Their disappointment was all the more acute because of that. I’m one of those people. Still I’ll vote for him, though I’ll do so holding my nose,” Turki said told Gulf News.
In 2008 elections, the high percentage of votes to Obama came as a result of several factors, including political party affiliation, personal charisma, and dislike of Obama’s opponents, Arab-American activists noted. Arab American Democrats still outnumber the Republicans by a 2-1 margin (46%-22%), AAI poll noted.
Arab Americans voted in greater numbers in 2008 because “they considered Obama “a man of colour” more sympathetic to their demands, especially in foreign policy, than the Republican Party, often thought of as the “white man’s party”,” said Turki.
But for this year, the AAI’s poll found out that “16% of Arab American voters remain undecided about what presidential candidate they will vote for in November. The 16% of undecided voters represents over 100,000 people in five key swing states alone, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.”
Romney is doubtful to be the favourite candidate for the Arab American voters. His position towards the Palestinians has been described as hostile and biased towards the Israeli side. Yet, there are many prominent originally-Arab figures in his campaign.
“Some Arab Americans will vote for Romney come what may, for two good reasons: (a); they are registered Republicans and (b): they find their political and economic interests are served better by having Romney in the White House, despite his [campaign] rhetoric about Israel-Palestine,” said Turki.
Meanwhile, many activists believe the differences between the Democrats and Republicans, especially in foreign policy, is not accurate. Also, the saying the democrats are more ‘moderate’ is not a precise description, they added.
“Democratic Administrations are perceived as more moderate on foreign policy. Of course, it is not exactly true since neither of the two main parties could claim real moderation in the last two decades, and that the difference between Republicans and Democrats is the matter of style than fundamentals,” said Baroud.
“But various reason pushed Arab Americans back to the ‘lesser of two evils’ logic, as in maintaining their Democratic leaning,” he added. These reasons include the “extremist administration of George W. Bush and its bloody campaign in Iraq, the post-September 11 anti-Arab and Muslim sentiments, the incessant discrimination and hate speech affiliated with Republicans.”
“Reality and experiences have had confirmed that there are American goals, interests and institutions that are fortified against the impact of changes in the American political scene and internal voting races,” wrote Sobhi Ghandour in a recently published article in the Arabic-language newspaper of Al Bayan. “Differences between administrations appear in ways and approaches, more than in goals and styles,” added Ghandour, director of Al Hewar Center in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, some believe the Arab Americans need to solve the issue facing them of “lacking of a platform that is unifying and representative, which would channel and successively capitalize on the existing energies to translate them to tangible political gains.”