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Locals respond to dip in Arab American support for Obama

BY RISHABH R. JAIN | OCTOBER 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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A poll released last week by the Arab American Institute shows a 15 percent decline in registered Arab-American Democrats since the last election cycle, and several local experts said the Obama administration’s involvement in the Middle East could be blamed.

Abdulrahman Aljoufi, a University of Iowa junior and a registered Democrat, said there is a lot of resentment in the Arab community about President Obama’s foreign policy, particularly Predator Drone attacks that can kill innocent civilians and perceived double standards in the Arab Spring.

“The Arab Americans in general are very disappointed with Obama for the last four years,” the former intern for Obama’s 2012 campaign said. “They came to the elections in 2008 with so much hope since the entire campaign was about hope.”

Aljoufi said Arab Americans also supported Obama because many have the feeling Republicans think the United States is only for Christians.

“We support the Democratic Party because they support minorities,” he said. “We are a minority as Muslims and as people from the Middle East.”

UI law Professor Adrien Wing, an expert on Middle Eastern issues, also cited Obama’s foreign policy as being the main deterrent for the Arab American vote.

“The Obama foreign policy has been, in many ways, a continuation of George Bush’s policies,” she said. “Some Arab Americans may not like the fact that United States, via NATO, was involved in Libya and yet is not doing anything about Syria.”

Wing also pointed out that the Obama administration has deported more people than the Bush administration. That, she said, could be one of the reasons for the decrease in support.

Despite the criticism of Obama’s policy, the president has, even recently, spoken about relationships with the Arab World.

“More broadly, the events of the last two weeks also speak to the need for all of us to honestly address the tensions between the West and the Arab world that is moving toward democracy,” Obama told the U.N. General Assembly last week. His speech came on the heels of turmoil in the Middle East caused by an American-made anti-Islam video.

While foreign policy may look like the obvious reason for dissent among the Arab American community, the Arab American Institute poll cites the economy as being the most important factor for the Arab American vote this year, with 89 percent of the population agreeing with the issue.

“In this election, the No. 1 issue for everyone is the economy,” said James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute. “In Michigan, we have reverse immigration. People who came here 50 years ago, are now seeing their children and grandchildren have to go overseas to look for jobs.”

Zogby said that while Arab Americans are more concerned about foreign policy than average Americans, he believes foreign issues do not eclipse the dramatic impact of the economy that affects everyone in America.

The report may come as bad news for the Obama administration, but what makes it more tolerable for those officials is that Arab American support for the Republican Party is at a historical low of 22 percent.

Also, independent Arab American voters now compose 24 percent — the highest ever.

“People are discontented with the Democrats and what Obama has done,” Wing said. “On the other hand, they do not see anything, or see very little, with what the Republicans are saying. That puts them in the middle. They can’t jump over to the Republican side.”

Zogby said he believes most of the independents would either vote for Obama or not vote at all.

A key finding of the report states more than half the Arab American community still believes they will be discriminated against because of their origin.

Wing said that in all reality — though not legal — it is more permissible to discriminate against people who look like they are from the Middle East today, than other minorities that have faced similar situations in the past.

“Honestly, I think it is a major issue,” Zogby said. “The fact that profiling guidelines that were passed by the Bush administration have not been rescinded is a big problem. The tone has changed, from here in Washington, but we are still very troubled by the policies. We expect a change, but it hasn’t happened.”


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