On February 28, voters in Michigan took part in a crucial Republican Presidential election primary. But the many Arab-Americans who live in that state are unhappy with their place in the American political process. The immigrant community, which once identified closely with the Republican Party, is now leaving it in large numbers, less willing to vote for a party they say has abandoned them.
Some 300,000 Arab Americans live in Michigan, many of them in the Detroit area.
They are part of a close-knit community, built on conservative social values.
In the 1990’s, more than one-third of Arab-Americans in the United States identified themselves as Republicans.
But community leaders say that has changed.
Osama Siblani, publisher of Arab American News.com says since 2001, years of what many in his community describe as "anti-Arab" and "anti-Muslim" sentiment within the Republican Party, has soured Arab-Americans on this year's primary elections.
"When it comes to religious values and family and entrepreneurism, small business, we're on the side on the Republican(s)," noted Siblani. "That's why I just don’t see how the Republicans could alienate such a very powerful community that fits right in their agenda, on the domestic agenda."
Warren David, head of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, says in 35 years of political activism he’s never seen so little political enthusiasm among Arab-Americans -- many of whom traditionally supported Republicans.
“For the most part there's a lot of them that are not excited at all about the Republican party," David explained. "The Republican party today is not a Republican party that Arab-Americans can support.”
Officially, the Republican Party says it wants everyone to feel welcome. But Arab-American groups say the war in Iraq, as well as domestic anti-terrorism measures, which they say have resulted in ethnic profiling, have left them frustrated with the conservative political landscape.
A 2010 poll by Zogby International showed that only 12 percent of Arab-Americans born outside the U.S. want to see Republicans in control of Congress.
But at a Lebanese bakery in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, people seemed more concerned about the party’s fiscal policy than any other single issue.
“I think they only work for the rich people," one female customer said. "They don’t really pull for the middle class and the lower-class people.”
“I think that the Republicans push more for war and it seems like the money is going outside the country, where basically I don’t think it should go. It should stick here, where we’re hurting," opined Mariam Sobh, a Dearborn resident.
Several key Arab-American groups recently endorsed Ron Paul for the Republican presidential nomination.
Community leaders like Osama Siblani say the move is partly an “olive branch” to the Republican party, a message that the more than three million Arab-Americans are ready to engage in dialogue again with the party they say has abandoned them.