Huge shift in Arab, Muslim vote in US

Arab and Muslim Americans are pondering the impact of President George Bush's re-election after their communities voted overwhelmingly in favour of Democratic Senator John Kerry.

    Bush lost the once solid support of Muslim and Arab Americans

    While Bush increased his support among evangelical Christians, Catholic, Jewish and Latino voters, early polling data suggests a dramatic political shift among Arab and Muslim Americans, many of whom voted for Bush in 2000.

    A pre-election survey conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) indicated that 80% of Muslim Americans planned to vote for Kerry, yet the final total might have been as high as 90%, according to the organisation's election-night exit polls.

    Another poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute indicated that 63% of Arab Americans in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania voted for Kerry, while 28.5% voted for Bush.

    Looking forward

    Whatever disappointment the Bush victory might have produced in their communities, Arab and Muslim voters should not dwell on this election, but focus their energy on the next four years, Ahmed Younis, national director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said.

    "We should not be in a mode of cemented depression. We should be in a mode of working for change in the future," Younis said.

    In four crucial states, Kerry took
    63% of the Arab American vote

    Civil liberties and US policy in the Middle East will be at the top of the political agenda for many Arab and Muslim American groups. It was these issues in particular that sparked the loss of support for the Bush administration in the two communities.

    "The issue of civil rights and civil liberties will take centre-stage for the next four years as we approach President Bush to respect the constitution," Osama Siblani, president of the Arab American Political Action Committee in Dearborn, Michigan, said.

    Divided verdict

    Many in the Arab and Muslim communities were angered by administration policies such as the Patriot Act and pre-election interviews of Arab and Muslim individuals conducted by the FBI.

    "It seems pretty clear that President Bush wants to continue on the path that he is on"

    Laila al-Qatami,
    Communications Director,

    American-Arab
    Anti-Discrimination Commitee

    Despite the president's recent pledge to bridge the political divides that plagued this year's election, some people are unconvinced that Bush will change course in his second term.

    "It seems pretty clear that President Bush wants to continue on the path that he is on," said Laila al-Qatami, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

    Nevertheless, several Arab and Muslim organisations have pledged to work with the administration on major issues over the next four years, regardless of their differences.

    "We are dedicated to reaching out to the re-elected president and his administration, advancing the twin causes of pluralism and diversity in American society," CAIR wrote in an open letter to the Muslim community.

    'Political capital'

    Whether the administration intends to reciprocate is unclear.

    Arab and Muslim Americans seek
    an even-handed US foreign policy

    While Bush has pushed hard for the renewal of the Patriot Act and recently pledged to spend his "political capital" completing the agenda he laid out in his first term, Siblani said he believed the president would ultimately recognise the importance of bringing Arab Americans back into the Republican fold.

    "I think [Bush] will spend political capital to bring the Arab American community towards him," he said.

    Bush won both the Arab and Muslim American votes in 2000 and demographic studies indicate an increase in their populations in several battleground states.

    "The fact that most American Muslims voted for Senator Kerry is a clue for President Bush that maybe he should curb some of his more extreme policies," Younis said.

    New benchmark

    The 2004 election was one in which the Arab and Muslim communities hoped to engender greater political relevance by increasing voter turnout and injecting their voices into the national discourse.

    "I know that American Muslims have heightened their engagement with society and I don't
    see any reason
    why an election
    would change that"

    Ahmed Younis,
    National Director,
    Muslim Public Affairs Council

    Although the hard data is not yet available, it appears that registration drives aimed at bringing more Arab and Muslim voters to the polls were largely successful, Qatami said.

    "By and large, it seemed like the majority of the Arab American community did get out and vote and that was sort of the benchmark we were looking for," she said.

    In Michigan, which has one of the largest Arab American communities in the country, Kerry won the state by 9000 votes more than Al Gore when he carried the state and lost the Arab American vote in 2000.

    Community galvanised

    Negative Muslim perception of US
    has increased on Bush's watch

    Siblani cited this as evidence that Arab Americans could make a difference if they participated.

    There is always the concern that first-time voters who supported Kerry could be discouraged by the result and become politically disconnected in the future.

    Younis, however, said significant progress had been made galvanising the social activity of the Muslim community, something no political disappointment would disrupt.

    "I know that American Muslims have heightened their engagement with society and I don't see any reason why an election would change that," he said.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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