The furore centres around the $6.8 billion acquisition by UAE state-owned Dubai Ports World of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. P&O which had been running operations at shipping terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said on Tuesday that politicians were exploiting fears left over from the September 11 attacks to gain advantage in a congressional election year.
"I find some of the rhetoric being used against this deal shameful and irresponsible. There is bigotry coming out here," he said
"Bush is vulnerable so the Democrats jump on it. The Republicans feel vulnerable so they jump on it. The slogan is, if it's Arab, it's bad. Hammer away," Zogby said.
According to some industry analysts, the change in management would have no real effect on security, which would still be carried out by American workers to international standards.
The UAE, whose government owns Dubai Ports World, is an international financial hub and close US ally.
"The Emirates have been very pro-active partners in helping our security. They have a solid track record of cooperation," said Peter Tirschwell, publisher of the Journal of Commerce.
"I find some of the rhetoric being used against this deal shameful and irresponsible. There is bigotry coming out here"
Arab American Institute
Rabiah Ahmed of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said members of her organisation also believed anti-Arab bigotry was driving the debate.
"The perception in the Arab-American community is that this is related to anti-Arab sentiment," she said.
Arab investment in the United States is hardly new.
Ever since the spike in energy prices in the early 1970s, dollars from oil-producing Arab nations have poured into the United States, at times prompting xenophobic reaction in some quarters as concern grew that vital interests were being auctioned off to foreigners.
Some recent deals in the United States include:
February 2006: Shareholders of UK-based P&O, which operates six key ports in the United States, approve the sale of their company to state-owned Dubai Ports World for $6.8 billion. The Bush administration approves the sale after a
January 2006: Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Colony Capital agree to pay $3.9 billion for Canada's Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Inc., trumping an offer by billionaire investor Carl Icahn.
January 2006: United Arab Emirates-based media investment company Istithmar acquires 109 million shares, or 2.39% of Time Warner Inc. for $2 billion.
November 2005: Istithmar says it has bought New York property 230 Park Avenue for $705 million.
August 2005: Dubai's Dubal, owner and operator of the largest aluminum smelter in the Western world, says it will take a 25% stake in Canada's Global Alumina Corp.
January 2005: The government of Dubai buys a $1 billion stake in DaimlerChrysler AG, becoming the auto maker's third-largest shareholder. The purchase was made through the government's Dubai Holding company.
December 2004: State-owned Dubai Ports pays $1.15 billion for the global port assets of US-based CSX Corp., outbidding the world's two biggest container port operators.