In the end,the debate was full of surprises for this audience – it covered many of the key points they cared about but ignored others.
Arab Americans are a small but passionate ethnic group in the U.S. – about 1.7 million as of 2009,according to the U.S. census. They supported President Barrack Obama overwhelmingly in 2008,according to a poll conducted by the Arab American Institute.
At a viewing party at AAI’s downtown office,Arab Americans continued to support Obama and laughed at former governor Mitt Romney in several instances.
The group enjoyed snacks and drinks while chatting about the candidates before the debate. About 40 people,including AAI staff members,attended the event.
They were upset at the continuous support of both candidates for Israel and their neglect of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Samer D. Araabi,government relations manager at AAI said that the nonprofit group that encourages participation in the electoral system is sponsoring a program called “Yalla Vote,” or “let’s vote,” to empower Arab Americans as a political constituency.
AAI’s poll of Arab American voters in 2012 released in September shows “a continuing shift away from the Republican Party,a 15 percent drop in support for President Obama from 2008 voters,and a growing independent base.”
Araabi said that most Arab Americans give priority to such issues as the economy and jobs,as do most typical Americans,but they also care about the Palestinian issue and their own civil liberties because they feel that these things are under attack.
Romney’s previous statement that Israeli culture made it more successful than Palestine sparked fury among Arab Americans. Consequently,most of them felt disappointed with the immense support of both candidates for Israel. The audience expressed resentment particularly when Romney said that he would support Israel “culturally.”
Sana’a Mellah,23,from Ramallah,Palestine,who works at BWW Law Group,said Romney seemed rehearsed and “like those math teachers in high school.” She said Obama seemed more realistic,while Romney sounded more wishful.
Mellah said that she didn’t expect so much discussion of Israel in the debate,advertising the U.S. alliance with Israel. She said that she knew the Palestinian issue wouldn’t come up,because “for U.S. politicians,if they expressed that they stand with Palestine,it would be political suicide”
She said that Romney was contradictory in his statements about Syria.
Mohamed Hafez,29,American-Egyptian citizen who works as an I.T. director at the marketing company Global Thinking,said,“Egypt was used in the debate as a buzzword.” He said he wasn’t surprised to see that Romney referred to President Muhammad Morsy of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood in a negative way. “Although Morsy has already reached out and extended his hand to the U.S.”
He said Romney isn’t interested in having friends in the Middle East except for Israel.
Hafez said Romney has little knowledge of foreign policy issues and that he tried to airbrush some facts to undermine Obama,who he said,put them in perspective and gave them context.
“I think that Obama won this debate,” Hafez said.
The audience applauded for Obama after his closing speech but sat silent during Romney’s final comments or prepared to go home.
Reach reporter Monica Ibrahim at [email protected]hns.com or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.