Written by Ray Hanania, Various sources estimate that there are between 3.5 and 4.5 million Arabs in America, with Christians a slight majority over Muslims. There are 7.5 million Muslims in America, but only about 22 percent are Arab and the largest segment are African American and Asian. There is little diversity in terms of their national Arab origins. The vast majority of Arab American officeholders are of Lebanese heritage. There are many reasons for this. The Lebanese were among the first to settle in the U.S. in large numbers. They are almost all Christian, allowing them to assimilate more easily into American society. Although there is a theoretical separation of church and state in America, oftentimes the fastest way to elective office is through church-supported political organizations. But other Arab nationalities are slowly winning office as more and more seek office. The common denominator seems to be that those succeeding in elections are trading-off ties to their home countries of origin with more local activism and community involvement. Some of the better known officeholders include U.S. Senator John Sununu (Palestinian origins and Lebanese heritage), and Congressmen Darrell Issa (California) and Ray LaHood (Illinois), all Republican.  Arab Americans are represented in both parties, but the majorities tend to swing back and forth depending on the candidate and the issues in the Middle East. In 2000, for example, Arab Americans overwhelmingly voted Republican to support George W. Bush. In the election contest between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, there seems to be a split with a majority of Christian Arabs supporting McCain and a majority of Muslims supporting Obama. Arab American voters share the same concerns as other Americans, from education to jobs to improving the economy. But they also have a special interest in American foreign policy towards the Middle East, and on that criteria, they share an overwhelming disappointment. They often base their choices in national elections, such as for president, on which candidate is "the lesser of two evils."  Yet, when Americans across the country flock to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 4, Arab Americans will be standing with them side-by-side in line to vote.  There are more than 13 other Arab Americans who held office including four former U.S. Senators (all Lebanese), and nine congressmen including two women, Mary Rose Oakar, now national president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in Ohio’s 20th district, and Pat Danner of the 6th District in Missouri.

DAILY STAR – By Ghenwa Yehia,  BEIRUT: Lebanese citizens are responding positively to the outcome of the US election, although some remain skeptical about Barack Obama’s promises to change American policy, The Daily Star learned after speaking to locals from Beirut. The shared opinion of many Lebanese is that Obama’s passion and personality offer hope for the future.  Sanaa Itani, 40, followed the election closely as it played out over the past months. She instantly took a liking to Obama because he seemed genuine in his desire for change.  "Every time I saw him on television I became more and more convinced of his genuine passion," she says. "Whether it is where he stands on certain issues or his policies I just intuitively feel like he means what he said. I think America made a good choice."

Like Itani, Hadi Haddad, a 51-year-old sewing supply store owner, says that Obama has an authentic spirit and truly believed in what he was campaigning for. The end result obviously reflects that he connected with the American people, Haddad says.  "I heard a story of an 80-year-old American woman who waited hours in line to vote for Obama just because she really believed in what he was saying," Haddad explains. "You can’t fake that kind of passion. Obama would only be able to evoke that kind of passion in people if he himself believed in what he was saying."   Other people think that despite all of Obama’s promises during the campaign, it is still much too early to tell whether he will make good on his promise for change.  "We haven’t seen anything of him yet," says Jamal Hussein, 50. "For example, he said in his campaign, in regards to foreign relations, that he will be the friend of any country that is a friend to America. Now this is what he says, but we haven’t seen him in action yet to see if he spoke the truth."  Kamil Harb, a 70-year-old owner of a laundromat, agrees with Hussein. "Right now all of these are just words," he says of campaign promises. He even goes a step farther to categorize Obama among the ranks of all other politicians: liars.

"It’s the same with all of them," Harb says. "They will say anything to get into the top chair but once they sit in it they forget all about the people that put them there. You wait and see if he is any different."

Gibran Abi-Aad, a 50-year-old dental lab technician, thinks the choice was a step in the right direction for Americans, but fears that Obama won’t be able to make good on his campaign promises because of outside influences.

"He’s defiantly a better choice than McCain," Abi-Aad says. "But when he steps into power you have to wonder who he is answering to and whether or not other administrative powers or lobbyist will influence or limit what he does as president."

For Rana Sbeyte, it is not what Obama says that makes her doubtful, rather it is his allies that make her mistrustful of the next president.

"He may be a better for the Americans than Bush because he is a Democrat," she says. "But in the end they are all friends with Israel so between him and the Republican candidate, he is like the lesser of two evils."

A few Lebanese citizens approached the subject with complete apathy.

"Who becomes president of America means nothing to me," says Jean Sarrouh, a 45-year-old owner of a shoe boutique. "I live in Lebanon. I work in Lebanon. I will not benefit by knowing or caring who won the American election. But congratulations to him, whoever he is."

Despite the mixed reactions of some citizens, again and again we heard talk of Obama’s charisma, charm and a genuine belief in his ability to bring about change.

Walid Tabbara, a 36-year-old small business owner, respects the courage it took for Obama to go after his dream and make history in the process.

"You always hear that America is the land of promise and freedom and a place where anything is possible," Tabarra says. "Look at Obama. You can’t help but to have faith in a man who goes after what he believes in, even if it is difficult as he is a pioneer in the process. As the first black president, he is living proof that anything, including change, is possible."

Seeking office

One of the highest profile Arab American candidates in the Nov. 4th election is Ralph Nader who is running for president on a third party. His candidacy is on the ballots in 45 of the country’s 50 states.

Sam Rasoul, candidate for congress in Virginia’s 6th district, raised more than $100,000 towards his campaign through online contributions alone. Although Rasoul is running in a longtime Republican district, he and other Democrats hope that Obama’s coattails will give them enough momentum to reverse voting trends.

In Peoria, Illinois where his father is congressman, Darin LaHood, who built his own reputation as a U.S. Federal prosecutor who targeted the mob, is running for county state’s attorney as a Republican.

Bob Abboud, the son of the former Chairman of the First National Bank of Chicago and now mayor of an affluent Northwest Chicago suburb, is the Democratic candidate in the 16th Congressional district.

More than 100 Arab Americans are expected to file their nominating petitions later this year in the February 24 and April 7, 2009 for local elective offices across the country.

In controversy

Not all of the Arab Americans involved in political elections are candidates for office. Several of the most "famous" in this presidential contest between Obama and McCain come from Illinois.

Anton "Tony" Rezko, once one of the most powerful and influential political fundraisers in the country, was convicted of corruption and faces sentencing after the presidential election.

A close friend of Obama’s, Rezko was involved in several of Obama’s controversial real estate deals. He was convicted of bribery in an unrelated scheme raising funds for beleaguered Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Rezko is Syrian American.

Not all did anything wrong and were targeted for their race and their religion.

Another Arab American in the political headlines is professor Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian author and close friend of Obama. Khalidi, who holds the Edward Said Chair at Columbia University in New York, has been the target of a hatemongering campaign by pro-Israel extremists adopted by McCain supporters who are using the false charges to embarrass Obama.

Just over one week after being named Muslim Outreach liaison for Obama, noted Chicago attorney Mazen Asbahi was forced to resigned when he was targeted in a hate profile published by the right-wing Wall Street Journal, once a respected national newspaper gutted by its extremist conservative owner, Rupert Murdoch.