In the ‘Arab Capital’ of America, relief mixes with apathy as the 2020 presidential election draws to a close

The community in Dearborn is not a homogenous voting block but it tends to lean significantly Democrat

Hussein Dabajeh a longtime political organiser in Dearborn, Michigan is thrilled with former Vice President Joe Biden's success in the state. Willy Lowry / The National
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Sitting in a hazy lounge in Dearborn, Michigan, Hussein Dabajeh can’t wipe the smile off his face. The veteran grassroots political organiser is thrilled that his hard work has paid off.

“We are very, very, very happy with the outcome,” he said.

Over the last months, the Lebanese American has worked tirelessly to drum up support for presidential candidate Joe Biden within the Arab American community.

Mr Dabajeh was so invested in Mr Biden’s chance of turning Michigan blue that it was almost more important to him than the national outcome. “I would have hated it if [Biden] would have won but he didn’t get Michigan.”

Arab Americans make up roughly five percent of voters in Michigan, according to a recent poll by the Arab American Institute, a Washington DC based non-profit. While the community is not a homogenous voting block it tends to lean significantly Democrat.

On Election Day, the line to vote consistently wrapped around Dearborn City Hall. Many waited at least an hour to cast their ballots in person on November 3. Nearly 45,000 people voted in Dearborn this year up from 40,000 in 2016. Unofficial results indicate 69 per cent of Dearborn residents voted for Mr Biden, with 30 per cent choosing President Donald Trump.

Many in Dearborn believe Mr Biden’s road to victory in Michigan went through their Detroit suburb.

The Biden campaign made several overtures to Arab Americans and sent the former Vice President’s wife, Dr Jill Biden, to campaign here.

Jill Biden campaigns for Arab-American votes at Lebanese bakery

Jill Biden campaigns for Arab-American votes at Lebanese bakery

Mr Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, also made a surprise visit to the city just a week before the election. Those efforts appear to have worked. Mr Biden won the key battleground state by nearly three percentage points. That is a significant gap, considering President Trump flipped the state red for the first time in a generation in 2016.

Mr Dabajeh, who had supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary process, like many of his fellow Arab Americans, said there was originally a lack of support for Mr Biden in the community.

“Did it resonate with a lot of the people here?” said Mr Dabajeh referring to the Biden team’s late campaign efforts in Dearborn. “It resonates with my family especially the ones who aren’t politically involved.”

While Dearborn’s politically active members are mostly rejoicing at the moment, many in the community are just happy the election is over, albeit the results are still being decided.

Qawaha house, a popular Yemeni cafe in Dearborn, Michigan. Willy Lowry / The National
Qawaha house, a popular Yemeni cafe in Dearborn, Michigan. Willy Lowry / The National

“All the anxiety leading up to it...I’m happy, it’s over,” said one woman at a popular Yemeni Cafe.

Ali Saad owns a popular Lebanese Bakery on Dearborn's main commercial stretch. The business owner who is a die-hard Trump supporter spoke to The National in early September about his affinity for the President who he affectionately refers to as "Baba Trump."

“He stands up for us and he helps us a lot. Especially during the coronavirus, he helped with unemployment and all the employers, the big companies. He’s trying to help the people inside the United States,” said Mr Saad at the time.

Today, a much more subdued Mr Saad acknowledged the President had lost Michigan. “Yes, I am sad, but it’s fair, that’s how it goes.”