Photo: (L-R) Zade Alsawah, Nirmeen Fahmy and Zaineb Hussein.
DEARBORN — It’s no secret that Arab and Muslim Americans have not rallied behind Hillary Clinton with the same enthusiasm as other presidential candidates.
In fact, Arab Americans were credited with tilting the scales in Senator Bernie Sanders’ favor during the state’s primary election in March, when he surprisingly claimed a victory here.
But now, the Clinton campaign is focused on assembling an Arab American movement for the Democratic candidate just months ahead of the general election, when she squares off against Republican nominee Donald Trump.
In recent months, Clinton’s Michigan campaign has staffed Arab American leaders in prominent positions to assist with community outreach.
“The bottom line is, she’s the most qualified and the most experienced,” said Zaineb Hussein, who was recently named deputy political director for Clinton’s campaign in Michigan. “We are facing a lot of bigotry and fear mongering and we’ve experienced it more than ever before. We need to stand by the person who is with the community. She’s made it a priority to come to Dearborn and made sure that our voices and concerns are being heard.”
A familiar community activist, Hussein took a three-month leave of absence from her position with Wayne County Executive Warren Evans’ Corporation Council division to work for Clinton’s campaign.
She also served as the director of Constituent Services for State Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) in Lansing.
Hussein told The AANews that Clinton should be recognized for extending a branch to the Muslim and Arab communities, as she’s routinely combated Trump’s Islamophobic rants with a message of unity and equality.
Just last month, Clinton sent a personal message to the family of Khalid Jabara, the 37-year-old Lebanese-Christian man in Tulsa who was murdered by his racist neighbor.
“An attack like this is an attack on all of us,” Clinton’s message said. “We must come together to ensure no other family loses a beloved son or daughter because of prejudice and bigotry.”
Trump, who is often cited as the source of a surge of hate-fueled crimes targeting Muslim and Arab Americans, didn’t even mention Jabara’s slaying after it garnered national media attention.
Locally, Trump has made no attempts to involve the Arab and Muslim communities in his campaign, despite several visits to the Metro Detroit region during his presidential run.
“We have a seat at Clinton’s table,” Hussein said. “At the end of the day, that’s what’s important. Trump has come out several times attacking the community. Enough is enough.”
While Clinton has garnered massive support from other minority groups, such as the African American community, it appears some Arab and Muslim Americans are still reluctant to back her.
Clinton’s struggle with mainstream voters centers around her e-mail scandal, but Arabs and Muslims have their own bone to pick with her.
Clinton’s foreign policy stance, particularly her position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has left many Arab voters with a sour taste. She’s often viewed as having given Palestine “a cold shoulder” while working closely with Israeli officials during her tenure as Secretary of State. She’s also perceived to have a less than friendly relationship with Iran.
Sen. Sanders was met with a devout and loyal Arab and Muslim following when he frequently recognized the Palestinian struggle and later doubled down on his stance when he skipped out on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Clinton attended that event and gave a speech that was highly praised by Israeli supporters.
But Clinton’s Michigan campaign said they have orchestrated an outreach effort to woo Sanders’ supporters over to Clinton’s side. Whether it’s working or not still remains to be seen.
Last week, former Detroiter Keith Ellison, a U.S. representative from Minnesota and the nation’s first Muslim congressman, returned to the Metro Detroit region. An outspoken Sanders’ supporter, Ellison gave a speech at the Arab American National Museum, urging community leaders to back Clinton. He also held a meeting with local imams.
“We want to engage the Bernie Sanders voters and get them involved,” Hussein said of Ellison’s visit. “We are doing everything in our power to get that done. Keith Ellison came here and he did a phenomenal job. He met with religious leaders and it was a great opportunity to engage the community. We’ve gotten a lot of great positive feedback.”
Hussein is not the only Arab American on Clinton’s Michigan campaign.
Zade Alsawah was recently named the regional press secretary for the campaign. He’s worked in conjunction with various media outlets to get Clinton’s message out to the masses. Alsawah is familiar to the community as Sen. Gary Peters’ deputy press secretary. He took a leave of absence from that position to join the Clinton campaign.
Also on board is Nirmeen Fahmy, who was named press assistant. Prior to this position, Fahmy was doing brand management in the retail field in Washington D.C.
Alsawah told The AANews that Clinton has had a history of close ties with Muslim Americans, citing a handful of Muslim delegates who attended the DNC on her behalf, as well as her vice chairwoman, Huma Abedin.
Last month, Abedin also visited Dearborn and met with community leaders to increase support for Clinton.
“Arab and Muslim Americans want someone who is going to respect them,” Alsawah said. “Someone who represents them and actually engages with them. Hillary Clinton has always been someone who’s been willing to do that. You saw the Khan family at the DNC. Even her vice chairwoman is a proud Muslim.”
Fahmy added that now that the campaign is reaching the home stretch, Clinton will take more opportunities in the coming weeks to reach out to voters.
Clinton has her eyes set on returning to Michigan, as well as continuing to send representatives closely affiliated with her campaign to rally the Metro Detroit region. Former President Bill Clinton made a visit to Detroit this week and attended the annual UAW Labor Day picnic.
Mitchell Rivard, the Michigan communications director of Hillary for America, said Clinton’s campaign has formed an inclusive team in Michigan to accurately represent its constituents.
“We’ve built a great diverse team in Michigan,” Rivard said. “We are all just working around the clock to make sure we elect Hillary Clinton on November 8 and getting as many people involved in this campaign. We have a campaign based on ideas and solutions. It’s not based on insults, like our opponent.”
Hillary for America recently opened an office in Dearborn at 23400 Michigan Ave., Ste. 111. Voters are urged to visit the office if they want to contribute to the campaign, volunteer or learn more about Clinton’s candidacy.
“We want to make sure everyone has a piece of this campaign and is involved,” Rivard said. “Find an hour a week, or couple hours a week to volunteer. We can always find ways to reach more voters and know that Hillary is the best vote for this election.”