After a long time on the outside of American life, more than three million Arab-Americans appear to be coming in from the cold
In a sign of their growing political power, Vice President Al Gore made a special visit recently to meet Arab community leaders in the city of Dearborn, Michigan, an area dubbed "the Arab capital of America" because of the large number of Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis and Yemenis who live there.
Gore was urged by community leaders to lift sanctions against Iraq, support Palestinian statehood, and disband the controversial US 'airline profiling' measures, which allow for the search and removal from an aircraft of individuals the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) believes may fit the profile of a terrorist.
Imam Husein Qawzini, one of 25 community leaders who met with the vice president said he had encouraged him to increase the numbers of Arabs working in the US adminstration.
"Definitely we would like to affect US foreign policy, especially over issues concerning the Arab-Israeli situation," Qawzini said. "We view the current stand by the American administration as leaning towards Jewish and Israeli interests."
Politicians now eagerly seek the votes of the more than three million Arab-Americans, but it was not too long ago that political endorsements from Arab organisations were viewed as a liability and shunned because of the power of the traditional pro-Israeli lobby.
In 1984, former vice president Walter Mondale, who was running for the presidency, returned donations made to his campaign by Arab-Americans. Four years later, in 1988, another presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, told a group of ArabAmericans that he did not, under any circumstances, want their endorsement. It was because of such slights that Suzanne Sareini, the first Arab-American elected a city councillor in Dearborn, first became politically active.
"I began in politics during the time Mondale returned the cheque from Arab supporters," says Sareini, who was born in United States, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants.
Today there are dozens of Arab-American city councillors, mayors, and congressmen all across the United States. John Sununu, former president George Bush's White House chief of staff is Arab-American, as is Donna Shalala, the current secretary of health and the first Arab appointed to a US Cabinet post.
"There have been many Arab success stories in America," confirms Ahmad Shebbani, the editor of Arab community magazine, Arabica...