The navy blue Porsche, casual clothes and sparkling eyes of Fady Chamoun scream: "American Dream." He came from Lebanon in 1972 to study engineering at the University of Michigan and stayed after the outbreak of civil war in 1975 in his homeland. He wouldn't trade the life he's built in Cleveland for anything.
Over the years, some 160 of his family members have arrived on the shores of the Great Lakes, working with him to build a regional empire of 75 restaurants. After becoming a citizen in 1979, Chamoun has regularly voted for Republican candidates, with the only exception for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. He won't be voting Clinton again. "I have confidence in Donald Trump," he says. "He is a businessman, I see what he built, it's what we need. Someone who takes care of the national debt, the deficit, and of immigration. We cannot leave the Democrats to turn us into a socialist country. I want to stay capitalist."
Dr. Fadi Bashour came from Syria in 1989 to complete his residency in gastroenterology in Cleveland, one of hundreds of doctors who arrived at the time from the Middle East, becoming a second family to each other here, where Arab immigration began to revolutionize the medical industry. Rising to an executive position at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, he has never voted in political elections. "It was not in my Syrian habits," he confesses. Until today. "I am 100% for Trump. I believe we have a corrupt government. Clinton's blindness disgusts me. Even though I think Trump is pathologically egocentric, he is a better option than her."
Without knowing it, Chamoun and Bashour have nearly the same words to describe their attachment to their adopted country. "I love American civility," says the former. Bashour adds: "What makes America beautiful is the equal treatment that everyone is entitled to, regardless of their origins or beliefs." They also appreciate the system of checks and balances that limits the power of the leader, even if they are curious to see how a Trump presidency would "shake up" the status quo.
One Syrian-born colleague and friend of Dr. Bashour, Dr. Nizar Zein is a leading expert in hepatology. Since his arrival in 1988, he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans. Donald Trump is not his cup of tea. "I watched all the debates, I read his book. For me, Trump is a racist, he is only worried about himself and his owns interests. His position on immigration is "terrifying," he said, noting in particular the calls for a ban on Muslims coming in to the country.
What he says is meaningless
After the attacks in San Bernardino, Orlando, and New York, all carried out by Muslim-Americans of Pakistani and Afghan origin, Trump also expressed support for police profiling in some communities. This rhetoric does not make him popular with Muslims, nor among the small Arab-American minorities. The former are estimated to total 3.3 million, the latter – Christians and Muslims – at around 2 million. Their concentration in certain key "swing states" gives Arab-Americans a significant voting influence, notably in Ohio and Michigan.
Zahid al-Siddiqi, the president of the Cleveland Islamic Center, with golden domes and minarets pointing up towards the city sky, says that, Trump is not popular among his followers, "but does not scare them."
Some 80 incidents targeting mosques since the San Bernardino killing at the end of 2015 have been recorded in the region. "The choice of Clinton is essential for immigrants," Siddiqi adds. "Sometimes without enthusiasm." According to polls, the Democrat will get 72% of the Muslim vote and 60% of the Arab-American vote. Their concerns tend to be less about fears of racial profiling and more about employment and the economy, just like the rest of the population.
Cleveland's Syrians have become so American that they can even debate the welcoming of Syrian refugees. "I am absolutely against it," said Bashour. "If one of them commits an attack, our reputation will be completely ruined." Zein disagrees, saying, "The human issue must take precedence over our concerns. We will see if it happens." But they agree to submit to rigorous control — both Trump and Clinton agree on that.