Arab Americans enter the 2004 election cycle prepared, as never before, to make a difference. The community is now engaged on almost every level of the political process and is ready to reap the benefits of more than 20 years of political growth.

The early focus will, of course, be on the Democratic primaries, which are due to begin in less than two weeks. The first contest will be in Iowa where Arab Americans have been mobilizing for the past six months. The Arab American Institute (AAI) organizer in Iowa has conducted training sessions and what have been called "Yalla Vote" voter registration events in locations across the state. Arab Americans have also been visible in the last several months at candidate campaign events carrying signs calling for "Justice in Palestine" and "Civil Rights for Arab Americans" and asking tough questions of all the presidential aspirants.

Already three of the Democratic candidates have attended community events in Iowa seeking Arab American support. And two days before Iowans vote, AAI will host a major "Get Out the Vote" event at Cedar Rapids, Iowa's historic mosque.

After Iowa, Arab American attention will shift to Michigan where a major mobilization effort is well underway. AAI's October National Leadership Conference, held in Michigan, represented a kick-off to the community's election efforts, bringing eight of the nine Democratic presidential candidates before the Arab American community. With the Arab American vote clearly a factor in Michigan elections, three of the campaigns have hired Arab American staff to seek out community support. In addition, Arab American committees have been formed on behalf of a number of the leading Democratic candidates and a substantial "Get out the Vote" effort is underway in order to create a sizeable turnout on primary election day in early February.

In several other states, and in every campaign, Arab Americans are playing key roles in this election. Most of the leading Democrats have hired or appointed Arab Americans in major roles and most states have Arab Americans already slated to run for delegate positions to the National Democratic Convention. In at least three states, Arab Americans are serving in key party positions that enable them to play a role in the delegate selection process.

In more than ten states, where the political process allows issues to be raised, Arab American delegates will bring forth resolutions on Palestinian rights, a call for justice and peace in Iraq and a condemnation of civil liberties violations of Arab and Muslim immigrants. These resolutions have already won broad support and so should be passed at the local and state levels. But Arab Americans will make an effort to continue to challenge both parties and the candidates to ensure that these issues are debated and acted upon in the national policy discussion as well.

But this is only the beginning and represents just a part of the community's engagement in 2004. On the Republican side, for example, Arab Americans are also gearing up. Since President George W. Bush faces no challenge for his party's nomination, Republican Party outreach efforts are not yet in full swing. Nevertheless, the Bush/Cheney Campaign has established an Arab American outreach desk and has initiated the formation of a national Arab American support committee. While Arab American Republicans know they will face challenges in 2004, given the frustration that exists among some of those who supported Bush in 2000, they indicate a resolve to make a serious effort to bring Arab Americans into the Republican campaign.

The important fact is that Arab Americans will be involved in both parties' presidential campaigns and will be engaged in fulfilling the dual task of both supporting their party's nominee while challenging them to be responsive to Arab American community concerns.

Because the 2004 election will, in all probability, be as close as that of 2000, every vote will count and both parties will be seeking the support of organized political constituencies. That means that, by the time we get to the Fall, Arab American voters can expect to be courted by both Republicans and Democrats, especially in key battleground states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

But that's not all. Arab Americans are already raising money and becoming organized in several communities on behalf of congressional and Senate candidates, especially those who have been responsive to the community's concerns. And in addition to the sitting Arab American members of Congress who are running for re-election, it appears that two qualified Arab Americans will be running for a U.S. Senate seat in the state of Louisiana.

Regardless of the outcome, Arab Americans are clearly the winners in 2004. In a short 20-year period, the community has grown in size, organization and recognition. It has become a key participant in the electoral process. The community has overcome the painful exclusion of the 1980s when candidates returned contributions and endorsements. Today they are actively being sought out and courted for their support.

This didn't come easily. It required hard work, and the hard work never ends. Every new election brings new challenges: more voters to register and mobilize, new issues to confront, new candidates who need to be introduced to Americans of Arab descent and new threats from those who still seek to turn back the clock and lock out Arab Americans and their concerns from the electoral process.

But this year Arab Americans are better prepared to meet these challenges and the proof is there for all to see.