The Arab International Festival will once again happen in Dearborn this June–but approval of the event didn’t come without a fight.
City Council on Tuesday gave approval for the festival to take place June 15-17 along Warren Avenue, conditional upon the signing of an agreement that the city will take a backseat to Wayne County in terms of providing police support for the event.
In May 2011, the city told the –which organizes the event–that they would have to .
Festival organizers were able to provide their own clean-up, while the Wayne County Sherriff’s Office provided security, and .
But at a meeting held April 19, the chamber and the city butted heads once again over police presence, and the location of the festival.
Mayor Jack O’Reilly asked that they consider a closed site, such as , which would protect the city from a situation similar to the 2009 festival, where a Christian evangelist was kicked out. The man, Sudanese Christian Pastor George Saieg, later sued the city for violating his free speech rights by not allowing him to speak on public sidewalks and won.
If the festival was held at a closed site, organizers could preclude anyone but festival attendees from entering.
“Dearborn fully supports the festival,” O’Reilly said. “It’s the location that is the issue.”
Festival organizers said a location switch would defeat the purpose of the event, which–beyond celebrating the Arab community–is spurring interest in local businesses along Warren Avenue.
“An alternative site is not possible,” said chamber Chairman Ahmad Chebbani. “The intention of the festival is to promote economic growth to the area, and we want to stick to those objectives.”
“It’s possible,” O’Reilly retorted. “You just choose not to do it.”
Regardless of the disagreement over the site location, it was decided that if the county would indemnify the city, thus taking full responsibility for primary security at the event, that the city would approve it.
“In an open site, things can get out of hand,” said Councilman David Bazzy. “It’s not right for the city to bear the brunt of that risk. But if the county is willing to indemnify the city, then I think we have no issues.”
Last year, things did get out of hand when festival attendees and anti-Muslim protesters clashed. as Wayne County and Detroit police attempted to control the situation.
The county has verbally agreed to serve as the first tier of protection at the festival, as they did last year. The Wayne County Sherriff’s Department, the American Arab Chamber and the city must now sign official paperwork stating the same. The Dearborn Police Department will not have officers inside the festival unless the county calls them in as backup.
Chamber representatives said they were comfortable with that arrangement, and were vehement that the festival should continue, regardless of the presence of anti-Muslim or anti-Arab protesters that have shown up in recent years.
“This is an essential community event,” said chamber board member Ali Dagher. “We’re not going to cower to extremists.”