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Celebrating Arab Culture: Annual Weekend Festival to Offer International Food and Display Mideast Jewelry, Clothing, Art and Traditions

posted on: Jun 21, 2008

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More than 300,000 people are expected to converge on Dearborn this weekend for the 13th annual Dearborn Arab International Festival.

The event, considered one of the largest celebrations of Arab culture in the nation, is expected to draw people from throughout Michigan, Canada and even New York, organizers said. A church group from Louisiana is expected to bring about 400 people.

“The Arab culture is a beautiful culture and it’s nice to represent it in a festive way,” said Hebah Alwefalli, director of marketing for the Arab American Chamber of Commerce in Dearborn. “Certain people have a perception on the culture and this is just a fun way to come down and enjoy the weekend. It’s (also) a learning experience at the same time. It’s kind of a snap of the culture within minutes of walking through.”

Dearborn police began blocking off streets Thursday night in preparation for the three-day festival, in the area of Warren between Schaefer and Wyoming. Participants will begin piling in around 1 p.m. today to set up for the festival, which will include 30 international food booths, vendors selling Middle Eastern jewelry, clothing and arts and crafts and a Ferris wheel.

The Arab International Festival started in 1995 as a two-block event to promote business in the area, but it has grown tremendously over the years to encompass a more than half-mile area in Dearborn.

“What I’ve noticed year after year is that it draws a bigger non-Arab crowd,” said Zana Macki, an activist and event organizer. “It gives you a little insight into Arab culture without the stereotypes. It’s a very inviting way to celebrate culture. It’s a very family-oriented (event) and the hospitality you can’t beat.”

Each year, the festival has tried to do something unique. In 2006, organizers tried to break the world record for people participating in the Arab folk dance called the Dabke. This year’s festival will feature a fashion show by designer Samaher Mohammad, whose company, Zaynini Fashion International, will show her 12-piece collection of evening gowns, contemporary traditional garments and other accessories. Her 800-square-foot store is expected to open on Michigan Avenue in July.

Mohammad said she’s excited to show her collection at the festival, saying that it’s a chance to show her wares to the most prominent people around.

“It means the world to me. I’m really excited about the show,” Mohammad said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say 100.”

The Detroit News
Darren A. Nichols