Bobby Ghosh

To disprove the charge that Detroit is in terminal decline, Nafa Khalaf offers himself as Exhibit A. In 1999, when he co-founded his business, which builds water systems and other public works, “people were saying the city was dying,” Khalaf recalls. But since then, his firm, Detroit Contracting, has thrived and expanded. “You want to know if Detroit has a future? Ask us Arabs,” Khalaf says. “We believe in this place.”

Khalaf speaks for a community that is growing and prospering alongside Detroit’s decay, one of the largest concentrations of Arabs outside the Middle East. The four-county region of southeastern Michigan has a population of at least 200,000 of Middle Eastern origin; some estimates put that number far higher. In Dearborn, home to Ford Motor Co., one-third of the citizens have Middle Eastern ancestry — including Rima Fakih, the first Miss USA of Arab descent. [Read more…]