The festival that has become a staple in the tight-knit Orange County Arabic community for nearly 20 years has become a place of protest outside the event gates but inside, the party goes on.
By day, families play games, take their children on rides and peruse aisles of Middle Eastern cuisine and hookah tents at the Arab American Day Festival in Garden Grove. When night falls, music will overwhelm the venue on Main Street, a dance party will ensue and, according to some, the protests will begin.
Friday night drew heated controversy outside the gates between festival-goers and a group carrying signs disparaging the prophet Muhammad and passing out Bibles. Police said no arrests were made Friday and about 30 officers were at the festival on Saturday, the night expected to draw the largest crowds.
Festival organizer and founder Ahmad Alam said the protesters stood with a microphone and signs yelling anti-Islamic sayings. One of the signs reportedly used a phrase from the anti-Muslim movie that has sparked riots at U.S. embassies across the world and resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and several others.
But Alam said this is nothing he hasn’t seen before. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Alam said the festival has seen its share of anti-Muslim groups outside their festival. “Our people are used to this,” he said.