Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 February 2005
Issue No. 728
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Arab Press: Voting without Miami

Will Iraq's elections lead to democracy and stability or a further descent into chaos and bloodshed? Rasha Saad sought answers in the week's Arab press

Hailing what it said was an unexpectedly high turnout in the Iraqi elections, the UAE newspaper Al-Ittihad wrote, "the eight million Iraqis who voted on Sunday sent a direct, clear and emphatic message to the world that the Iraqi people have chosen their path despite all the problems and hardships they are facing... Iraqi voters turned the day of elections into a wedding party of democracy." The paper said the message was directed particularly at "terrorists outside of Iraq, the remnants of Saddam's regime and to all those who doubted in Iraq's ability and readiness to take control of its destiny."

Equally optimistic came the Jordanian Ad- Dostour 's editorial which also described the turnout as "exceeding expectations" especially amidst security and political anarchy. The paper wrote that reading the significance of the turnout basically depended on the way one looks at the Iraqi scene. "If you consider only national loyalty then you will see that more than 70 per cent of voters exercised their right to vote. However, if the view takes in sectarian groupings or geographical divisions you face a very complicated situation and a future open to all options starting from civil war and partition," the paper wrote.

Abdel-Bari Atwan, outspoken editor-in- chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi believed that the high turnout in some parts of Iraq meant that the Iraqi people, like other Arab people suppressed by their dictators, were seeking democracy. But that did not mean the elections were genuine or that the outcome will pull the country out of its crisis or help move it towards democracy.

"What democracy does President Bush expect while voters do not know the names of the candidates or their platforms? And what democracy are international observers monitoring in the Jordanian capital Amman which is 2,000 kilometres away from Baghdad?" Atwan asked.

Atwan also believed that the Sunni boycott of the elections should not be taken lightly and makes democracy a far-off target. "Iraqi democracy, designed by the US, excluded an Iraqi sect (the Sunnis) and sentenced it to political death. Thus, democracy is not at all complete. Imagine elections in the US with places like New York, Miami and California excluded. Would the elections be considered legitimate?"

Concerning the same fears, the Qatari Al- Sharq wrote that the smile put on the faces of Iraqi voters signifies their hope that the elections will bring to the fore new institutions that will put an end to the crisis they are facing. However, the paper had doubts about the possibility of such a scenario. According to the paper, this is not the first time the US promises Iraqis a bright future. "All what the diary of the ordinary Iraqi contains is killings, blood and bombings. So where does this talk about a shining future originate from when the process of counting the votes in Baghdad and Basra was conducted under candlelight as a result of a power blackout."

The paper also suspected that the officials who will win the elections will be unable to deal with the crisis in Iraq since they were not even able to appear to the Iraqi voter.

Focussing on the boycott of Iraqi factions, including the Sunnis, Abdul-Wahab Badrakhan wrote that while he understood their argument, he did not approve of their decision. In the London-based Al-Hayat Badrakhan wrote, "those who boycott are always right; however, they are always the losers." He argued that while the boycott was the problem of one particular sect, all Iraqis should be concerned. The solution is not to ignore. The elections, Badrakhan added, would have been better had they been meant to happen in an environment of national reconciliation. Those who want to invest their upcoming victory are responsible for winning back the boycotters instead of distancing themselves and excluding them. "This nation will rise only with its entire citizens. No one should forget that the presence of everyone, not some, was what made Iraq an important country," Badrakhan wrote.

Badrakhan also pointed out that the most important thing was that the elections should not be the "last" in the life of Iraq and the Iraqis. If the vote did not succeed in changing their beliefs about themselves and about their country, if it did not create a transition from chaos into a state of national coherence, if it did not stop the opportunists and force them to act responsibly, it will certainly be the "last".

Also in Al-Hayat, Hazem Saghieh said that elections, and even politics in its modern sense, emerged with colonialism and occupation. He cited elections in Germany under three occupations, the American, British and French in 1949, elections held in Japan in 1946 under American occupation, and a poll held in Italy in 1946 under US occupation as classical examples. The elections in any of the above-mentioned countries, Saghieh said, were not entirely flawless.

For Saghieh the biggest question was not related to the elections but concerned sovereignty. The question was whether it was possible to balance the two and whether it was possible to have both at the same time, meaning taking from imperialism the best it has to offer without having to come under its authority. How can this be attained politically and practically? asked Saghieh.

"Making the elections an obstacle is more than an elementary mistake," wrote Saghieh. He said that the logic of those who uphold this view is a rejection of the principle of learning and a total rejection of the concept of progress while insisting on keeping the country in a state of anarchy. "Such anarchy might lead to tyranny as an excuse to control the chaos, while others would rather have chaos without any control," he wrote.

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