In Arab World, Iraqi Vote Draws Mixed Reactions (WASHINGTON POST) By Scott Wilson AMMAN, Jordan 02/01/05 Page A12)
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AMMAN, Jordan, Jan. 31 -- The spectacle of celebration and violence
that marked election day in Iraq brought mixed reactions from an
interested Arab audience Monday, with newspapers and satellite
television channels finding reasons to celebrate and condemn the
country´s first free vote in decades.
For even the most skeptical columnists, the images of dancing Iraqis,
ink-stained index fingers held jubilantly overhead, were powerful
evidence that a suffering nation may have taken a decisive leap
forward. Nonetheless, even the most hopeful among the pundits also
cautioned that a single day, no matter how inspired, did not mean
that Iraq´s determined insurgency or the stark sectarian lines that
divide its people would disappear.
"Was it all worth it -- the elections, the effort, the financial
cost, the human sacrifice?" asked the lead editorial in the Daily
Star, an English-language newspaper published in Beirut. "Ultimately,
it is the Iraqis who have the greatest stake in their country and
not, whatever its economic and strategic interests, the United
States. Thus, if Sunday´s sacrifices are to be judged by history as
warranted, the democratic process -- and whatever it legitimately
brings -- must be taken beyond the first step."
The pictures of Iraqis voting, including tens of thousands of
expatriates casting ballots in countries where elections are not
allowed, appeared to puzzle many Arab governments that had been
predicting a bloodier election day.
The interim Iraqi government announced that one Arab head of state --
Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Nahayan of the United Arab Emirates -- called
Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to congratulate him on the elections. But
many Arab leaders were mute or urged election winners to ensure that
power would be shared fairly among religious and ethnic groups.
Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, said in a statement
that the elections were "an important step toward launching an
effective political process in which all components of the Iraqi
people can participate."
In recent weeks, many newspapers across the Middle East recommended
that voting be delayed until several provinces in northern and
central Iraq, the Sunni Muslim heartland, be wrested from insurgents
determined to thwart the elections. It was possible Monday to detect
a note of unpleasant surprise in those papers, some of them owned by
autocratic governments that the Bush administration has urged to
adopt democratic reforms.
Among the most skeptical media outlets were those in countries led by
Sunni Muslim royal families or military-backed presidents, who have
warned that Iraq´s elections would usher in a Shiite-led government
and perhaps inspire Shiite uprisings across the region.
In Jordan, the newspaper Ad Dustour, owned partly by the government,
used as its banner headline: "Iraq´s Vote Passes with 56 Dead."
Inside, columnist Yasser Zaatra praised Iraq´s Sunnis for opting out
of Sunday´s vote, although many did cast ballots in even the most
"If not for the Arab Sunnis who boycotted the Iraqi election, we
would have nothing left to say but, ´The occupier has won,´ " Zaatra
wrote. "There is no elected government that will tell the
occupier, ´Kindly leave because we want to enjoy our country and its
riches in our own way.´ "
Jordan´s independent Al Ghad newspaper made the Iraqi election
results the second story on its front page, leading instead with news
that King Abdullah and Queen Rania were the proud parents of a new
boy, Prince Hashem.
Abdullah, a Sunni, has warned the Bush administration that a Shiite-
led government in Iraq could destabilize the region.
In an interview Monday with CNN, however, he offered a more
optimistic note. "I think this is a thing that will set a good tone
for the Middle East, and I am optimistic." The king, who recently
announced plans to allow elections for local office, added: "People
are waking up. [Arab] leaders understand that they have to push
reform forward, and I don´t think there is any looking back."
In Egypt, the government of President Hosni Mubarak welcomed the
conclusion of the elections, but with the "hope that this step would
lead to a political process that includes the various sectors of
society," according to a front-page article in the state-run Al-Ahram
newspaper. Mubarak has demanded that Iraq´s Sunnis, who account for
roughly 20 percent of the population, be ensured a share of power.
In Saudi Arabia, now gearing up for its first experiment in free
voting since 1963 with limited local elections, some news media
outlets celebrated the elections and the Iraqis who braved insurgent
attacks to cast ballots.
"This is what we have been waiting for -- not appointments, but an
election by and for the people, in which the people choose," the
English-language Arab News, owned by a Saudi prince, wrote in its
lead editorial. "It is what so many all over the world have died for,
and that should not be forgotten."
The two most prominent Arab satellite television channels, however,
analyzed the elections far differently.
Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, focused mainly on the confusion
surrounding voter turnout, the low Sunni participation and the
violence, frequently airing images from Sunday´s deadly suicide car
bombings. One video clip showed ballots scattered on the ground,
covered in blood. "That is not ink," the reporter intoned.
Al-Arabiya, based in Dubai, chose a more sober approach, showcasing
ebullient Iraqis and employing several analysts who were generally
optimistic in discussing the next steps for Iraq politically. One
report featured an Iraqi woman who gave birth Monday to a girl: She
named the child Intikhabat -- "elections" in Arabic.
But other Arabs found little to celebrate. Salah Rabia, a
gynecologist in Luxor, Egypt, called the elections "a scandal" for
what they may bring to Iraq and the region.
The Shiites "can never rule in Iraq," he said. "It´s unnatural."
Abbas Rabia, a fellow physician and relative, predicted that "there
will be bloodshed."
"The United States is trying to create leaders who will bow to them,"
he said. Correspondent Daniel Williams in Luxor contributed to this
report. (© 2005 The Washington Post Company 02/01/05)
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