The Iraq Elections: An International Perspective
Around the world, the reactions have been positive overall, even in typically hostile regions. CNN has a compilation of Arab press reports:
Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, based in London, carried an editorial by Adel Drawish calling the elections “An unprecedented and historic event… An Iraqi scene unlike any other in the region… The Iraqi elections will serve as a lesson for neighboring countries to assume power through voting and not overthrowing.”
The paper also carried an editorial by Jaber Habib Jaber with the headline “Under One Eye Lies Fear and Under the Other Lies Hope.”
Al-Hayat newspaper, also based in London, carried an editorial by Ghassan Charbel with the headline “Elections that Go Beyond Iraq.”
“Under Saddam, elections meant nothing for Iraqis… Ballot boxes were used to renew allegiance to the leader… The word ‘no’ didn’t exist in the Iraqi vocabulary. Anyone who dared say it would be wiped out along with their cousins and the entire family tree…”
“It is not an exaggeration to say that today is a decisive day for Iraq and the Iraqis. Despite the Sunni boycott and the continued violence, today will leave its mark on Iraqi history.”
Al-Ittihad newspaper in the United Arab Emirates carried the headline “The New Iraq will be Born Today.”
Al-Dustur newspaper in Jordan had a political cartoon by Jalal al-Rifai that shows an Iraqi man facing a ballot boxes, but with a line of bombs preventing him from approaching the box.
Al-Sharq newspaper in Qatar had a political cartoon by Khamis al-Rashidi showing an Iraqi at a ballot box facing a masked insurgent pointing a gun at him, while a U.S. soldier pointed a gun at his back.
Al-Jazeera TV network was unable to report on the elections from inside the country because the interim Iraqi government banned it from the country. The network focused its coverage on Iraqi expatriates voting around the world. And on Sunday it offered this explanation.
“The Iraqi Interim government has forbidden Al-Jazeera from working in Iraq for the last six months,” anchors said in a line repeated every hour on the hour.
Still, the network had video from news agencies inside Iraq, and pointed to some continuing challenges. “Falluja misses its residents,” said one reporter as video showed empty Falluja streets, “and those who are there say they won’t vote.” A young Fallujan says, “No I won’t vote, Falluja is completely destroyed. We have no power, no running water, no security. There is nothing. What should we vote for?”
In the end, however, even Al Jazeera’s coverage is relatively glowing, as the New York Times explains (via Greg Djerejian):
Far from the almost nightly barrage of blood and tears, Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, the kings of Arab news, barely showed the aftermath of the suicide bombings that occurred in the country.
Instead, the channels opted to report on the attacks in news tickers, and as part of the hourly news broadcasts, keeping their focus on coverage and analysis of the elections themselves. And the broadcasters spared no expense to provide an entire day of coverage from northern to southern Iraq.
“There was a fear that some broadcasters will overdo coverage of violence, but we chose not to play that game,” said Nakhle el-Hage, director of news and current affairs at satellite channel Al Arabiya, which is based in Dubai and is one of the most popular channels in Iraq. “We were expecting violence and when something happened, we put a news flash but then continued our coverage.”
News directors at Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar and has been banned from operating in Iraq since last summer, were also keenly conscious of the risks of overplaying the violence.
Ayman Jaballah, the deputy chief of news at Al Jazeera, said the channel would get news of the attacks from wire services and put them in the ticker, “but they will not take over the show.”
“We will give them their fare share of coverage,” he said, “but we won’t just report violence for the sake of it.”
For many Arabs, the surprisingly strong turnout on election day proved a singular opening, one that made the daily debate on TV screens more nuanced. On Al Jazeera, especially, many Iraqi guests lauded the process even as analysts from other Arab countries and Iraqis tied to the former government of Saddam Hussein decried the election for having occurred under occupation, and for having been centered on sectarian issues.
“Things used to be a negotiation between political parties where you scratch my back and I scratch your back,” noted one commentator, Abas al-Bayati on Al Jazeera. “Now, this new government will approach all the parties as having the backing of the people. It will have legitimacy.” And that legitimacy should allow the government to face down the insurgents, he added.
With the relative lack of violence, many nerves appeared calmed. Iraqis, especially, may have been emboldened by the coverage.
“What was important is that the satellite channels were taking us throughout the region, and also showed everyone how Iraqis outside Iraq were adamant and focused on voting,” said Imad Hmood, editor in chief of Jordan’s Al Ghad newspaper. “That was very important for people, especially Iraqis, to see.”
“In the end the coverage was a success – not perfect, but a success under the conditions,” he said.
See the Telegraph for other observations from the Arab world.
Meanwhile, Agence France Presse covers Europe:
The Vatican said the Iraqi polls were a “sign of its people’s maturity”.
“The Iraqi people has been able to express itself and the international community hopes this day may signify a future of peace,” said Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s secretary of state.
In Europe, which was deeply divided by the Iraq war, national leaders have tried to pull together over the vote, pledging their support for the political process and help in rebuilding the country after the polls.
As voting got under way in Iraq, the European Union’s presidency warned that the expected low turnout of the Sunni Arab minority made it all the more important that they have a say in drafting Iraq’s future constitution.
Speaking on behalf of the EU presidency, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn also described the vote as a first step to Iraq retrieving full sovereignty, and US and other foreign troops leaving its territory.
Belgium’s Foreign Minister Karel Gucht meanwhile offered to send teams of legal experts to help draft the country’s future constitution, also calling for the text to uphold the rights of minority groups.
“Given the circumstances in which this vote is taking place, we should be showing our deep respect towards all the men and women who are risking their lives in order to cast their vote,” added Gucht.
Tony Blair’s Full Text (Scotsman)
I know the war in Iraq deeply divided opinion here and right round the world, but I also know that whatever views people have of how we came to this point, we all of us will want to embrace the birth of IraqÃ¢€™s new democracy.
It may have been the force of arms that removed Saddam and created the circumstances in which Iraqis could vote, but it was the force of freedom that was felt throughout Iraq today.
We know it is only a beginning. We know there are many difficulties that lie ahead, but it was moving and humbling for those of us lucky enough to live in a democracy and take it for granted to see the enthusiasm and the simple determination, the clear sight of courage of millions of Iraqis who came out to vote for the first time in their lives, despite the terrorism despite the threats, despite the dangers.
However, democracy in Iraq is not just good for Iraq itself. It is also a blow right to the heart of the global terrorism that threatens destruction not just in Iraq but in Britain and virtually every major country around the world.
And here’s the United Nations:
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the world must encourage voters in Iraq’s elections, calling Sunday’s balloting ”the first step” toward democracy.
”They know they’re voting for the future of their country. They’re voting for the day when they’re going to take their destiny in hand,” Annan told reporters at an African Union summit in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. ”We must encourage them.”
”It’s the first step in a democratic process,” Annan said of Sunday’s vote, which saw insurgent attacks killing over two dozen in Iraq.
”It’s a beginning, not an end,” Annan said in French, replying to a reporter’s question.
Intriguingly, we hear nothing from the leaders of France and Germany, though their spokesmen put out some statements:
“This is a great victory, if this process succeeds, first and foremost for the Iraqis who together felt sufficiently courageous despite the hardships, despite the violence to go and vote,” said Jean-Francois Cope, spokesman for the French government, which vigorously opposed Bush’s military action.
But like France, Germany, another fierce critic of the invasion, was noticeably more cautious, noting difficulties that lie ahead in ensuring the resultant government is accepted by the bulk of Iraqis, notably the Sunni Arab minority.
“Voter participation … particularly in the Kurdish and Shi’ite areas, is to be viewed as an expression of the firm resolve of the majority of Iraqis to take their country’s future into their own hands,” said Bela Anda, a spokesman for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
Perhaps tomorrow will bring personal proclamations from the president and the chancellor.