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Arab Media Praise Iraqi Voters, Doubt Whether Democracy Will Spread
By Greg LaMotte
VOA, Cairo
31 January 2005

An Iraqi election officer empties a ballot box at a counting center in Amman, Jordan
Many Arab media outlets praised the national elections in Iraq as having been a success for the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqis defied the threat of terrorism to cast ballots in the first free elections held in the country in a half-century. However, there are differing opinions about whether the elections will lead to the spread of democracy in other Arab states.

The London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat ran a headline saying "Iraqis Challenge Suicide Attackers and Vote." The Arab satellite television station al-Arabyia suggested the elections provided a morale victory for the interim government in Iraq.

However, while praising the courage of the Iraqi people, many Arab commentators Monday suggested the elections would do little to help spread democracy throughout the region because the elections were held under the occupation of foreign forces.

The head of the political science department at Lebanese American University in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, says he disagrees. He says the larger-than-expected voter turnout does provide an encouraging sign for real democracy in Iraq.

"I think people were surprised by how many Iraqis did vote," said Mr. Baroudi. "If you look at the headlines in the Lebanese papers today, there was extensive coverage of the election. And, even papers that are leftist or anti-American would have to admit that, in a way, this was a success for the United States that such elections took place and that there is now the possibility of democracy emerging in Iraq."

Mr. Baroudi says he believes citizens throughout the Arab world will now begin to wonder about democratic reform in their own countries, especially because successful elections have been held in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Iraq, where a state of emergency exists and coalition forces remain in place.

However, Mr. Baroudi says it will be imperative for the new government in Iraq to regain control of the security situation, for meaningful political change to occur elsewhere in the Arab world

The head of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan, Uraib el-Rantawi, says he agrees.

"If Iraq is still in chaos and violence, divided and if clashes between the components of the Iraqi people remain, if the division between those components deepens, I think this will be a very bad signal for democracy in the whole Middle East," Mr. el-Rantawi said. "But, having democracy together with prosperity in Iraq, I think it will give a very, very, very encouraging example for most of the Middle Eastern countries. And, it will encourage and launch the democratization process from within, from within these societies, the Arab societies together with Western support needed in such a process."

Both analysts say that, regardless of what happens in the future, Iraqi voters spoke with a clear and unified voice against terrorism. And, although neither analyst believes violence will end anytime soon in Iraq, they agree the elections appear to have given the new Iraqi government a mandate to put an end to the escalating insurgency in Iraq.