Arab-Muslim Media Largely Positive About Iraqi Poll

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

( - Media in the Arab-Muslim world reacted mostly positively to Iraq's weekend election, focusing on the higher-than-expected turnout and the courage of voters who braved very real risks to cast their ballots.

A common focus of the coverage was Iraqi voters' "defiance" of terrorists such as al-Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who vowed to disrupt Sunday's voting. Some papers also expressed concern about the future of Iraq's Sunni minority.

In neighboring Shi'ite Iran, the government supported the poll in the expectation that Iraq's Shi'ite majority would take a leading role in future Iraqi governments after years of oppression under the Sunni Ba'athists.

An editorial in the official Tehran Times summed up the upbeat mood with the headline "New dawn in Iraq," while Iran Daily declared: "Millions of Iraqis vote in historic polls."

"After enduring eight decades of dictatorship and crime, the Iraqi nation has taken the first steps on the path toward a bright future and democracy - a new phenomenon in Arab world," wrote Hassan Hanizadeh in Tehran Times, a paper whose editorial columns frequently lash out at the U.S. and Israel.

Media reaction was also largely positive in Sunni Arab countries, where opposition to the war, skepticism about U.S. intentions, and concerns about Iraq's Sunnis have tended to dominate debate.

Arab News, an English-language paper in Saudi Arabia, said that while there were undoubtedly flaws, the poll was better than "no election at all."

A "great number" of Iraqis had had their say, and those who are elected to a national assembly that will form a government and write a constitution would have a mandate from the Iraqi people, it said.

"This is what we have been waiting for - not appointments but an election by and for the people in which the people choose."

Lebanon's Daily Star condemned al-Zarqawi for declaring "war on democracy," saying his call merely distorted the tenets of Islam.

"His agenda appears to be only one of hate and murder with nothing constructive to offer in the aftermath of the wanton destruction and loss of life for which he is responsible," the paper said.

"The new Iraq is born today," declared the Abu Dhabi-based Al-Ittihad daily while the London-based al-Hayat said that "today will leave its mark on Iraqi history." "Voters defy bombs," was the headline in Bahrain's Gulf Daily News.

An editorial in the London-based Saudi paper, Asharq Al-Awsat, called the election "an unprecedented and historic event" which would serve as a lesson to those in neighboring countries about assuming power via the ballot box rather than through uprisings.

Less enthusiastic coverage came from other papers, with the Jordan Times saying the presumed low Sunni turnout was "bound to cast doubt about the credibility and legitimacy of Sunday's elections."

"Election day in Iraq: At least 44 dead; Turnout around 60%" was the al-Bawaba online news service's take on the poll, while the Yemen Times said the elections were "apparently successful."

"We don't want to drown in optimism," said the Qatar daily, al-Sharq. "For we know that the elections in Iraq aim for democracy, but it is not held in such an atmosphere."

Also in the Gulf, Dubai's al-Khaleej opined that the election "will lead to an internal struggle and the breaking up of Iraqi unity in a bid to achieve the goal of the occupation which is aimed at remaining in the country."

Egypt's Nahdat Misr daily wondered whether the poll would be "the start of democracy or the beginning of civil war and chaos."

"Confusion surrounds Iraqi poll turnout," was the headline above the main report on al-Jazeera news website Monday. The Qatar-based network has been banned by the interim government from operating inside Iraq since last August.

In an online poll, 60 percent of some 36,000 respondents said day-to-day life in Iraq would not improve after the election, while 32 percent though that it would.

Al-Jazeera's rival, the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel, gave the election extensive coverage, while also carrying public service announcements encouraging Iraqis to vote.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow