CAIRO: People across the Middle East voiced cautious optimism over Iraq's elections yesterday, saying that they send a strong message that insurgents have failed to scuttle the polls, but also expressing concern that the chaos would not allow for truly representative elections.
The United States hoped the polls would set an example for people across the Middle East, bringing democracy to a region with little experience of free and fair elections. The Abu Dhabi-based daily Al-Ittihad was jubilant, declaring "A new Iraq is born today" on its front page.
Other newspapers were more guarded, concerned about the ongoing chaos and violence in the country. "We don't want to drown in optimism," Qatar daily Al-Sharq said. "For we know that the elections in Iraq aim for democracy, but it is not held in an ideal atmosphere."
Iraqis casting absentee ballots in nearby countries said the vote showed the Iraqi people would not let the insurgents dominate the country. "This is a loud and clear message that Iraqis inside and outside are united in defeating terrorism," said Mansour Ibrahim, as he entered a polling station in the upscale Suwfiya neighborhood in Amman, Jordan.
The Arab News in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia called the vote "a very historic moment in the country's long history," and said it was "a much needed victory for moderation."
In neighboring Iran, Houshang Darab, a textile broker, said Iraq should be left alone to decide its future without any intervention from the United States or Iran. "A secular, democratic government (in Iraq) is the best choice, since it would not have any excuse for war," he said, recalling the devastating fighting that raged between the two countries from 1980 to 1988.
The United States and Arab countries are already nervous at the growing power of Iraq's Shiite majority and are watching the vote to see how an emboldened Shiite population across Iraq and Iran will influence the balance of power in the region. The Sunni-dominated government of Syria was also keenly watching developments in its neighbor.
One Syrian analyst warned that the security situation could worsen if some ethnicities were underrepresented in the 275-member National Assembly. "These elections do not represent all Iraqi sects, which means that the security situation will not settle down any time soon, and could cause instability in the rest of the region," said Imad Shouebi.