January 30, 2005


The exhilaration of democracy after years of exile (SALAH NASRAWI, 1/30/05, The Scotsman)

WE DIDN’T look much alike, those of us milling around the school courtyard and lining up to vote: elderly men in traditional Arab gowns, young men in vinyl ski jackets and women in bright, flowing robes or beneath long, black abayas.

Clearly we were a mix - Shiites, Sunnis, Christians; Kurds, Arabs - but we were all Iraqis and all willing to ignore boycott calls and intimidation to have a say in our future and maybe one day live in the free, democratic, federal and united Iraq touted in election posters.

It was exhilarating, and it was why I travelled to Amman in Jordan from my home in exile in Egypt, which was not among the countries where Iraqi expatriates could vote. As I stood in line, I recalled scenes from South Africa in 1994, when blacks, whites and South Africans of mixed race lined up to participate in the election marking apartheid’s demise.

Some of the people around me must have, like me, fled Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. Others fled the insurgency Saddam’s diehard loyalists and other terrorists are bent on pursuing. For all of us, the vote is remarkable: we survived Saddam’s brutality and also are deciding our future, regardless of when or why we left our homeland.

They Drove 22 Hours for a Defining Moment: A caravan of expatriates travels from Seattle to Irvine to vote. 'I feel very fortunate,' one says. (Maria L. La Ganga, January 30, 2005, LA Times)

The waning moon hangs low above the modest mosque as the members of the caravan make their final preparations. Marwa Sadik, 19, watches her mother attach an Iraqi flag to the family's red minivan and steps in to help the older woman explain the passion that fuels the grueling trip ahead.

They will travel nearly 1,200 miles this day through fog and rain, wind and hail, in a 13-van convoy that stretches like an out-of-control slinky moving down Interstate 5 through three states.

It is 6:55 a.m. Friday, and they are heading off to participate in Iraq's first free election in more than 50 years. But the only polling place in the western United States is at the officers' club at the former El Toro Marine Base in Irvine.

Their exercise in prayer, pain and perseverance, somber and celebratory in equal measure, will eventually take the group nearly 22 hours, one way. But it is a trip they make gratefully, fully aware of the much more severe voting hardships in their homeland.

"Last month they kidnapped my uncle from his house in Baghdad," Sadik says about the insurgents, her breath a white plume in the inky morning. "He escaped from them. He is safe, but he's still worried. He can't go out. He can't work. He's depressed. He has four kids. The situation is really bad.

"But he's going to vote," says Sadik, whose family came from Baghdad via Syria to Seattle three years ago because her mother wanted the children to have an education, medicines, a future. "He's really excited to vote, so he can live safe with his children. Especially now, after what happened to him. He really wants a better life."

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 30, 2005 6:18 AM

Kind of puts the Democrats' whining about "voter suppression" in perspective, doesn't it?

Posted by: AC at January 30, 2005 9:25 AM