Sunday, February 6, 2005
What did the Palestinians and Iraqis vote for?
On January 9, Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas president of the Palestinian Authority and, on January 30, Iraqis went to the polls to elect a National Assembly. These two elections have been hailed as triumphant steps towards democracy in the Arab world, a vindication of President George W Bush's campaign for the 'forward march of freedom'.
What is the reality behind these elections? What did Palestinians and Iraqis actually vote for?
In both cases, the elections took place under foreign occupation. This inevitably meant that they were neither totally fair nor wholly legitimate. In Iraq, in particular, there were few polling stations or foreign observers. Many Iraqis were afraid that they would not get their monthly food rations if they did not vote. Some said that, in order to collect their rations, they had to sign the voter registration forms.
Nevertheless, those Palestinians and Iraqis who decided to cast their vote, and those who were able to get to the polling stations in spite of the difficulties and dangers, did so for one overriding reason: to get rid of the foreign occupiers.
In both societies, therefore, the elections were a vote for normality, for sanity, for an end to the traumas of war and occupation, for a way out of the economic and social crisis. This is what Palestinians and Iraqis voted for, rather than for some American-style 'democracy' which, in the dreadful conditions they continue to endure, is more or less meaningless.