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Iraqi Ex-Pats in Egypt Wonder If Their Votes Will Count


Iraqi expatriates have been encouraged to vote in their country's election. But only 14 countries around the world - including the United States, Canada, Australia, five European countries, and Syria, Turkey, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates - have official registration and polling facilities. Iraqis living in other countries have complained and some have even organized their own, unofficial elections. Hundreds voted in Egypt on Friday in an atmosphere of celebration, although it was unclear whether their votes would ultimately be counted.

Patriotic Iraqi music played in the background at the garden of the Iraqi Embassy in Cairo, where Iraqis living in Egypt sipped refreshments, sat in the sun, and cast their vote, many for the first time in their life.

Mr. Zaim Mohan Al-Khairallah, one of the members of the Volunteer Organization for Elections in Cairo, says Iraqis in Egypt had been told they should go vote in Jordan, where they would have had to spend several days between registering and casting their ballot. Instead, he and a few others decided to organize a ballot in Egypt.

Several hundred of Egypt's 6,000 expatriate Iraqis had registered and voted by mid-afternoon on Friday, with the line leading to the registration desk increasing. Mr. Al-Khairallah was happy with the turnout.

"We have had Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, Christians," he said. "Everyone has come to vote with us, and although all of them know that there is a 90 percent chance that we won't be recognized."

Egypt is not on the list of 14 countries where the International Organization for Migration is organizing the expatriate election on behalf of the Iraqi Interim government. But the Iraqi electoral committee has told Iraqis in Egypt to tally their votes and forward the results to Baghadad. The committee has not yet said whether the votes will be accepted.

The effort to vote from Egypt has encountered several obstacles. An office that had been set up in downtown Cairo to register voters was shut down by Egyptian state security forces last week.

Talib Al Hamdany, a candidate for the Independent Iraqi Front who was passing through Cairo and came to show his support, expressed disappointment at the decision not to include Egypt on the list of eligible countries.

"I don't like it," he said. "I don't know why they did that. Because the money is spent for the election for Iraqi expatriate overseas is a lot of money. They could open many offices, I mean it doesn't cost a lot of money. You could find a lot of volunteers also. They should let Iraqis at least participate in the process."

Other Arab countries that have no polling stations are home to tens of thousands of Iraqis, including Libya and Yemen.

Iraqi voters are choosing from over a hundred parties, each with its own list of candidates. Members of the winning lists will join a 275-member national assembly, whose main task will be to debate and approve a new constitution. Mr. Al Hamdany says Iraq expatriates have a wide range of attitudes toward the elections. Some are enthusiastic, traveling long distances to vote. Others have decided to boycott the elections, saying they are just for show and the winners have been decided already.

Still others, like 20-year-old Manar Ali, who has lived in Egypt for seven years and is studying to be a pharmacist, say even though they think the result of the elections is a foregone conclusion, they want to participate to show their support of the democratic process.

"I think Iyad Allawi will win, because America wants him, and this is how life goes on," he said. "But I voted because I want to tell everyone that we want democracy. Arab people say that Iraqi people are not supporting the election, they don't want the elections. And I'm doing this because I want to tell all the Arab people that we are with the elections."

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