With the first free elections to be held in Iraq in less than a week, voter registration centers around the Middle East are filling up with Iraqi exiles who are hoping to help shape a democratic future for their homeland. Tuesday is the deadline for the exiles to register to vote for a new national assembly in Iraq. Iraqi exiles living in Egypt say they are eager for their voices to finally be heard.
In downtown Cairo, Iraqi exiles have been lining up each day at a voter registration center with but one hope - to change the future of their homeland. Early Monday morning, Saad Handoun, one of the thousands of Iraqi exiles living in Egypt, anxiously waited for the doors at the registration center to open.
Ms. Handoun, who fled Iraq when Saddam Hussein came to power 35 years ago, says it is very important to vote. She says Iraqis had no one to represent their needs and concerns because they lived under a dictatorship. She says, now there is democracy in Iraq and it is her duty to vote.
Ahmed al-Badri left Iraq 20 years ago. He says he would like to return, but the security situation there is too dangerous. He says voting is the only way Iraq will ever achieve peace and stability.
"I think the election is something important for us. And, we are looking for democracy. And, we have to share in this election," said Mr. al-Badri.
Many waiting to register in Cairo admitted they knew very little about who the candidates are or the political parties they represent. But, they said they feel it is a duty to their country to participate in the voting process in order to help Iraq achieve democracy.
Over the past several months, insurgents in Iraq have engaged in escalating acts of terror and violence aimed at disrupting the national elections. Sunday, an audiotape, purportedly containing the voice of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted militant in Iraq, said everyone who participated in the election would be considered infidels and therefore could become potential targets.
But, Iraqi exile Fareh Ibrahim says despite the threat of violence against voters, she is urging all Iraqis to participate because, she says, it is the only way to defeat the terrorists.
Ms. Ibrahim says Iraq is her country and she wants her country to settle down. She says she wants democracy in Iraq because without it, she says her country will become lost in terrorism.
Officials at the Iraqi embassy in Cairo say that while exact figures are not available, they estimate well over 3,000 Iraqi exiles are currently living in Egypt. Officials say as many half have registered to vote.
It is believed four-to-five million Iraqis fled their homeland during reign of former leader Saddam Hussein. In response, the interim government in Iraq has set up voter registration centers in an number of countries around the world. According to officials at the 22-member Arab League, it is believed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi exiles living in the Middle East have registered to vote.
Tuesday is the registration deadline.