Iraqi Voting Effect on the Middle East

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Jan. 30, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

BRIT HUME: So, what effect will this vote in Iraq have on the wider Mid dle East? And what needs to be done for the next steps in the process in Iraq to work?

Well, who better to ask than a man who has devoted much of his career as special adviser to two presidents, to Middle East diplomacy, Dennis Ross. He is author, most recently, of "The Missing Peace: The In side Story of The Fight for Middle East Peace." He is also a FOX News contributor.

Dennis, welcome.


HUME: First of all, how has — what is the reaction in the halls and corridors and the palaces across the Middle East and elsewhere, where less than democratic elected leaders reign?

ROSS: Let’s put it this way, I think they’re able to restrain their enthusiasm. The message for them is you know how long will we be able to continue to hold out and not begin to create mechanisms for our own publics to express themselves?

HUME: And what about there own publics?

ROSS: Well, their publics are watching this. And the interesting thing is the question they’re going to ask is well, why is it OK for the Iraqis, why was it OK for the Palestinians? And it is not OK for us?

Now the fact that, in the case of the Palestinians and the Iraqis there is the image that they’re both under occupation, even adds to the irony. They’re under occupation? We’re not under occupation, but we can’t vote. So, I think that in fact you are going to see a very interesting dynamic here where the reformers, throughout the Middle East, who are increasingly finding their voice are going to become even stronger in terms of what they have to say.

HUME: And one would presume that the Afghan example adds further to this equation, correct?

ROSS: No, doubt. There is an interesting consistency here. Well, they were liberated, Iraq is liberated, the Palestinians haven’t been liberated, but on the other hand they were allowed to vote.

HUME: Well, in a sense they were liberated.

ROSS: They were liberated from Yasser Arafat.

HUME: Right. By his passing.

ROSS: That’s right.

HUME: So, is this likely to make an early difference in a place like Egypt or Saudi Arabia? Or is this just some further, long-term trend that we will watch over many year’s time?

ROSS: I think it is — in an interesting way it is probably both. On the one hand, again, watch for the reformers to find their voice and to become I think a good deal stronger in terms of demands they’re making for opening up of these systems. It will be a long-term process, it is not going to be immediate. One shouldn’t have any illusions.

But the fact is once you begin this process it is not so easy to put the genie back in the bottle. And I think right now the desire for elections, we’re going to see more and more calls for that around the Middle East.

HUME: The participation in Sunni areas was obviously much less than it was in the rest of the country. That is not unexpected. The question arises, though, is that because they were boycotting the election, the Sunnis, believing they really had no stake in it and didn’t believe in the process? Or whether they were simply intimidated and afraid to vote? What is your best estimate on that?

ROSS: I really think there were two fear factors here. One was an understandable fear factor that in fact you put your life in jeopardy if you went and you voted. Another fear factor was the fear of the Shia. Why do we want to vote and legalize the dominance of the Shia and a fear that the Shia will treat the Sunnis the way they always treated the Shia.

HUME: So far, though, the Shia have not done so, correct?

ROSS: That’s correct. And I think we’re at an interesting point now. I look at the Shia — and we’re going to see the parties that lead the voting, groups like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, certainly not those who would have been our first choice. They’re likely to emerge and win, which again shows that this was a free election, number one.

HUME: You mean because American puppets are not going to emerge from this.

ROSS: Absolutely. No one — and this will actually add to the credibility of the election. Some will say, the Sunnis didn’t participate therefore it is not legitimate. But the truth is they’ll see that the numbers, overall, were impressive, number one.

Two, they will also see that these were not American puppets that are the ones that begin to emerge. So it also shows a kind of true independence, as reflected in the outcome.

And three, I think the other thing to keep in mind is those who are now going to be elected, those Shia who are now going to be elected, they understand after a generation and longer, of always being oppressed, of always being the underclass, of always being denied their right, what their numbers should have dictated for them in Iraq.

Now they have a chance to in fact play the prominent role within Iraq. And do they want Iraq to be fractured, or do they want it to be unified. This is their moment to reach out to Sunnis and to try and split the Sunnis between those who believe in being a part of Iraq and those who will never give up the struggle to try to preserve a Jihadist approach.

HUME: So far, what do you detect in terms of the attitude of the Shia?

ROSS: What we have seen is an incredible capacity to withstand all sorts of provocations, certainly from Zarqawi and others. I mean, think about it. Zarqawi, before the hand over of power to the interim Iraqi government, last June, had a document out there that said we should attack the Shia and create a sectarian struggle, because there will be a danger after there is a sovereign government. And there have been lots of suicide bombings in places like Najaf and Karbala.

And Ayatollah al Sistani has had a number of his closed clerical aides assassinated, blown up.

HUME: The leading Shiite cleric?

ROSS: That’s right. And there hasn’t been a response.

HUME: There hasn’t been a forceful response.

ROSS: There has been no forceful response. In a sense what you have seen from him is a kind of guidance that says not so much that we’re going to turn the other cheek, but we are going to try and act in a way that ensures that Iraq will be whole. So I think what we’ve seen up until now has been incredible forbearance on their part that certainly ought to send a message that they want in fact to create a national compact with the Sunnis.

I think the key is gong to be, are they willing to accept a kind of regional autonomy so that Sunni’s will know they have a day-to-day autonomy. If that is the case they have a lot to gain by being part of the national compact.

HUME: Dennis Ross, pleasure to have you, as always.

ROSS: Thank you.

Content and Programming Copyright 2005 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.