|Farouk Darweesh, a professor in Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, will vote in the Iraqi election on Jan. 29 at a polling center in Irvine.|
For Farouk Darweesh, a professor in Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering, the upcoming Iraq election is an emotional event, representing hard work and family sacrifices, a tribute to lost loved ones and the beginning of a new democracy in his homeland.
“This election is a dream come true,” says Darweesh, who was born in Baghdad, Iraq. “Voting is an exercise of a basic human right, and I've been looking forward to this for decades.”
Darweesh served as president of the College of Engineering at the University of Baghdad until the late 1970s when the Baathist party began to put political pressure on him to join their brutal regime.
“I, like many others, refused to join them so I was literally forced out,” recalls Darweesh.
Darweesh and his wife — also a faculty member at the University of Baghdad — were removed from the university, put under house arrest and eventually shipped off to two different locations under control by the regime. The couple's two young children were sent to stay with relatives.
After being separated, the pressure to join the regime continued to mount, and eventually Baathist leaders threatened to take their children away. It was then that Darweesh was forced into exile, escaping to the United Kingdom where his wife and children joined him two weeks later. Darweesh and his family remained in the United Kingdom for a few years before moving to California in 1984.
“We had no choice but to leave Iraq,” he says. “We felt responsible for protecting our children.”
Darweesh has returned to his homeland several times in the last few years to help with the rebuilding of Iraq. Serving as deputy director of the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, he helped to restore Iraq's system of higher education, rebuild the lost infrastructure, worked on security issues, addressed housing issues and created basic democratic institutions. (The council is an independent collective of Iraqi exiles tapped by the Pentagon to serve as a temporary government replacing the Baathist regime.)
As dual citizens, Darweesh, along with his wife and daughter, plan to exercise their right to vote in the Iraqi election on Jan. 29 at a polling center in Irvine. His son will vote in Michigan. Cal Poly Pomona's Political Science professor Mohammed Al-Saadi will also vote.
“This election is undoubtedly important,” says Darweesh. “We are electing an assembly that will draft the new constitution, and I'm all for a new democratic constitution that will secure basic human rights.”
Darweesh and his wife have been preparing themselves to make informed decisions during this election by reading all of the information they can get their hands on.
“We worked so hard and sacrificed so much for this day. We lost most of our friends from our generation,” he says. “But we are very optimistic. We believe when things settle, Iraq will be on the road to democracy. Until then, unfortunately there will be a lot more challenges and sacrifices because of those people who oppose change and do everything possible to abort the process.”
After voting, Darweesh and his family will celebrate the momentous occasion with friends and family at a nearby restaurant.
“This election came after 40 years of horrendous circumstances,” he says.
“We feel like we are feasting,” says an excited Darweesh. “These days, sometimes I look crazy with happiness. I can't help it I just feel the weight of the moment.”