Eric Walker

Equinox Staff

 

If you’ve been exposed to any form of American news media in the past few months, then you’re well aware of American journalists’ obsession with the presidential race; but Americans aren’t the only ones interested.

People all over the world are watching as the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world is chosen.

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Two of those people are Ranim Muwaffaq Qubbaj and Victoria Dementyeva, both of whom spent time in Keene reporting on the U.S. election for their home countries of Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.

The Keene Sentinel hosted the two under the supervision of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) based in Washington DC, which dispatched 50 international journalists to battleground states throughout the U.S. this year by way of the Visiting Journalist Program.

Qubbaj currently reports for Al-Hayat, one of Saudi Arabia’s most influential daily newspapers, and anchors political and economic television programs on Al-Ikhbariya, a 24-hour Arabic news network. Dementyeva currently serves as the head of the international politics department of the online news outlet the Azeri-Press Agency (APA) in Azerbaijan.

This was Dementyeva’s second time participating in the Visiting Journalist Program; she covered the 2010 House and Senate elections from Kansas City.

On Wednesday, Oct. 31, Qubbaj and Dementyeva visited a Keene State College journalism class taught by Marianne Salcetti for an informal Q&A with students.

In the spirit of the season, Salcetti offered pumpkin bread to her guests, and Qubbaj, said she loved the baked treat,  and shared that in Saudi Arabia pumpkins are often served stuffed with rice and ground beef.

Salcetti said, “I like that approach, literally break bread, you know break pumpkin bread, and sit down and chat with theses folks and a lot of the time you’re going to learn more that way.”

Unfortunately for Qubbaj and Dementyeva, Hurricane Sandy hit during their visit and forced the cancellation of a speech from Vice President Joe Biden on the KSC Campus which they said they were looking forward to attending.

Qubbaj returned to Saudi Arabia only a few days into her stay due to family issues back home, but once the storm passed Dementyeva was able to meet with local Democrats and Republicans and broaden her perspectives from the presidential race to state and congressional races as well.

Sentinel Editor Jim Rousmaniere said he was attempting to arrange for Dementyeva to attend an Obama rally in Concord on Nov. 4 and possibly a Romney event in Manchester on Nov. 5.

Although Dementyeva’s purpose for reporting from Keene was to cover the presidential election, her editors also had her report on Hurricane Sandy once it turned out to be such a newsworthy topic which she was coincidentally in charge of.

Qubbaj said she was surprised at how nice people were to her. After viewing American films loaded with violence and harsh language, she said she wasn’t expecting the good-natured treatment she received.

“People are so kind with us, honestly it makes you feel shy from their kindness, especially the people in Keene,” Qubbaj said.

Qubbaj said her improved view of the American populace will be one of the most important things she takes away from the trip.

This isn’t the first time The Sentinel has hosted international journalists; in 2008 the ICFJ stationed two men from Zanzibar and East Timor in Keene to report on the presidential elections.

Rousmaniere said The Sentinel has very close ties with the ICFJ, and unlike many newspapers of similar size, The Sentinel devotes a fair amount of time and attention to international coverage.

Dementyeva and Qubbaj both said U.S. foreign policy is an important issue in their countries because Azerbaijan and Saudi Arabia are in a  complex region of the world and the U.S. is a key player in global politics.

Qubbaj said that she respects Obama, Romney, Hillary Clinton or anyone who wants to be the  president of the U.S. and thinks Saudi Arabia will have good relations with whoever ends up winning.

Dementyeva said she was surprised by some of the U.S.’s voting practices. In Azerbaijan, which she described as a young democracy, paper ballots are unacceptable because of the possibility of fraud.

She said in order to vote in Azerbaijan the individual must have an ID (which is currently a topic of debate in some areas of the U.S.), have their fingers marked with ink (to ensure that they don’t come back to cast a second ballot) and all of the polling stations are monitored by surveillance cameras.

In Azerbaijan the popular vote decides the winner, unlike in the U.S. where the electoral college has the final say. “It’s a lot [simpler] than yours,” Dementyeva said.

Dementyeva said active campaigns in Azerbaijan tend to last a little over a month compared to the years American politicians spend running for office.

Azerbaijan has several major political parties and then an array of smaller ones. Dementyeva said she thinks the fact that the U.S. has only two dominant political parties is why there’s so much polarization in our politics.

She also said it’s not uncommon for parties in Azerbaijan to work together and form coalitions in elections when they have a specific goal, or want to overpower a specific candidate.

Although Dementyeva has been mainly reporting for her hometown news service, Rousmaniere said she has also been working on a column regarding U.S. foreign policy in her region of the world for the Keene Sentinel’s last Sunday paper before the election.

 

Eric Walker can be contacted at

ewalker@keene-equinox.com.

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