Charting Elections in the Middle East

by Mark LeVine
published in MER209

Although Middle Eastern countries have seen a dramatic rise in the number of national elections, there is a significant problem with “charting” the march of democracy in the region through a narrowly focused analysis of electoral processes. Numerous political, economic and cultural forces affecting electoral outcomes are easily overlooked, particularly in studies of elections that frame such processes within the borders of the nation-state.

Winner Takes All

A Regime's Guide to Successful Elections

by Iris Glosemeyer
published in MER209

Eight Ways to Make Elections Risk-Free

1. When drawing the lines of the constituencies, remember to integrate as many opposition supporters as possible into your own constituencies and to transfer as many of your own supporters as necessary into the opposition’s strongholds in order to maintain the majority in both constituencies. Add some soldiers if necessary.

2. Make sure that there are no election observers around while you register the votes.

3. Invite the election observers only on short notice in order to prevent them from preparing the observation properly.

4. Discredit the opposition as being either Islamist or Communist, or being employed by a foreign government or all of the above.

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Mission: Democracy

by Sheila Carapico
published in MER209

Incumbent national leaders invite foreign election monitors only when it is in their interest to do so. Rarely is significant financial assistance “conditional” on holding elections, although it does improve a regime’s image abroad to do so. For governments being observed, the trick is to orchestrate the process enough to win, but not enough to arouse observers’ suspicions.

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The Malaise of Turkish Democracy

by Aslı Aydıntaşbaş
published in MER209

In his first televised interview in late 1996, just months after taking office, an avuncular-looking Necmettin Erbakan seemed unsurprised at a question about his taste in clothing. “Mr. Prime Minister, we hear that you favor ties by the Italian designer Versace,” said commentator Mehmet Ali Birand. “What is it about Versace that you like?” His half-smile unfading, Turkey’s first-ever Islamist prime minister answered that “this particular Western designer seems to have borrowed from Islamic aesthetics and Oriental patterns.”

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Perspectives on Elections from the Arab World

by Hani Hourani , Issam Naaman , Sion Assidon , Mohamed Karam , Mudar Kassis
published in MER209

Some of the material in this issue of Middle East Report was generated at the October 2-3, 1998 conference on “Multi-Party Elections in the Arab World: Controlled Contestation and Opposition Strategies,” which as organized by MERIP board members Marsha Pripstein Posusney and Jillian Schwedler. The conference was sponsored by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University in cooperation with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. We are grateful to these institutions for enabling us to publish the excerpts below.

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A Paradox of Democracy?

Islamist Participation in Elections

by Jillian Schwedler
published in MER209

On April 27, 1997, Muhammad Zabara stood outside a polling station in the old city of Sanaa. In a neatly pressed suit and tie, his short hair and mustache freshly trimmed, he greeted voters who had turned out for Yemen’s second post-unification parliamentary elections. A team of Western election monitors approached him and asked whether he was a candidate. In English, he answered that he was the district’s candidate from the Yemeni Reform Group, a conservative party with an Islamist agenda. “But Ahmad Raqihi is the Islamist candidate for this district,” said one of the monitors, referring to Zabara’s main rival, who dons a turban and beard. “You don’t even look like an Islamist.” [1]

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Behind the Ballot Box

Electoral Engineering in the Arab World

by Marsha Pripstein Posusney
published in MER209

The last decade has seen multi-party competition for elected legislatures initiated or expanded in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority. Executive authority in most cases remains an uncontested, if not completely unelected, post. Nevertheless, incumbent rulers invariably tout these legislative elections as evidence of domestic legitimacy, often anointing their countries as “on the road to democracy” in their wake.

The Liquidation of Egypt's Illiberal Experiment

by Mona El-Ghobashy | published December 29, 2010

The Egyptian parliamentary elections that ended on December 5 defied expectations, not because the ruling National Democratic Party again dominates Parliament but because of the lengths to which it proved willing to go to engineer its monopoly. Official and unofficial ruling-party candidates garnered 93.3 percent of the seats in the national assembly, while marginal opposition parties received 3 percent and the Muslim Brothers got a lone seat to be occupied by a member who would not abide by the Brothers’ boycott of the runoff. While these results are identical to the outcome of the 1995 elections, the reaction this time has been much more severe.

The Dynamics of Egypt's Elections

by Mona El-Ghobashy | published September 29, 2010

No one thinks parliamentary elections in Egypt are democratic or even semi-democratic. The elections do not determine who governs. They are not free and fair. They install a parliament with no power to check the president. The government National Democratic Party (NDP) always manufactures a whopping majority, never getting less than 70 percent of the seats. The opposition is kept on a tight leash, restrained by police intimidation, rampant fraud and severe limits on outreach to voters. And citizens know that elections are rigged, with polling places often blocked off by baton-wielding police, so few of them vote.

Do-e Khordad and the Specter of Democracy

by Kaveh Ehsani
published in MER212

A shadow haunts Iran, the shadow of democracy and popular sovereignty. Twenty years ago the Islamic Revolution established a polity based on two contradictory elements: a republic of equal and sovereign citizens, and a hierarchical theocracy of pastoral power descending from an unelected religious leader (vali-e faqih, the Supreme Leader), which represented an innovation in Shi‘i Islam. The inevitable tensions between these irreconcilable elements are now coming to a head. [1]