Posts Tagged ‘election’

Election theatrics

July 28th, 2012 Comments off

With both President Obama and Governor Romney last week making foreign policy speeches to the same audience of veterans, international issues edged back into the political debate. As Romney undertakes an international visit to the UK, Poland and Israel, he will have the opportunity to clarify his own foreign policy views – an area in which he is less experienced than on the economy. In anticipation of calls by Romney for further support for Israel and to coincide with his there, the Administration has announced an enhanced security package for Israel. Our contacts with the Romney campaign suggest, however, that under his Administration foreign policy would still come a distant second to the economy. Overall, his approach might not be radically different from Obama’s. There would be a stronger tone toward Russia and China, but there is unlikely to be any delay in the timetable of withdrawal from Afghanistan. Caution toward direct US military intervention, notably in Syria and Iran, would continue. There might also be a new emphasis on Latin America, the “rebalancing” of US strategy toward the Asia-Pacific and Obama’s emphasis on drones and special forces in the counter-terrorism sphere would continue or even be extended. The military budget would be less under pressure.  This all lies ahead. For the present, the dominant issue is Syria and, by extension, Iran. Despite the sharply deteriorating situation there, military intervention by the US remains unlikely. There are certainly voices inside the Administration advocating a more robust approach and, as the bloodshed mounts, they will become more influential. However, Obama’s closest advisers, among them Tom Donilon, the National Security Adviser, continue to warn that intervention carries unwanted risks. Behind-the-scenes exchanges with Russia have yet to see are a meeting of minds. Romney’s Israel visit will return the spotlight to Iran as the chief regional risk. On a more reassuring note, intelligence community analysts are cautiously optimistic that tensions on the Korean Peninsular are easing. They are not yet ready to anoint the new leader Kim Jong-eun as a reformer, but they do see him as fully in control and showing some signs of rethinking some of his father’s economic tactics. They do not see any change with regard to North Korea’s nuclear program.

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The Weakness of Romney’s Right

July 23rd, 2012 Comments off

If one thing is clear in the build-up to the 2012 presidential election, it is that the Republican candidate Mitt Romney is less someone most Americans want to vote for than Barack Obama is someone that many people do not want to vote for. The elephant in the debate room, or at least one of the herd that has swelled with the ramping up of polemical rhetoric on all sides, is Islam. Not the real Islam, which most Americans would have a hard time recognizing anyway, but two prominent distortions. The most conservative born-again, Bible-believing Christians, often lumped together in the loose term “Evangelical,” have long viewed Mormonism as a dangerous cult modeled after Islam. Some of these same folk, including those less devout who drink a redneck portion of beer and say they belong to a tea party, have decided that President Obama is really a Muslim. So for the conspiratorial fringe, this election boils down to voting for one Muslim (or should I say Mohammedan) or another.

No doubt many of the Bible-believing saints are praying for the Rapture before November. Let’s face it: what would Jesus do if his choice was between voting for a Mormon (that born-againers say are heretics) or a stealth Muslim (as the birthers contend)? I suspect few would quote the biblical passage (Matthew 22:21) where Jesus says “Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” since taxation is obviously Satanic. Besides, Caesar died a long time ago. And I imagine that the Sermon on the Mount mantra of not smiting back, when someone is cheeky. and not resisting evil would also not be quoted. If you happen to be a Mormon, of which there are over 6 million in the United States, then you would expect Jesus to vote for Mitt, since Mormons teach that Jesus has returned to visit various Mormon leaders here in America, as recently as 1918. Muslims are not very likely to vote for Romney because the Mormon church borrowed several ideas (like a divine book delivered by an angel and polygyny) from Islam. So the right wing that has come to vote Republican without thinking is really between the Rock of Ages and a hard place.

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US Official: "No secret deal with the Muslim Brotherhood!"

July 18th, 2012 Comments off

“…Furthermore, she said the US had made no secret deals with anybody, despite claims in the Egyptian media that the US had backed the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in the presidential election…
Youssef also expressed his fear that Egypt was turning into another Pakistan: “It is similar to the situation [in Pakistan] whereby the US supports the military and the Islamist government at the same time…”

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Libya election results put liberal alliance first

July 17th, 2012 Comments off

FILE - In this July 8, 2012 file photo, Mahmoud Jibril speaks to the media during a presser at National Forces Allies head quarter in Tripoli, Libya. Final Libyan election results show a secular, liberal alliance in first place in the nation's first free vote in decades. The election commission says Jibril's National Forces Alliance won 39 seats, while the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party came in second with 17 seats among those allocated for parties. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo, File)Final results released Tuesday placed a liberal alliance ahead of other parties in Libya's first free nationwide vote in half a century, leaving Islamists far behind, but each side is already trying to build a coalition with independents.

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Eric Schewe’s map of the presidential election results

July 13th, 2012 Comments off

Eric Schewe's map of the Egyptian presidential election results

The above map of from Eric Schewe’s blog, which has some great analysis of the presidential election and much else. It’s a great blog for Egypt nerds. He writes of the map and the data behind it:

The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood count from June 18 and the official state count were so close gives me confidence that, while votes may have been illegitimately influenced by actions outside the polling booth, that the polls themselves were relatively fairly conducted. This means this body of data is the first reliable indication ever of Egyptians’ preferences over a very stark binary choice for the direction of the state: Islamism or “Feloul” (old-regime) revanchism. Obviously, many Egyptians went out to vote AGAINST either choice, but the geographical distribution of the result shows very strong regional tendencies, raising interesting questions about voters’ overall motives.

Getting this kind of data and spreading will lead, over time, in a quantum leap in how we understand Egyptian politics. Of course it needs to be combined with new data added over time and knowledge of local-level dynamics. But at long last, we have a base based on an electoral process that was reasonably free and fair.

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Jordan’s Islamists say they will boycott elections

July 13th, 2012 Comments off

A spokesman for Jordan’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood says his group will boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections in protest over recent changes in the kingdom’s election legislation.
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Of liberals, secularists, Islamists and other labels

July 11th, 2012 Comments off

I want to discuss here the labels assigned to Arab political parties and politicians (if you want to get to that directly skip till the end of the following quotes), but before let me point out what started this post — a fine piece by Nasser Rabbat on Steve Walt’s blog, Arab secularism and its discontent:

Is this a new turn for the West? Did the West support the secularists before the revolutions? And has Arab secularism really become irrelevant? My answer to all three questions is an emphatic no.

Many good points he explores each in turn, before concluding:

Arab secularism, however, remains on the street and online. Though outdone in the current rush to power by the Islamists, it still has the ability to reassert itself in the political arena, if not as the ruling party, at least as lawful opposition and guardian of the principles of civic freedoms. The culture of lawful opposition, long absent under the totalitarian regimes, needs to be reinserted into the political discourse. This is as important a function as good governance for the well-being of the nascent Arab democracies. To that end, the efforts of the discontented revolutionary youth and the seasoned secular intellectuals should be united under the umbrella of political parties. The West should help them by recognizing their crucial political role and by treating them as long-term partners not just as recipients of training and aid.

I will take him to task for a factual mistake, though, here:

The few attempts to register a secularist political presence in the elections in Tunis and Egypt were swept aside by the eminently more organized Islamist parties and by their shrewd appeal to the basic religiosity of the people, especially the poor and the illiterate.

Secularist parties have at least 40% of seat in Tunisia’s constituent assembly/interim parliament, and both the speaker of that assembly and the president are secularists. In Egypt that percentage could be argued to have been 20-30% in the dissolved parliament and nearly 50% of voters voted for non-Islamist candidate in the presidential election and 50% of the electorate decided not to vote at all in the presidential election, where secularist candidates won over 30% in the first round, including Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third. 

The question for Arab secularists is not that they are an anemic force in society. It’s that they are divided (on the conservative / progressive and economically liberal / socialist axes) and disorganized. The key to their future electoral success will be building strong organizations and finding the right mix of alliances with conservative political forces (i.e. felool) and moderate Islamists. In other words, the winning combination may not be a liberal one but still be a mostly secular (at least in Arab terms, not European ones) one.

The recent Libyan elections are a case in point in this distinction. What have been annoyingly called “liberals” performed well in the election, but this is a catch-all term that really is used to say non-Islamist and perhaps non-a certain type of Islamist, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. But these liberals include parties and movements led by former Qadhafi regime officials who defected early and probably a bunch of people who should not be called liberals in at least the two standard meanings of the term: either economically liberal secularists as is meant is most of continental Europe, where liberal parties tend to be center-right, or socially liberal as is generally meant in the US, and associated with the center-left. Of course the irony is that a liberal in the Arab world could very well not be secularist — i.e. he could be a moderate Islamist — while a secularist might be a Stalinist or Nasserist, or in other word not particularly progressive in terms of human rights or liberal in the economic sense. 

We need better terms that this, or perhaps more terms than merely liberal, secular (these two sometimes wrongly used interchangeably) and Islamists. Let’s start with Islamists: a wide range of people fall under this label, with different views. Arguably the Muslim Brotherhood tendency deserves in own label, due to its relative ideological coherence and strength. Salafis are also diverse, since only a segment engage in politics, but that segment is pretty reliably ultra-conservative. And then there are new variants of Islamism usually described as “moderate” which is not quite satisfactory either, especially when the Brothers in particular often use this word to describe themselves. So we may have:

  • Ikhwani Islamist for Muslim Brothers;
  • Salafi Islamist for the various Salafi parties, who are mostly socially ultra-conservative;
  • Wasati Islamist for individuals like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh or the Wasat or Egyptian Current parties.

How about the non-Islamists? Historically there is the Arab nationalist trend, which can be further divided into Nasserist, Baathist and various local variants. But the nationalist trend is fast-changing — how much longer will anyone call themselves a Baathist? Sometimes the national label — Nasserist — is most appropriate because it is used by politicians to define themselves, for instance for Hamdeen Sabahi in Egypt. But these personalities and parties do share a common adherence to the idea of Arab unity, which still has backers in many countries and often translates, as in the Maghreb, into policies that stress Arab identity (e.g. in national education). So it seems to be that Arab nationalist is a decent catch-all label for these, even for those newer types of parties that, while making a nod to Arab nationalism, are progressive like Moncef Marzouki’s CPR in Tunisia.

There is also a growing social-democrat movement in the Arab world that draws inspiration from the European model — Mohamed ElBaradei explicitly referred to his experience living in Austria, for instance, and used the label himself. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party also falls under this label. Social democrats could of course be Wasati Islamists in the Arab world, and I suspect this will develop in that direction, representing what is called, usually derisively, “Islamo-gauchiste” in French.

Socialists put more emphasis on issues of social justice and the redistribution of wealth, and most often tend to be secularists. Radical socialists might as well be included here for now, since this trend tends to be stronger in civil society than in electoral politics. But whether “moderate” or Trotskyist or even Stalinist, this socialist/Marxist trend has a long and rich history in the Arab world, and there’s no reason to think that it’s over just because the terms “Islamist” and “liberal” tend to dominate the headlines.

Liberal is a label I feel should be used in the European sense in the Arab world, because Arab politics (in these early days of emerging democracy) tends to resemble continental Europe more than the two-party systems that have dominated Anglo-saxon politics for centuries — i.e. they are more likely to be coalition driven and constantly in flux, as the political boundaries of France or Germany or Israel often are. In Egypt the liberals are clearly the Free Egyptians (which can also be translated as the Liberal Egyptians), they are also ultra-secularists. There are similar parties in Tunisia, essentially representing the business elite and libertarians.

What of the felool? Over time, I think these will dissolve into the other trends, but they can also represent a certain conservatism. Perhaps the Bourguibist parties of Tunisia, represented by personalities like Beji Caid Essebsi or Kamel Morjane, represent this trend. There is a Sadatism in Egypt that can also be described as conservative, and most importantly statist. The Istiqlal Party in Morocco is also conservative, while taking in some Arab nationalist ideas and social conservatism. Ultimately these may be termed conservative, because they are attached to an old order and ideology.

The bottom line: Ellis Goldberg put it well in a recent piece on the importance of Egypt’s institutions when he wrote:

The problem with thinking of Egyptian politics as a two-party game is that there are more than two actors.

He meant it in a broader way then about political parties, but the same thinking applies about selecting labels to describe politicians and parties in the post-uprising Arab world. The US model — Democrats vs. Republicans, conservatives vs. liberals — simply does not apply. We need to be more careful with the terms we use and stricter in defining them, so that the results of Libya’s elections and future ones elsewhere are not reduced to a nonsensical “victory for liberals” headline.

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Jibril wins landslide victory in first Libyan democratic poll

July 9th, 2012 Comments off

TRIPOLI – Libya’s former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril, a moderate, has won a landslide victory in the country’s first democratic election to the national assembly, according to provisional …
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Collision Course?

July 9th, 2012 Comments off

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s order yesterday to reconvene the dissolved Parliament certainly appears to throw down the gauntlet in a challenge to the military, though so far the military response has been unclear while the Supreme Constitutional Court has reaffirmed that its decision is binding on all state authorities.

There are a few pundits suggesting that the decree actually represents a compromise with SCAF; Morsi called back the dissolved Parliament but not for a full four-year term; rather he called for new elections as soon as the new constitution is written, But if the decree represented a secret deal with SCAF, that is far from apparent so far, and the simplest explanation seems to be that Morsi has elected to move the presumably inevitable test of strength between the elected President and the military forward to his first days in office.

Yet Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi appeared together today at a military graduation ceremony without outward indications of conflict.

The election of Morsi was seen by some as avoiding a constitutional crisis if SCAF had been perceived as rigging the election outcome; but another type of constitutional crisis, one involving a head-on clash between the executive and the judiciary with the military presumably siding with the latter. Already some of the legal arguments are centering around whether SCAF was acting in an executive or legislative capacity when it moved to enforce the court decree, since presumably Morsi has now inherited SCAF’s executive but not its legislative powers.

Once again Egypt shows its ability to have a constitutional crisis despite the impediment of not currently having a constitution.

And once again Marc Lynch’s greatest contribution to political theory, the “Calvinball” model of Egyptian politics, proves to be prescient.

UPDATE: Michele Dunne on “Morsi’s Counter Coup.”

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Top Ten Surprises on Libya’s Election Day

July 9th, 2012 Comments off

Most Western reporting on Libya is colored by what is in my view a combination of extreme pessimism and sensationalism. It has been suggested that because most reporters don’t stay there for that long, many don’t have a sense of proportion. It is frustrating to have faction-fighting in distant Kufra in the far south color our image of the whole country. Tripoli, a major city of over 2.2 million (think Houston), is not like little distant Kufra, population 60,000 (think Broken Arrow, OK)!

In the run-up to the elections held on Saturday, a lot of the headlines read ‘Libya votes, on the brink’ or had ‘Chaos’ in the title. But actually, as the Libya Herald reports, the election went very, very well (which did not surprise me after my visit to three major cities there in May-June). The NYT post-election headline of ‘Libyans risk violence to vote’ is frankly ridiculous; in most of the country that simply was not true, though it was true in parts of Benghazi. Even then, how many people died in violence in this election? I count two, but in any case it is a small number. In Tripoli, the election was described as a big family wedding, with lots of loud celebration and tears of joy. Here are the top ten surprises of the election for Libya watchers:

1. Turnout was about 60%, with 1.6 million casting their ballots. This high turnout is especially impressive given how confusing the election procedures were, with 3,000 candidates and only 80 seats out of 200 set aside for political parties (most newly formed and not well known).

2. There was relatively little election violence, certainly compared to South Asia, where election day often entails dozens, sometimes hundreds, of deaths. The Libya Herald piece quotes the High Electoral Commission as saying, “…of 1,554 polling centres across the country, 24 were unable to operate, including two in Kufra, six in Sidra and eight in Benghazi.”

3. The remnants of Qaddafi supporters made no trouble, and many went to vote enthusiastically. One of the many wrong predictions made last year by opponents of the revolution was that after it was over, there would be an Iraq-style pro-Qaddafi resistance. It turns out that Qaddafi wasn’t actually popular, and now that he is gone no one is interested in making trouble in his name.

4. One of the last cities to fall to the revolutionaries was Bani Walid, and it was alleged for a long time after the revolution to be in the hands of Qaddafi loyalists. This allegation was always a vast exaggeration. There were only a few militiamen there, who made demonstrations downtown. In fact, if anything, it was the revolutionary militias that controlled a city that somewhat resented them because of their high-handedness. Luke Harding of The Guardian, who bothered actually to go to Bani Walid, found people there as excited about the elections as elsewhere, and eager to combat their city’s reputation as a refuge of former regime loyalists. 46,000 had registered to vote, out of 85,000 inhabitants– i.e. most of those eligible to vote must have registered.

5. The formerly upscale city of Sirte, which had been seen by the revolutionaries as favored by Qaddafi, and near which he made his last stand, decided not to boycott the vote after all, according both to Agence France Press and to the following:

Rena Netjes ?@RenaNetjes
Corresp alHurraTV in ?#Sirte?: “Turnout 70%, women 35-40%. Ppl very very happy to be able to vote for the 1st time” ?#Lyelect?.

There are genuine resentments toward Sirte on the part of the revolutionary cities, and locals complain about discrimination of various sorts. They clearly feel that being well represented in the new parliament is a way of gaining a voice and being reintegrated into the new Libya. It was places like Bani Walid and Sirte from which trouble on election day had been expected, and it did not happen.

6. The Muslim fundamentalist parties that were expected to dominate the new parliament may not do so. First of all, only 80 of the 200 seats are allocated to parties, and the liberal party of former head of Qaddafi’s National Economic Development Board, Mahmoud Jibril, is said to be doing well in early returns and exit polls. Because of the large number of independents and uncertainty with whom they will caucus, predictions about the shape of the government are premature. The West is more secular than the east or the south. In Libya, the remnants of the old regime are called ‘seaweed’ or ‘algae’ (tahallub), i.e. the flotsam left behind when the tide recedes. As in Tunisia and Egypt, there has been a lot of debate around what to do with them. They often have a lot of money, and are regrouping to succeed in the new system. Since a lot of prominent Libyan technocrats had been lured back to the country in the past decade, with Qaddafi’s and his son Saif al-Islam’s attempt to open to the West, leaders like Mahmoud Jibril (al-Warfalli) are considered by some to be leftovers, while others see him as someone who went over to the revolution and served as its first transitional prime minister.

7. Despite the faction-fighting that has plagued some desert cities, such as Zintan and Kufra, in southwest Tripolitania and the Fezzan region of Libya, respectively– its third traditional region after Tripolitania and Cyrenaica– went to the polls quietly and peaceably for the most part. Two of the polling stations in feud-ridden Kufra could not open because of tension. Here’s what my Jabal Nafusa and Fezzan twitter feed looked like:

Women crowds in Zintan for voting
9:16 AM – 7 Jul 12 via Twitter for iPhone ·
22h Libya.elHurra Libya.elHurra ?@FreeBenghazi

July7: Election observers at a Zintan polling station. Reports of good turnout from women but no pics yet ?#Libya?

20h AC Tripolis AC Tripolis ?@david_bachmann_
Very big crowd in front of voting room for people from ?#Ghadames? – quite noisy, but relaxed ?#LyElect? ?#gheryan? ?#Libya?”

8. A big surprise is that what little election day trouble there was came from the East, from the center of the revolution. Thus, small crowds or small militia contingents attacked or tried to attack polling stations in Ajdabiya, Sidra, Ras Lanouf and Benghazi itself. But aside from a few stations in Sidra and 8 in Benghazi, all of them reopened and some stayed open till midnight to make up for having been closed in the morning. In one incident in Benghazi, pro-election crowds actually drove off a group of states’ rights protesters who want decentralization.

9. Women registered to vote, ran for office, and went to the polling stations in surprisingly high numbers. In some small cities, eyewitnesses thought the women’s lines were much longer than those of the men.

10. Among this generation of Libyans, democracy is really, really popular.

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