Middle East elections: what is missing?

The election season has come to an end recently for Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq. Presidential elections were held in Egypt, while general elections were held in Lebanon. Iraq also held their parliamentary elections for the first time since announcing their defeat of formerly unrecognized proto-state ISIL.

An Egyptian hoax

In Egypt, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ran for a second and supposedly final term, winning 97 percent of total votes. However, prior to the election opponents were eliminated from the election race for various reasons, including jailing and reported intimidation.

In January 2018, the well-known retired Gen. Sami Anan declared his intentions to run for the elections against el-Sissi. He was detained by the government in what The Guardian called an apparent “calculated move to push him out of the race.”

Then former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq attempted to run for elections, yet he was faced with allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct supposedly caught on video by sources close to el-Sissi. According to The Telegraph, Mohamed Anwar Sadat, nephew of former President Anwar Sadat, had to withdraw after intimidations against his campaign which caused him to fear for the safety of his supporters.

As the elections grew close, the Egyptian people were left with only one other candidate: Moussa Mostafa Moussa, leader of the Ghad party who filed for candidacy hours before the deadline. Moussa had previously endorsed and organised campaign events for el-Sissi, though he denied allegations that his bid for office was a hoax.

Islamists come out on top

Lebanon finally had parliamentary elections after five years of postponement. Elections were supposed to be held in 2013, yet because the previous parliament failed to elect a new president, the parliamentary term was extended to 2018.

In Lebanon, political parties and armed militias are sometimes ambiguous, which also influences elections. Such is the case with the Islamist Hezbollah.

In October 2016, Lebanon’s parliament made a power-sharing agreement to end a political stalemate which had lasted for the two years prior. Former General Michel Aoun, the preferred choice of Hezbollah, was elected to become president October 31. In addition, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a rival to Hezbollah, was selected for his position at the same time. Two years later, he is still the leader of a political bloc which grows more conciliatory towards Hezbollah.

Although the election results seem to include several parties with no great dominance of a sole party, this does not change any of the political deals. According to Al Jazeera, Hezbollah and their allies are guaranteed many key positions in the new Hariri-led government, which is scheduled for official institution after the month of Ramadan.

First elections Post-ISIL

In Iraq, the political climate is very similar to Lebanon’s. Armed militias control the political scheme and impose power through political deals. The recent elections held on May 12 aimed to choose members of the Council of Representatives, the country’s unicameral legislature.

Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s political bloc—the Sairoon Alliance—came in first in the election with 54 parliamentary seats according to Reuters. Al-Sadr cannot become prime minister as he did not run; however, he will have a voice the political process.

Although there are several serious claims of fraud and voting violations which could result in a partial or total cancellation of the vote, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission Riyadh al-Badran has said this is not plausible as it could lead to civil war.

According to a national poll cited by Al Jazeera, the top three issues of concern were services and the economy, job opportunities and security and border protections. The expected turnout was between 70–80 percent; however, Al Jazeera reported only 45.52 percent participated. Nevertheless, the winning lists are expected to follow their agendas when they form the new government.

Future of democracy in the region

In the post-Arab uprisings, legitimate democracies in most parts of the Middle East remain elusive. Chaos and civil wars are unfortunately the inevitable consequences of a multitude of factors in the region due to many underlined social, political, historical and international complications. This leads us to the question: could real democracies in the Middle East be realized in the near future?