Middle East This Week: January 31, 2023

January 31, 2023

A weekly review of news and analysis of elections in the greater Middle East and North Africa, usually posted on Tuesdays and occasionally updated throughout the week.

Old Ottoman houses in Izmir, Turkey. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Güldem Üstün (CC BY 2.0)

Ongoing Middle East Elections

Lebanon Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): Continuing

Lebanon’s fractious parliament is in the process of selecting a president. As part of Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the president is always a Maronite Christian (and conversely, a Sunni serves as prime minister and a Shi’ite as speaker of the parliament). 

The last parliamentary elections took place in May 2022 in the context of a political and economic crisis exacerbated by the August 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut. In those elections, Hezbollah and its allies lost their majority in parliament, and a number of independents won seats. 

The fragmented parliament has not been able to pick a new president, leaving a vacuum following the end of Michel Aoun’s term in October 2022. Aoun was a strong ally of Hezbollah. Michel Moawad, an anti-Hezbollah candidate, has won the most votes on several ballots, but not a majority. Voting will continue until someone can break the stalemate. 

Mohammad Ataie and David Siddhartha Patel, Brandeis University (January 27, 2023): Becoming Hezbollah: The Party’s Evolution and Changing Roles

Sarah Dadouch, Washington Post (January 26, 2023): Lebanese MPs camp out in parliament to protest ‘ridiculous’ power vacuum

Upcoming Middle East Elections

Turkey General Elections: May 14, 2023

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power since 2003, and although the party initially ran on a reformist platform, it has become increasingly authoritarian. A 2017 constitutional change, with passed very narrowly in a referendum, replaced the parliamentary system with a presidential system, and gave the presidency new powers.

While Turkey remains a member of NATO, it has in recent years moved closer to Russia and other authoritarian countries.

Rudaw (January 31, 2023): Potential offensive in Syria part of Erdogan’s electoral campaign: HDP leader

Joseph Haboush, Al Arabiya (January 31, 2023): US senator blasts Turkey’s Erdogan, calls for sanctions and no F-16s

DW (January 30, 2023): Turkey’s opposition unveils plans to defeat Erdogan

Al Jazeera (January 30, 2023): Turkey opposition vows to cut presidential powers if it wins vote: Alliance of opposition parties presents 240-page programme ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections.

Burak Unveren, Qantara.de (January 30, 2023): Erdogan’s re-election would serve Putin

Huseyin Hayatsever, Birsen Altayli and Jonathan Spicer, Reuters (January 26, 2023): Analysis: Erdogan thrusts NATO expansion issue into Turkey’s tense election campaign

Reuters (January 26, 2023): Court rejects Kurdish party bid to delay closure ruling till after Turkey elections

Stockholm Center for Freedom (January 26, 2023): Crackdown on the Kurdish Political Movement and Opposition Groups: 2022 in Review

Kurdistan (Iraq) Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: September 2023 (due – delayed from 2022)

Kurdistan is officially part of Iraq but largely operates as a de facto independent entity. 

Chenar Chalak at Rudaw notes: “The Kurdistan Region’s ruling parties, the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have been at loggerheads in recent months over the Region’s parliamentary elections, the transparency of the oil and local income of the provinces under their influence, and the assassination of a former PUK colonel in Erbil in October.”

Hamzeh Hadad, The Hill (January 25, 2023): Uncertainty hangs over Iraqi Kurdistan in 2023

Kurdistan24 (January 25, 2023): KDP’s President reaffirms holding Kurdistan elections on time

Pakistan General Elections: October 12, 2023 (due – snap elections possible and increasingly likely)

Following Pakistan’s turbulent 2018 general election, former cricket star Imran Khan – seen as the military’s preferred candidate – became prime minister when his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the most seats. However, Khan was ousted in an April 2022 vote of no confidence and former opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister.

Since then, Khan has sought to force early elections in various ways.

Alex Vatanka, Foreign Policy (January 30, 2023): Iran’s Regime Plays with Fire in Baluchistan: Stirring sectarian tensions in the country’s poorest province is a dangerous game.

Livemint (January 30, 2023): Ousted Pakistan PM Imran Khan to run for all 33 National Assembly seats in March bypolls

Munir Ahmed, AP (January 27, 2023): Ally of former Pakistani PM Imran Khan jailed ahead of trial

Abid Hussain, Al Jazeera (January 26, 2023): Pakistan poll panel announces April elections in two provinces: Assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were dissolved this month as part of ex-PM Imran Khan’s bid to force early national polls.

Libya Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: Overdue

Libya’s general elections are long overdue amid several crises.

RFE/RL (January 28, 2023): Italy Signs $8 Billion Gas Deal With Libya As It Seeks To Cut Russian Dependence

Egypt Elections: 2025 (due)

Al Jazeera (January 25, 2023): What happened during Egypt’s January 25 revolution? The country marks 12 years since the start of demonstrations that led to the downfall of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Past Middle East Elections

Tunisia Legislative Runoffs: January 29, 2023

Tunisia began transitioning to democracy in 2011, amid the Arab Spring protests, and in 2019, held the third national elections since the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.  Political outsider and populist Kais Saied won the presidency. The results indicated a rejection of the main political parties and post-Ben Ali political ideologies (Islamism and secular liberalism). However, Saied took the country down an authoritarian path and took actions that his opponents said subvert democracy. As a result, protests have been taking place. 

Cathrin Schaer and Tarak Guizani, DW (January 31, 2023): After Tunisia’s ‘ghost election,’ what comes next?

The National UAE (January 31, 2023): Almost 90% of Tunisians have stopped voting – why?

Reuters (January 31, 2023): Tunisia president blames hatred of parliament for low turnout in elections

Alexandra Bajec, Al-Monitor (January 30, 2023): Tunisia’s elections at 11% turnout, further shakes Kais Saeid’s credibility

AFP (January 27, 2023): All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott

Israel Snap Parliamentary Elections: November 1, 2022

Israel has held five sets of general elections over the past four years. The most recent returned Bibi Netanyahu to power, this time heading the country’s most right-wing government to date.

AP (January 30, 2023): Blinken Urges Israel-Palestinian Calm as Violence Soars

AP (January 28, 2023): Israel vows to ‘strengthen’ settlements after 2 shooting attacks in Jerusalem

Ksenia Svetlova, Atlantic Council (January 23, 2023): Ben-Gvir’s controversial new position angered the Arab world. But how will it impact a potential peace deal with Saudi Arabia?

Iran Presidential Election: June 18, 2021

Iran is a key geopolitical player in the region, exerting influence on politicians in numerous countries, routinely stoking sectarian tensions, and engaging in military aggression. To be clear, Saudi Arabia and the Sunni powers against whom Iran is fighting also do all these things. 

Key questions regarding these protests include: Will they lead to the collapse of the theocratic regime? If so, how will that alter Iran’s foreign policy? And if they don’t lead to the regime’s collapse, will that lead to an even more aggressive foreign policy?

Iran International (January 31, 2023): Zoroastrian Fest Keeps Fire Of Protests Burning In Iran

Financial Times (January 30, 2023): Iran’s dissidents offer a new template for martyrdom: Protesters have shown the regime they are also willing to die for a cause — but this time it’s not religion

Artemis Moshtaghian and Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, (January 30, 2023): The bare-chested boxer who became a hero to Iran’s protest movement

Shelly Kittleson, Al-Monitor (January 30, 2023): Strikes near Iraqi border mark widening regional battle against Iran: Strikes widely attributed to Israel have hit an Iranian convoy near the Iraqi border after it crossed out of the country.

RFE/RL (January 25, 2023): Iran Sanctions Europeans In Tit-For-Tat Move; Protests Continue

Farnoush Amiri, AP (January 25, 2023): House commends Iranian protesters in bipartisan vote

Middle East Elections Coming Up in 2023

Turkey and Pakistan are due to hold elections that determine who runs the government. In addition, long-overdue elections in the Palestinian Authority and Libya could take place in 2023, but don’t hold your breath.

Tunisia Legislative Runoffs: January 29, 2023

Lebanon Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): continues in January 2023

Turkey Presidential and Legislative Elections: May 14, 2023

Lebanon Local Elections: May 31, 2023 (postponed from 2022 – additional delays possible)

Tunisia Local Elections: May 2023 (due)

Kurdistan (Iraq) Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: September 2023 (due – delayed from 2022)

Pakistan General Elections: October 12, 2023 (due – snap elections possible)

Israel Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Oman Consultative Assembly Elections (advisory body with limited power): October 2023 (due)

United Arab Emirates Federal National Council Elections (indirect elections, advisory body with limited powers): October 2023 (due)

Iraq Regional Elections: December 2023 (due)

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