Middle East This Week: February 7, 2023

February 7, 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.

A collapsed building in Diyarbakır, Turkey, following the February 6 earthquake. Photo credit: Wikimedia/VOA (public domain)

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. 

Naharnet (February 6, 2023): Cabinet convenes as Lebanon enters fourth month without president

Michael Fitzpatrick, RFI (February 6, 2023): Paris summit in effort to lift Lebanon out of political paralysis

Raya Jalabi, Financial Times (February 6, 2023): Re-opening of Beirut blast probe reignites feud inside Lebanon’s judiciary

Najia Houssari, Arab News (February 4, 2023): Lebanese Christian bloc leader rallies nation against electing pro-Hezbollah president

Michael Young, The National UAE (February 1, 2023): Hezbollah’s presidential pick shows how little power Lebanon’s Christians have left

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.

An earthquake ravaged the Turkey-Syria borer on February 6, striking Gaziantep province and killing more than 7,000 people and injuring tens of thousands.

Orhan Coskun and Birsen Altayli, Reuters (February 7, 2023): Analysis: Turkey’s quake response could shape tough election for Erdogan

Quentin Sommerville and Anna Foster, BBC (February 7, 2023): Turkey earthquake: Erdogan announces three-month state of emergency in quake area

Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor (February 6, 2023): How will Turkey’s killer earthquakes impact the country’s politics?

Jared Malsin and Elvan Kivilcim, Wall Street Journal (February 5, 2023): Ukraine War Makes Unexpected Winner of Turkey’s Erdogan: The president has leveraged his closeness with Putin to expand his international influence and bolster the country’s faltering economy

Simon Tisdall, The Guardian (February 5, 2023): Turkey’s two-faced ‘sultan’ is no friend of the west. It’s time to play hardball

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.

Sujitha Sundaram, Foreign Brief (February 7, 2023): Former Pakistani PM Imran Khan expected to be indicted

Faseeh Mangi, Bloomberg (February 6, 2023): Why Pakistan Is Struggling to Get Another IMF Bailout

Isaac Chotiner, New Yorker (February 5, 2023 – interview): Imran Khan’s Double Game

AP (February 5, 2023): Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s ex-president who aided U.S. war in Afghanistan, dies at 79

Adnan Aamir, Nikkei Asia (February 1, 2023): Deadly Peshawar mosque attack clouds Pakistan election timeline

Regional Elections

Dunya News (February 4, 2023): ECP says no decision on date of Punjab, KP elections

Palestinian Authority General Elections: Long Overdue

The Palestinian Authority is long overdue to hold general elections. President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in year 18 of a four-year term. Similarly, the last Legislative Council elections took place in 2006. However, local elections did take place in 2021 and 2022.

International Crisis Group (February 1, 2023): Managing Palestine’s Looming Leadership Transition

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. 

AFP (February 1, 2023): US urges Tunisia democratic efforts after paltry voter turnout

Carter Center (February 1, 2023): Post-election Statement: Low Turnout in Tunisia Election Reaffirms Need for Broad-Based Consensus

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.

Daniel Byman, Foreign Affairs (February 7, 2023): The Third Intifada? Why the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Might Boil Over Again

Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post (February 6, 2023): Is Benjamin Netanyahu the Tom Brady of Israel?

Emanuel Fabian, Times of Israel (February 3, 2023): Shin Bet says it foiled election day bomb plot by 2 Arab men enlisted by Hamas

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?

This wave of protests – which lasted about five months – has stopped/been crushed by a brutal crackdown. But grievances remain, and it is unclear whether protests will start back up.

NPR (February 6, 2023): The look from inside Iran after nationwide protests

Astha Rajavanshi, Time (February 6, 2023): Why Iran’s Unofficial Protest Anthem ‘Baraye’ Won a Grammy

Vali Nasr, Foreign Affairs (February 6, 2023): Iran’s Hard-Liners Are Winning: How Months of Protest Forged an Even More Intransigent Regime

Norbert Röttgen, European Council on Foreign Relations (February 6, 2023): Iran’s revolution of freedom

AP (February 5, 2023): Iran pardons some protesters, revealing ‘tens of thousands’ detained

Ali Vaez, Foreign Affairs (February 2, 2023): The Long Twilight of the Islamic Republic

Regional Analysis

Shadi Hamid, Brookings Institution (January 31, 2023): The end of the Moroccan “model”: How Islamists lost despite winning

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.

Lebanon Indirect Presidential Election (by parliament): continues in February 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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