Middle East This Week: August 10, 2021

August 10, 2021

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. For a full electoral calendar and interactive map, click here.

Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, who won a rigged election in June and was sworn into office this month. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Tasnim News Agency (CC BY 4.0)

Upcoming Middle East Elections

Jordan Local Elections: By September 2021 (due)

Jordan is due to hold local elections by September 2021. These follow parliamentary elections, which happened on November 10, 2020. Turnout was low, and both women and Islamist candidates saw poor results. Subsequently, King Abdullah II announced a new high-level committee to enact political reforms. This is not the first such effort in Jordan, and past attempts at change have been a disappointment to those who hope for reform, but it could be promising.

Jordan has a consistent pro-Western foreign policy and a close relationship with the United States and other democracies. It has been a key partner on security issues. More

Daoud Kuttab/The Media Line, Jerusalem Post (August 6, 2021): Jordan to become a full democracy within a decade: The Jordanian Royal commission is in discussions regarding a three-phase plan to empower political parties, leading to a fully-fledged democracy.

Iraq Early Parliamentary Elections: October 10, 2021 (tentative) and Provincial Elections (due)

Iraq plans to hold early elections on October 10, postponed from the original proposal of holding them on June 6, 2021, one year early, following the demands of protesters. The country is also due to hold provincial (sometimes called governorate) elections. Preparations are taking place in the context of widespread protest and political instability.

A number of political parties have announced plans to boycott the polls, including the Shi’ite firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential politicians. More

Katherine Lawlor and Nicholas Carl, Critical Threats (August 10, 2021): The Iranian Proxy Response to the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue

Mina al-Oraibi, The National UAE (August 10, 2021): Is boycotting an election an effective strategy?

Mustafa Shilani, Kurdistan24 (August 7, 2021): Sadr advisor stands by boycott of Iraqi general elections

Mustafa Saadoun, Al-Monitor (August 7, 2021): Feud between Iraqi Sunni leaders could undercut bloc ahead of elections

Nancy Ezzeddine and Erwin Van Veen, War on the Rocks (August 4, 2021): Warning signs: Qassem Musleh and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces

Qatar Shura Council Elections: October 2021 (announced – date not set)

Qatar has announced that it will hold its first-ever parliamentary elections (Shura Council elections) in October 2021. Qatar is an absolute monarchy in which the emir holds all political power. The only elections that the country has ever held have been for the Central Municipal Council, an advisory body with no real power. Political parties are not allowed. Moreover, the vast majority of people who live in Qatar are not citizens, and have no political rights. The Shura Council has existed since 1972, but has few real powers. 

Some have criticized these elections as a cosmetic reform undertaken because of increased pressure because Qatar will be hosting the football World Cup in 2022. More

Adam Lucente, Al-Monitor (August 10, 2021): Controversy in Qatar over electoral law’s exclusion of tribe: Seven people have been referred to prosecutors for “publishing fake news” regarding the Al Murrah tribe’s discontent with the regulations for Qatar’s upcoming election.

BBC (August 9, 2021 – in Arabic): The Shura Council elections in Qatar: controversy over the conditions for candidacy amid protests and arrests

Libya Parliamentary and Presidential Elections: December 24, 2021 (tentative)

Libya’s national elections are overdue and have been postponed indefinitely due to the political crisis and civil war. However, in November 2020, Libyan stakeholders participating in UN-sponsored talks proposed December 24, 2021 for presidential and parliamentary elections. More

Samy Magdy, AP (August 11, 2021): US envoy meets Libyan commander to push for elections

Ilya Barabanov and Nader Ibrahim, BBC (August 11, 2021): Wagner: Scale of Russian mercenary mission in Libya exposed

Khalid Hassan, Al-Monitor (August 7, 2021): Gadhafi’s son announces return to Libyan politics

Lebanon Parliamentary Elections: May 2022 (due)

Lebanon is due to hold general elections in May 2022, although some parties have called for early elections. The country has been in a political crisis and without a government since the port explosion in Beirut, in which 215 people died, 7,500 were injured, and 300,000 were left homeless. Moreover, Lebanon is in an economic crisis.

Anthony B. Kim and Alexander Jelloian, Heritage Foundation (August 10, 2021): How Lebanon Can Attain Economic and Political Freedom

AP (August 9, 2021): Lebanon’s worsening fuel crisis spurs violence, leaves three dead

Dale Gavlak, Voice of America (August 9, 2021): In Lebanon, Discontent Grows With Hezbollah’s Political, Military Might

Past Middle East Elections

Iran Presidential and Local Elections: June 18, 2021

Iran held its next presidential election on June 18, 2021, with concurrent local elections. While Iran is far from a free country, and the elections are largely rigged, voters have in the past had a degree of choice. However, this year’s election was even more rigged than usual. The Guardian Council (which must approve all candidacies) allowed seven candidates on the ballot and mostly excluded moderates and establishment figures, among them a number of prominent names. This seemed to be calculated to clear the way for hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi to win, and he did in fact win. 

Raisi’s win complicates things for the Biden administration, which is seeking to restore the nuclear deal that the Trump administration left. More

Jonathan Lis, Haaretz (August 11, 2021): Israel Sees Little Chance of Iran Under Raisi Returning to Nuclear Deal

Michael Hirsch, Foreign Policy (August 4, 2021): Raisi Will Yank Biden Back Into the Middle East: Iran’s new president is ruthless and seems set on putting the United States back on a trajectory of mutual escalation.

Sune Engel Rasmussen, Wall Street Journal (August 5, 2021): Iran Swears In President Ebrahim Raisi as Unease Grows in West: Inauguration consolidates Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s control over the Islamic Republic

Frederik Pleitgen, Claudia Otto and Ramin Mostaghim, CNN (August 6, 2021): Iran’s hardline new president sworn in amid stalled nuclear talks and hopes of Saudi detente

Rick Gladstone, New York Times (August 5, 2021): Is Iran’s Supreme Leader Truly Supreme? Yes, but President Is No Mere Figurehead

Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, Foreign Affairs (August 5, 2021): Iran’s War Within: Ebrahim Raisi and the Triumph of the Hard-Liners

Syria Presidential Election: May 26, 2021

Syria held its presidential election for May 26, 2021. The election happened the context of Syria’s ongoing civil war and humanitarian crisis. Elections under the regime of Bashar al-Assad are widely considered to be a sham. More

Oz Katerji, Foreign Policy (August 11, 2021): Damascus’s False Reconciliation Failed in Daraa

AP (August 10, 2021): Syria’s Assad names new Cabinet, few changes in ministries

Jared Malsin and Suha Ma’ayeh, Wall Street Journal (August 9, 2021): Russia’s Quest for Mideast Influence Hindered by Renewed Fighting in Syria

Tunisia Presidential and Legislative Elections: September/October 2019

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, some concerns lingered about the democratic process.

In July 2021, Saied dismissed the government, a move that some deemed a coup.

Anthony B. Kim and Olfa Hamdi, Heritage Foundation (August 11, 2021): It’s Now or Never for Tunisian Democracy

Larbi Sadiki, Al-Jazeera (August 9, 2021): Tunisia’s Ennahdha is at a crossroads

Khalid al-Jaber, The National Interest (August 8, 2021): Tunisia’s Coup-rageous New Beginning

Sarah E. Yerkes, Foreign Affairs (August 6, 2021): The Tunisia Model in Crisis: The President’s Power Grab Risks an Authoritarian Regression

Middle East Elections Coming Up in 2021 and 2022

Morocco Legislative, Provincial, and Local Elections: September 8, 2021

Jordan Local and Gubernatorial Elections: September 2021 (due)

Iraq Parliamentary Elections: October 10, 2021

Qatar Shura Council Elections: October 2021 (proposed)

Libya Presidential and Parliamentary Elections: December 24, 2021

Lebanon Parliamentary Elections: May 2022 (due)

Bahrain Parliamentary Elections: November 2022 (due)

Algeria Local Elections: November 2022 (due – earlier elections possible)

Egypt Local Elections: Due and discussed, but not scheduled

Oman Local Elections: Due, but postponed due to COVID-19

Palestinian Authority Presidential and Legislative Elections: Long overdue, postponed yet again, no date set

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