Middle East This Week: August 17, 2021

August 17, 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.

A voter in Afghanistan. Following the Taliban takeover of much of Afghanistan’s territory, the political future remains uncertain. Photo credit: USAID/Julie Fossler (CC0)

Upcoming Middle East Elections

Morocco Legislative and Local Elections: September 8, 2021

Morocco has set legislative, provincial, and local elections for September 8, 2021. The elections are taking place in the context of discontentment and disillusionment. Although the current monarch, King Mohammed VI, has instituted a number of political reforms, he still plays a major role in governing, both through formal structures and informally. Following the 2011 constitutional reforms, the king must appoint a prime minister from the party that wins the most seats in parliament, but the king can still circumvent elected officials in various ways (including dissolving parliament or simply issuing decrees).

In the last elections, in 2016, the moderate Islamic democratic Party of Justice and Development (PJD) won the most seats. However, the king sought to sideline PJD as much as possible with ministerial appointments. More

Safaa Kasraoui, Morocco World News (August 15, 2021): Morocco Calls on Imams, Preachers To Remain Neutral During Elections

Barak Ravid, Axios (August 12, 2021): Israel and Morocco agree to full diplomatic normalization

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) as a result of the pro-democracy protests that began in 2019. 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.

The current political climate is violent and chaotic, with over 600 people killed since the start of the protests. Moreover, 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. As a result, the elections could be delayed. More

Neville Teller, Jerusalem Post (August 17, 2021): Iraq is in turmoil as parliamentary elections near – opinion

Florian Neuhof, Daily Beast (August 12, 2021): Serial Murder of Young Progressives Plagues This Looming Election

The New Arab (August 12, 2021): Iraqi government to continue campaign to keep streets tidy started by assassinated mayor

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 2022More

Farah AlSharif, Doha News (August 16, 2021): Sheikh Khalifa meets tribal elders as election law protests subside

Reuters (August 12, 2021): Qatar’s new electoral law stirs up tribal sensitivities

Al Bawaba (August 10, 2021): Protests in Doha: The Qatari Citizenship Is Not Enough for Voting

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

Mohamed Saied, Al-Monitor (August 17, 2021): Egypt weighs Hifter’s role in Libyan transition: Libyan National Army commander Khalifa Hifter visited Cairo and met with the US ambassador to Libya at a time of heightened tensions between Hifter and the new Libyan government of national unity.

AFP (August 13, 2021): Libya delegates fail to reach agreement for December elections

Henry Meyer and Mirette Magdy, Bloomberg (August 12, 2021): Putin’s Qaddafi Comeback Gambit Sows New Conflict With the West: A fragile peace in Libya is at risk as foreign powers jostle over election candidates.

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

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.

Dale Gavlak, Voice of America (August 17, 2021: Lebanon Government Formation Appears on Hold, Despite Earlier Optimism

Thaer Ghandour, The National Interest (August 17, 2021): The Lebanese Army Can’t Avert Lebanon’s Crisis

Tom Perry and Nafisa Eltahir, Reuters (August 16, 2021): President hopes for Lebanon government in days as crisis bites deeper

Past Middle East Elections

Pakistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir Elections: July 25, 2021

Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), part of the Pakistan-administered portion of the disputed region of Kashmir, held elections on July 25, 2021. These follow elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, the other part of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The elections were originally due by April 2, 2021, but have been delayed.

The region is a geopolitical hotspot. Tensions with India (India and Pakistan have fought three wars, including two over Kashmir) are growing and both sides are upping their military presence. Moreover, the area is a centerpiece of China’s Belt and Road, which further inflames Pakistan’s relations with India and generally complicates the geopolitics of the region.

Dawn (August 17, 2021): PTI’s Barrister Sultan Mahmood elected AJK president

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

The New Arab (August 11, 2021): Who is Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Raisi’s Arabic-speaking pick for foreign minister?

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.

Tarek Amara and Angus Mcdowall, Reuters (August 17, 2021): Now in charge, Tunisian president faces looming fiscal crisis

Lisa Bryant, Voice of America (August 14, 2021): Tunisia’s Saied Is in Charge, but for How Long?

Al Jazeera (August 14, 2021): US calls on Tunisia’s Saied to appoint PM, restore democracy

Egypt Parliamentary Elections: October-December 2020

Egypt held elections for both houses of parliament this year. They were widely considered a sham by the opposition, civil society, and the public. More

Scott Williamson, Project on Middle East Democracy (August 17, 2021): Report – Popular Politics in Egypt: From the 2011 Revolution to al-Sisi’s Authoritarian Revival

Afghanistan Presidential Election: September 28, 20219

Afghanistan held its last presidential election on September 28, 2019. Ashraf Ghani ultimately won re-election in a very tense vote and a tense four months in between the election and the final declaration of results, defeating his main rival, Abdullah Abdullan. The election took place amid attacks by the Taliban, which had ordered Afghans not to vote.

Following the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of much of the coutnry, the future of Afghan politics remains uncertain.

Ivana Saric, Axios (August 17, 2021): Female mayor in Afghanistan says she is waiting for Taliban to come and kill her

Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Nossiter, New York Times (August 16, 2021): After 7 Years of Failing to Fix Afghanistan, Ghani Makes a Hasty Escape

Ali M Latifi, Al Jazeera (August 15, 2021): ‘Unpatriotic’: Afghans slam President Ghani’s swift departure: President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban entered the capital Kabul after capturing major cities within a week.

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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