Middle East This Week: August 24, 2021

August 24, 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.

The Casbah, the old city of Agadir, Morocco. Construction began in 1540. Morocco holds elections on September 8, and the campaign has officially begun. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Laminihasnaa (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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

AFP (August 26, 2021): Explainer: Why did Algeria cut diplomatic ties with Morocco?

ANSA (August 26, 2021): Election campaign starts in Morocco, 8/9 vote: Islamists facing greater challenge this time

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

Jennifer Holleis, Kersten Knipp, and Emad Hassan, DW (August 24, 2021): Qatari elections: A PR stunt or a step toward democracy?

AP (August 22, 2021): Qatar to hold first-ever advisory Shura Council vote Oct 2

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

AFP (August 26, 2021): Women candidates in Iraq poll less than half 2018 level

UN Security Council (August 25, 2021): With elections nearing in Iraq, transparency, accountability key to gaining public trust, Assistance Mission Chief tells Security Council amid calls for reforms

Christian Science Monitor (August 25, 2021): Why Iraq is now a Mideast peace broker: Its reformist prime minister has built up enough trust to host a summit of Arab and Iranian leaders that might lift the region’s youth out of despair

Steven A. Cook, Council on Foreign Relations (August 23, 2021): Iraq Is the Middle East’s New Power Broker

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

Sami Zaptia, Libya Herald (August 25, 2021): Libya and U.S. discuss security plan for next elections: 35,000 security personnel prepared

Hatem Mohareb, Bloomberg (August 23, 2021): Libya Vote May Face Delay Unless Rules Set Soon, Official Says

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.

AP (August 26, 2021): Lebanon judge issues subpoena for outgoing PM in port blast

Tom Perry and Laila Bassam, Reuters (August 24, 2021): Analysis: Leaderless Lebanon on slippery slope to mayhem

Joyce Karam, The National UAE (August 22, 2021): Lebanon’s Samir Geagea: Hezbollah showing cracks in face of unprecedented resentment

Bahrain Parliamentary Elections: November 2022 (due)

Bahrain is due to hold parliamentary elections in November 2022. Since a 2011 uprising, Bahrain has become increasingly authoritarian and repressive, especially vis a vis the Shi’ite opposition (Bahrain is more than half Shi’hite but ruled by a Sunni royal family). The opposition was barred from participating in the last elections in 2018. Moreover, the monarch has executive power as well as the power to appoint the prime minister and cabinet. Therefore, parliament is generally not very powerful.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner, The Guardian (August 24, 2021): Phones of nine Bahraini activists found to have been hacked with NSO spyware

Palestinian Authority Presidential and Legislative Elections: Long overdue, postponed indefinitely

The Palestinian Authority has postponed its long overdue elections for the legislature and president, which had been scheduled for May 22 and July 31, respectively. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in year 16 of a four-year term. Similarly, the last Legislative Council elections took place in 2006. More

Daoud Kuttab, Al-Monitor (August 19, 2021): Abbas turns to King Abdullah amid Palestinian succession crisis

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

Maziar Motamedi, Al Jazeera (August 25, 2021): Iran’s parliament approves President Raisi’s conservative cabinet

Arsalan Shahla, Golnar Motevalli, and Patrick Sykes, Bloomberg (August 25, 2021): Iran Installs Government, Moving Closer to Resuming Atomic Talks

Nancy W. Gallagher, War on the Rocks (August 24, 2021): Iran’s New President, Public Opinion, and the Prospects for Negotiations

Israel Parliamentary Elections, Take 4: March 23, 2021

On March 23, 2021, Israel held its fourth general election in two years after the collapse of the unity government of Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. Neither Netanyahu’s allies nor his opponents won a majority. Netanyahu, whose conservative Likud party won the most seats, had the first chance to form a coalition, but he failed. Subsequently,Yair Lapid from the centrist Yesh Atid formed a broad coalition with conservative Naftali Bennett, with Bennett as prime minister for a time before rotating the position to Lapid. A number of other parties are in the coalition, which passed a Knesset vote on June 14, thus ending Netanyahu’s 12 years in office. More

Dov Lieber and Rory Jones, Wall Street Journal (August 25, 2021): Israel’s Bennett Seeks New Political Order. Netanyahu Stands in the Way

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.

Erin Clare Brown, The National UAE (August 25, 2021): ‘A parade of red flags’: what next for Tunisia after Kais Saied’s extension of power?

Sarah Anne Rennick, Arab Reform Initiative (August 24, 2021): Has Tunisia’s Democracy Failed to Convince its Youth? The Slow-Going of Democratic Socialization

Heba Saleh, Financial Times (August 24, 2021): Tunisia’s populist president extends suspension of parliament: Kais Saied tightens grip a month after seizing sweeping powers and dismissing government

Al Jazeera (August 21, 2021): Tunisia: Former anti-corruption chief placed under house arrest

Afghanistan Presidential Election: September 28, 2019

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.

Ezzedine C. Fishere, Washington Post (August 23, 2021): Opinion: What the Taliban victory spells out for the Middle East

Regional Analysis

The Economist (August 24, 2021): Across the Arab world, Islamists’ brief stints in power have failed

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)

Qatar Shura Council Elections: October 2, 2021

Iraq Parliamentary Elections: October 10, 2021

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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