In the context of the struggle between the waves of revolution and counter-revolution in the MENA region Morocco witnessed local and regional elections this week, the first after the constitution amendments of 2011. The elections, held on 4 September, are also the first since 2011 in which political actors agreed on a final version of the regionalisation project, whereby each of the country’s 12 regions will be led by an elected council with wide economic, human, infrastructural, environmental and cultural development capacities. In a sense, the 2015 elections mark another step in the post-Arab spring Morocco and another opportunity to examine the outcome of the country’s “reform under stability” paradigm. The lesson for Morocco is that the potential failure of the paradigm will immediately tarnish the whole diplomatic, political and reform effort that started in 2011. In the run up to the elections, Morocco feared that foreign pressure would restrict the participation of Islamists in a free and fair way. That pressure was eventually diminished through a tandem of internal and external factors; while the former manifested itself in governmental reforms, the latter included the change in the Saudi leadership, the eruption of the war in Yemen and the signing of the Iran nuclear deal. These events pushed local actors to shift the focus away from curbing the outcome of the Arab Spring, especially since attempts to smother the post-Arab Spring nascent democracies has generated chaos across the region. The difficult lesson of the past four years has been that it is despotism that threatens stability in the region, not respecting public will.
An 88-year-old veteran of Tunisia’s political establishment won the country’s presidency, according to official results issued Monday, capping a four-year-long democratic transition. Beji Caid Essebsi campaigned on restoring the “prestige of the state” and a return to stability from the years of turmoil that followed this North African country’s 2011 overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that kicked off the regional pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring. It is a measure of the country’s yearning for a return to stability after four hard years that a revolution of the youth calling for change and social justice ends up electing a symbol of the old regime.
Tunisians vote in the second round of a presidential election on Sunday, capping off four years of a sometimes chaotic transition since their country sparked the Arab Spring. Incumbent Moncef Marzouki faces political veteran Beji Caid Essebsi in the vote – the first time Tunisians will be allowed to freely elect their president since independence from France in 1956. It was protests in Tunisia and the 2011 ouster of long-time ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that set off the chain of revolts that saw several Arab dictators toppled by citizens demanding democratic reforms. From Egypt and Libya to Syria and Yemen, violent unrest followed. But Tunisia has largely avoided the bloodshed that has plagued other Arab Spring states, and its citizens are feeling hopeful ahead of the run-off vote.
Tunisia held its first free presidential election on Sunday, taking another step forward in its transition to democracy as voters hoped for greater stability and a better economy. Many Tunisians weighed security concerns against the freedoms brought by their revolution and by its democratic reforms, which have remained on track in sharp contrast to the upheavals brought by the Arab Spring elsewhere in the region, including the military coup in Egypt and the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya. It has not been easy for Tunisia, however, and the nearly four years since the revolution have been marked by social unrest, terrorist attacks and high inflation that pushed voters into punishing the moderate Islamists in last month’s parliamentary elections. “The thing I’m worried most about for the future is terrorism. Right now, we don’t know who’s coming into the country, and this is a problem,” said Amira Judei, 21, who voted in the southern city of Kasserine, near the border with Algeria and a point of terrorist attacks. Tunisia’s revolution began in areas such as Kasserine in the impoverished south. Voting hours in the rural regions along the border were reduced to five hours due to security fears.
In this city where the Arab Spring was born, an undercurrent of anxiety accompanied the country’s first democratic presidential election on Sunday. Outside the cosmopolitan coastal capital of Tunis, front-runner Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old politician who served under two autocratic regimes, is viewed with suspicion. He is seen as an unsettling relic of the autocratic regimes that ruled Tunisia from its independence from France in 1956 until the 2010 uprising. “You can’t be stung by the same scorpion twice,” said Najib Issaoui, a 27-year-old fruit vendor in a small market in the center of Sidi Bouzid. “The revolution is in progress. But it isn’t finished.”
Tiny Gulf monarchy Bahrain holds elections on Saturday but with the opposition boycotting there seems little hope of an end to political deadlock in the key US ally. Bahrain remains divided nearly four years after security forces in the kingdom clamped down on protests led by demonstrators taking their cue from the Arab Spring uprisings. The opposition is demanding a “real” constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister who is independent from the ruling royal family. But the Al-Khalifa dynasty has refused to yield. Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet and is one of several Arab states supporting US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, making it a vital Western ally. Turnout on Saturday is likely to be low as the main opposition party has already called for a boycott.
Outspoken, long-time judge Kalthoum Kannou is Tunisia’s first female presidential candidate. On 23 November, she will compete against 22 other contenders in the country’s first round of presidential elections since the Arab Spring’s protest wave overthrew the long-lasting regime of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Kannou is hoping that the fact that she is a woman and politically independent will win the Tunisian voters’ confidence. However, who is Kannou, what does she stand for and what are her chances? Today, Tunisia’s young and commendable democracy has somewhat 190 political parties, most of which were established in its post-revolutionary era. However, Kannou is not happy with the current political scene; many political parties compete against each other and make promises they can’t keep, she argued passionately over coffee at her headquarters in Lafayette, an old Tunis quarter. “Focus is not on Tunisia’s best,” Kannou told me. Instead, argued the 55-year old judge, the political climate is dominated by quarrels over political ideology and that the debate is far too verbal and confrontational. What her country needs now, when Tunisia is beginning a new chapter of its young democracy, is unity. “Tunisians have had enough of politics,” explained Kannou, “That’s why I presented myself for the presidency,” she declared proudly, “an independent candidate without political affiliation.”
Campaign posters and banners for next week’s presidential elections have covered the walls of Tunisia’s cities and towns, papering over the flaking posters from the parliamentary elections just three weeks ago. The presidential campaign, featuring 25 competitors, kicked off in early November and it’s the first time since Tunisians overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 that they will choose their head of state through universal suffrage. If no candidate wins a majority Nov. 23, there will be a runoff between the top two vote-getters on Dec. 28. Alone among the countries that experienced the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Tunisia’s transition has remained on track. The favorite to win is Beji Caid Essebsi, an 87-year-old veteran politician who served under Ben Ali and his predecessor Habib Bourguiba, and whose party won the most seats in parliament — 39 percent — in the October elections.
In a life spanning colonial rule, war, autocracy and revolution, Tunis resident Halima never saw a reason to vote. A chance meeting in a souk earlier this month gave her one. She was introduced to Kalthoum Kannou, who has three children, a long marriage to a doctor, a 25-year career as a judge and an ambition to be the first female president of Tunisia. “I’ll go to the polling station early in the morning,” said Halima, 91, who gave only her first name, wrapped in a cloak and headscarf to ward off the chill in the open-air market. “This woman who was able to succeed at home and at work will also be able to help govern Tunisia.”
Like the rest of Egypt, Tahrir Square in Cairo is off-limits nowadays to the protesters who made it famous three years ago. Its Tunisian equivalent is still open for business. In the run-up to the North African country’s parliamentary election last week, Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis hosted rallies by major parties. Islamists and leftists were among groups sharing the tree- and café-lined boulevard, marking out their own spaces for rival campaign events. Violent upheaval and even civil war have followed the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria in 2011. Tunisia, where that wave of unrest began, showed that it’s on a different trajectory when Islamists agreed to cede power peacefully after losing the latest vote. The Tunisian exception, analysts say, results from a less meddlesome army, more flexible politicians, and an absence of the external interference that countries deemed more important were subjected to.
Campaigning opened Saturday for a presidential election in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, with secularist Beji Caid Essebsi seen as the front-runner after his party won milestone parliamentary polls. Essebsi, 87, leads a field of 27 candidates in the November 23 vote, after Nidaa Tounes came out on top in last Sunday’s legislative election, beating the previously dominant moderate Islamist movement Ennahda. Tunisians hope both elections will provide much-sought stability nearly four years after the revolution that drove longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power in 2011. Presidential candidates include the incumbent, Moncef Marzouki, woman magistrate Kalthoum Kannou and also former Ben Ali ministers. If no candidate secures an absolute majority on November 23, a second round of voting will take place in late December. It will be the first time Tunisians have voted freely for their head of state.
Tunisia’s first parliamentary election since the Arab Spring revolution of 2011 was transparent and credible, the head of the EU observer mission said on Tuesday. “The Tunisian people have reinforced their commitment to democracy with credible and transparent elections that gave Tunisians of all political tendencies a free vote,” Annemie Neyts-Uytterbroeck told a news conference. “Polling day passed off in a calm and orderly fashion. Everything was really very normal,” she said. “The campaign generally went smoothly. Freedom of expression and assembly were respected.”
The secular Nidaa Tounes party won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary elections on Monday, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda, which just three years ago swept to power as the North African nation celebrated the fall of its longtime dictator in the Arab Spring revolution. Though just a few official results had been released on Monday night, Ennahda’s leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, called Beji Caid Essebsi, the 87-year-old leader of Nidaa Tounes, on Monday evening to congratulate him. Mr. Ghannouchi then threw a large street party for party workers outside Ennahda’s campaign headquarters, with music and fireworks. Ennahda’s former foreign minister, Rafik Abdessalem, said that by the party’s count, Ennahda had won 69 to 73 seats, while Nidaa Tounes had most likely won 83 seats. “We accept the result,” Mr. Abdessalem said. “There are some irregularities, but we consider we succeeded in this process to hold transparent democratic elections.”
Tunisia has voted in historic elections to choose its first parliament since the overthrow of long-time ruler in 2011 that sparked the ‘Arab Spring’ protests. Votes were being counted across the country on Sunday as Tunisians cast their ballots in parliamentray elections, four years after the ouster of autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Many polling stations reported high turnouts and long lines early in the day, with an estimated 60 percent of the 5.2 million registered voters turning out to vote for the 217-seat parliament. “The spotlight is on us and the success of this [vote] is a guarantee for the future,” Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said as he cast his ballot. US President, Barack Obama called the election an “important milestone in the country’s historic political transition”. “In casting their ballots today, Tunisians continued to inspire people across their region and around the world,” Obama said.
Tunisians vote Sunday to elect their first parliament since the country’s 2011 revolution, in a rare glimmer of hope for a region torn apart by post-Arab Spring violence and repression. After three weeks of largely low-key campaigning, more than five million voters are to elect 217 deputies in a ballot pitting the Islamist Ennahda movement — the country’s largest party — against a host of secular groups. Tunisia has enjoyed relative stability since the region’s 2011 uprisings in contrast to the lawlessness of Libya and Yemen, the military takeover in Egypt and Syria’s bloody civil war. But the country has flirted with disaster, particularly last year when a rise in militant activity, the assassination of two opposition lawmakers and an economy in the doldrums threatened to drag Tunisia down the same path.
Tunisia’s assembly on Wednesday set parliamentary and presidential elections for October and November of this year to complete the transition to democracy after its 2011 revolution. The assembly decided that the vote for the new parliament will be on Oct. 26 and the vote for a new president on Nov. 23. If no candidate for president wins a majority, there will be a runoff on Dec. 28. It means the newly chosen electoral commission has just four months to organize the parliamentary elections and update the electoral rolls to register the 3 million eligible voters that didn’t participate in the October 2011 elections for the interim assembly. Tunisia kicked off the region-wide pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring by overthrowing its dictator in January 2011.
Tunisia’s election authority has proposed a parliamentary vote on Oct. 26 and the first round of presidential polls a month later, marking the final step towards full democracy in the cradle of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Tunisia’s often turbulent political transition began after the popular revolt that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and inspired revolutions across the region. The North African state has been run of late by aukbig caretaker government that saw through the adoption of a new constitution lauded as a model of democratic evolution in an unstable region.
Tunisia’s national assembly on Thursday approved a new electoral law, to take one of the last steps in the country’s move to full democracy after the 2011 uprising that inspired the “Arab Spring” revolts. Passing the law allows electoral authorities to set a date for the first election since the North African state adopted a new constitution that has been praised as a model of democratic transition in the Arab world. Members of the 217-seat assembly voted 132 in favor and 11 against the new electoral law. “This is an important step,” said Mehrzia Labidi, vice president of the assembly. With its new constitution and a caretaker administration governing until elections later this year, Tunisia’s relatively smooth progress contrasts with the turmoil in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, which also ousted long-standing leaders three years ago.
With a presidential election on Thursday, most Algerians see a fourth term for the incumbent, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, as a foregone conclusion. Mr. Bouteflika has already been in power 15 years. In the last election in 2009, he was returned to office with an improbable 90 percent of the vote. So tightly controlled is this North African country that, virtually alone in the region, it passed on the Arab Spring. Yet even as the re-election of Mr. Bouteflika, 77, appears inevitable, his insistence on running again, despite his apparent frail health, has increased popular exasperation, revealed unusual signs of division within the ruling elite and provoked an unlikely show of solidarity among opposition parties, both secular and Islamic, which have united in a call to boycott the election. Exceptionally, a nascent urban middle-class youth movement, Barakat! (“Enough!” in Arabic), styled along the lines of the protests organized through social media during the Arab Spring, has begun campaigning against another term for Mr. Bouteflika. In recent weeks, it broke a taboo by holding small political protests here on the streets of the capital.
The protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy. It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal. Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately yesterday about the “incredible yearning for modernity” sweeping across the world, warning that free elections do not necessarily usher in true democracy in many countries. The months of protests in Ukraine that led to the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovich were just one example of “people power” in recent months. Such protests were “a reflection of this incredible yearning for modernity, for change, for choice, for empowerment of individuals that is moving across the world, and in many cases moving a lot faster than political leadership is either aware of or able to respond to,” the top US diplomat told a small group of reporters. The ousting of Yanukovich, like July’s toppling of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Mursi, proved that elections by themselves were not always enough. “A democracy is not defined solely by an election,” the top US diplomat argued.
Libyans went to the polls Thursday to elect a panel to draft a new constitution in the latest milestone in the chaotic political transition following the overthrow of Moamer Gathafi. There was none of the voter enthusiasm that marked Libya’s first free election in July 2012 as public frustration mounts over the weak central government’s failure to restore order in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising. At Fatma al-Zahra school in the capital’s Hay al-Andalous district, less than 100 of 2,760 registered voters had cast their ballot two hours after polls opened. “It’s still early and it’s a holiday (for the vote). People are having a lie-in,” said Ali Hassan, the official in charge of the polling station. Houda Bouzid, a woman in her 30s, said: “I’ve come to vote for a candidate to push for women’s rights in the new constitution.”
“Egypt is the gift of the Nile for Egyptians and the gift of Egyptians to humanity.” Thus begins the new Egyptian constitution, which, according to preliminary results, was approved by 97.7 per cent of voters this week. The percentage of voters who didn’t read the full document probably also ranges well above ninety—in conversations with many Cairenes, I met only one person who said he had read the whole thing. It’s hard to blame the others. The constitution opens with a strange, rambling preamble that in translation stretches for more than thirteen hundred words, mentioning, in the following order, Allah, Moses, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, Muhammad Ali Pasha, Refaa the Azharian, Ahmed Orabi, Mostafa Kamel, Mohamed Farid, Saad Zaghloul, Mostafa el-Nahhas, Talaat Harb, and Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Nile inundates three of the first six sentences. It’s a preamble to everything—not just the constitution but human civilization itself: “In the outset of history, the dawn of human consciousness arose and shone forth in the hearts of our great ancestors, whose goodwill banded together to found the first central State that regulated and organized the life of Egyptians on the banks of the Nile.”
Tunisia’s national assembly appointed an electoral council on Wednesday to oversee elections this year, a key step in the country’s transition to democracy three years after its “Arab Spring” uprising. Selecting the nine-member electoral council was a key part of an agreement to overcome months of political crisis between the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, and its secular opposition over how to shape the country’s young democracy. “Congratulations to the Tunisian people for the election of these nine members. It was a tough task, but we have overcome differences,” Meherzia Laabidi, deputy president of the assembly, said at the end of voting. Under the deal brokered late last year to end deadlock, Tunisia’s government plans to resign shortly and hand over power to a non-political caretaker cabinet that will govern until new elections later this year.
Yemen, the only country where an Arab Spring revolt led to a negotiated settlement, on Monday launched a UN-backed national dialogue aimed at paving the way towards a new constitution and elections. The talks are, however, being boycotted by hardline southern factions who staged a general strike and protests in the port city of Aden on Sunday against the initiative. The dialogue, scheduled to run six months, brings together 565 representatives of Yemen’s various political groups – from secessionists in the south to Zaidi rebels in the north, in addition to civil society representatives. They aim to draft a new constitution and prepare for general elections in February 2014, after a two-year transition led by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi.
On 23 January 2013, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan held its first parliamentary elections in the context of the “Arab Spring”. Like previous parliaments, the 17th elected Lower House (the Upper House, or Senate, is royally appointed) will consist of an absolute majority of conservative and tribal candidates, providing the “reigning and ruling” King Abdallah II with a solid support base in both chambers. More than 75 % of the 150 parliamentarians can be considered loyalists, while about one fourth (ca. 37 deputies according to some reports) have a more independent and oppositionist outlook. The latter group is, however, very diverse, ranging from individual leftist and liberal secularists to independent Islamists, three of which represent the al-Wasat party, the biggest party in the future legislature. The future Lower House will also have 17 female deputies, two more than the women’s quota of 15 provides.
Jordanians voted on Wednesday in their first parliamentary elections since the Arab Spring revolts, but a boycott by the main Islamist party will ensure no repeat of an Egypt-style revolution via the ballot box. The popular Muslim Brotherhood shunned the poll saying the electoral system had been rigged against large, populated urban areas where it is strongest in favor of rural tribal areas where conservative, pro-government forces are entrenched. Dozens of people lined up outside polling stations in several Jordanian towns before polls opened across the kingdom at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT), witnesses said.
From a podium at an Amman street rally, the leader of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood vowed that soon the country would become a “state in the Muslim Caliphate,” bringing cheers of “God is great” from the crowd of bearded, Islamist supporters. It was extreme rhetoric, suggesting that the monarchy that defines this U.S. ally in the Mideast will disappear to be replaced by an Islamic state. The Brotherhood, the top opposition group in Jordan, usually avoids such bold strokes and insists on its loyalty to the king. But the speech last week by Hammam Saeed points to how the heat is turning up in the country’s simmering political confrontations as Jordan holds parliamentary elections Wednesday that the government touts as a milestone in a gradual process of bringing greater democracy.
The candidates running in Jordan’s upcoming parliamentary elections have slogans and campaign promises that would sound familiar to voters in the historic recent polls of other Arab countries. But a quick glance at the Jordanian ballot reveals a list of hopefuls who stand apart from many of the competitors in other post-Arab Spring elections: Of the 1,400 candidates running on Wednesday for this monarchy’s 150-seat Parliament, only 22 are Islamists. After major gains in elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, Islamists are set to make little electoral impact in the first Jordanian polls since a pro-democracy movement broke out here in 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood — which is Jordan’s strongest opposition force and runs its most organized political party — is boycotting the vote, mainly in protest of an elections law it claims will prevent a fair vote.
Jordan’s powerful Islamists warned on Tuesday they will step up their campaign against next week’s parliamentary elections and against reforms pursued by King Abdullah II. The Jan. 23 vote could lead to a showdown between Abdullah and the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group leads a fractured opposition in Jordan that includes liberal youth activists, trade unionists, Arab nationalists and Communists. Traditionally, the Brotherhood has been loyal to the Jordan’s Hashemite dynasty, which claims ancestry to the Prophet Muhammad. Brotherhood leaders have joined Cabinets in the past and held top government positions. Unlike other Mideast nations where the Brotherhood was banned or suppressed until Arab Spring revolts, it has been a licensed political party for decades in Jordan. Now the fundamentalist group is openly seeking more power in the kingdom, seeing its peers now ruling in Egypt and Tunisia.