Arab democracy is in full swing, at least on paper. Algerians reelected the ailing, 77-years-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika to a fourth presidential term last week. Iraq’s potentially pivotal parliamentary elections are set to be held on April 30, amidst spiraling violence and deep political consternation. Egypt has scheduled presidential elections for May 26 and 27, with former general and coup-leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi fortunate to have found at least one opponent to avoid the appearance of a plebiscite. War-torn Syria plans to hold a widely mocked presidential election on June 3.
All told these four elections cover 183 million people, or some 50 percent of the population of the Arab world. (Lebanon’s parliament is also set to choose a new president on April 23, but isn’t actually holding an election.) Few expect these elections to matter much. Only in Iraq’s parliamentary ballot is real power at stake, and the outcome unknown in advance. The other three fall far short of the minimal requirements of democracy: that they be relatively free and fair, to institutions with actual power, with real uncertainty about the outcomes. Egypt’s will take place amidst a massively repressive atmosphere of intimidation, arrest, and institutional bias. Syria’s will be a farcical episode amidst horrific civil war and sectarian brutality. Algeria’s would have felt right at home any time in the last three decades. Why bother?
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