The Middle East Channel

Turnout Remains Low Despite Extension of Egypt’s Presidential Election

Egypt's election commission extended voting into a third day as low voter turnout is preventing former General Abdullah Fattah al-Sisi, who is forecast to win the presidency, from attaining the broad mandate and legitimacy he is seeking. The commission said the extension was in response to a "large" number of citizens who weren't able to make it to polling stations due to a heat wave in Egypt. However, turnout remained low on Wednesday, suggesting a lower level of support for Sisi. The Democracy International observer mission said the extension raised questions about the credibility of the electoral process. 

Syria

Polling stations have opened at 39 Syrian embassies for citizens living abroad to vote ahead of Syria's June 3 presidential election. Refugees in Jordan and Lebanon are heading to polling stations in Amman and Beirut. According to the United Nations, 2.8 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries to escape the conflict. Over a million Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, and nearly half are believed to be of voting age. However, with only one polling station in Beirut, the facilities have appeared to be inadequate to serve the large numbers of people arriving to vote. Standing in line outside the embassy, Syrians interviewed said they would vote for President Bashar al-Assad, who is expected to secure a third term. The Syrian opposition and the United States have denounced the election as a sham.

Headlines  

  • Gunmen attacked the home of Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou late Tuesday killing four policemen.
  • The United States has told its citizens to leave Libya saying the security situation remains unstable meanwhile the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia warned the United States not to interfere.
  • Turkish activists have called for protests May 31 on the anniversary of Gezi Park demonstrations, which sparked mass protests, violent clashes, and a police crackdown.
  • According to an official from Fatah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has finished consultations with Hamas and will announce a unity government Thursday.
  • A suicide bomber killed at least 17 people at a Shiite mosque during midday prayers Tuesday in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Arguments and Analysis

'Lebanon's Hizbollah Turns Eastward to Syria' (International Crisis Group)

"In the longer term however, Hizbollah's involvement in Syria threatens the movement and is problematic for Lebanon and the Arab world more broadly. It has deepened the regional sectarian divide, fuelled the very extremism it purports to combat and eroded the movement's legitimacy among constituencies that previously were supportive. By framing its fight as a preemptive attack on takfiris - those who declare other Muslims to be apostates - Hizbollah has tarred all shades of the opposition, and indeed sometimes all Sunnis, with the same radicalising brush. It has exaggerated, and thereby exacerbated, the sectarianism of the Syrian opposition as well as its own domestic opponents. Once widely respected across the political and confessional spectrum, Hizbollah (literally 'The Party of God') now often is referred to as 'The Party of Satan'. The warm popular embrace that for the movement was tantamount to strategic depth has diminished, along with its reputation for moral probity. Ironically, shoring up its eastern front has made Hizbollah more vulnerable." 

'Middle East: Three nations, one conflict' (Borzou Daragahi, Financial Times)

"Lebanese and Iraqi Shia militiamen take up arms in Syrian towns and cities. Syrian insurgents set off bombs in southern Beirut. Sunni fighters flow from Syria to Iraq, where they battle government troops on the outskirts of Baghdad, while Lebanese and Palestinian Sunnis in Lebanon fight in the Syrian city of Homs. Governments in Baghdad and Beirut, backed by their patron in Tehran, look the other way - or sometimes help - as arms and fighters make their way into Syria for battles from Aleppo to Damascus to Deraa. 

This is more than just the 'spillover' from the Syria conflict analysts warned about when the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. The various conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are increasingly merging into one war stretching from the Zagros Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea in what the writer Rami Khoury calls 'a single operational arena in terms of the ease of movement of fighters and weapons.'"

'The ICC and Iraq: ‘A Pinochet Moment'' (Mark Kersten, Muftah)

"Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), has decided to open a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes committed by UK government personnel in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. The UK has categorically rejected any and all allegations that it is responsible for systematic human rights abuses in Iraq, during the country's invasion and occupation. Still, many have been left wondering: will Western officials responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq finally be brought to justice? The answer is, quite frankly, unclear. But the Iraq investigation may also have another aim: to save the ICC itself."

-- Mary Casey

MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Turnout Low in the Final Day of Egypt’s Presidential Election

Former General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to become Egypt's new president as Egyptians go to the polls for the final day of voting. The election of Sisi is seen as a foregone conclusion, so voter turnout has become important as a measure of support for the former army chief, who led the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Results from early polling of Egyptians living abroad gave Sisi nearly 95 percent of the votes. However, on the second day of voting, turnout was reportedly low across Egypt and Muslim Brotherhood supporters are boycotting the election. Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb declared Tuesday a national holiday in order to increase turnout and government and media outlets urged voters to go to the polls. Sisi's sole competitor is left-wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third in the 2012 presidential vote, won by Morsi.

Syria

A team of weapons inspectors from a joint Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and U.N. mission came under attack on Tuesday, but the OPCW reported that all members of the team are safe and returning to their operational base. The experts are in Syria to investigate alleged chlorine gas attacks since April in Hama and Idlib provinces. The Syrian government reported six inspectors and five drivers were abducted as they were traveling to the rebel-held village of Kafr Zeita, in Hama province. However, the OPCW did not confirm the report of the kidnapping. The Syrian government has denied allegations by the opposition that it has used chlorine gas in attacks.

Headlines  

  • Gunmen fired grenades at Libyan Prime Minister Ahmed Maitiq's home Tuesday leaving him unharmed just days after he won a vote of confidence from the parliament.
  • Jordan has expelled Syria's ambassador, Bahjat Suleiman, for insulting the kingdom, and Syria responded by expelling Jordan's charge d'affaires from Damascus.
  • Upon visiting the West Bank and Israel, Pope Francis endorsed the "State of Palestine" and invited Israeli President Peres and Palestinian President Abbas for a prayer summit at the Vatican.
  • Lebanon's president, Michel Suleiman, finished his term Sunday, leaving the office vacant after lawmakers failed to vote in five parliamentary sessions.

Arguments and Analysis

'Sisi could bring the stability Egypt needs - as long as he listens' (Magdi Abdelhadi, The Guardian)

"Let there be no doubt that Sisi is a conservative, authoritarian nationalist. But in this he is very much in tune with many Egyptians. Perhaps that is precisely why he's so popular.

However, authoritarianism has not succeeded in remedying Egypt's many ills in the past, and there is no reason to believe it will do so now. Transparency, accountability and rule of law is the answer. Therein lies Sisi's greatest challenge: to learn from the mistakes that have plunged Egypt in successive crises and made it fall so far short of its potential and promise."

'Libya's Transition: Towards Collapse' (Wolfram Lacher, German Institute for International and Security Affairs)

"Escalating power struggles are driving Libya's transitional process towards collapse. Under the rallying cry of fighting terrorism, disparate political forces are seeking to suspend the transitional framework. They have no viable alternative to offer. External actors have insufficient influence to successfully mediate among the conflicting parties - but sufficient influence to complicate matters further. Western governments' ambiguous signals partly reflect a serious miscalculation: the expectation that the political forces supporting renegade general Khalifa Haftar can succeed in establishing a new transitional framework and stabilize the country."

-- Mary Casey

Jonathan Rashad/Getty Images