The Middle East Channel

Early Results Show Landslide Sisi Victory in Egypt’s Presidential Election

Provisional results in Egypt's presidential election show former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi winning a landslide victory. According to state media, Sisi has won 93.3 percent of the votes while his rival, left wing politician Hamdeen Sabahi, has obtained 3 percent. However, the election has been overshadowed by lower than expected voter turnout, with between 44 and 46 percent of voters estimated to have participated. As results began to emerge early Thursday morning, Sisi supporters started celebrating in the streets. Sabahi questioned the vote's legitimacy and accused soldiers and policemen of harassing his supporters at polling stations, but he appeared to concede defeat. Muslim Brotherhood members largely boycotted the election and senior MB member Tariq al-Zumar called the election process a "theatrical play which did not convince anybody."

Syria

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that Syria will miss the June 30 deadline for the complete elimination of its chemical weapons stockpile. In a May 23 letter to the U.N. Security Council, Ban noted that 7.2 percent of the regime's declared chemical arsenal remains in Syria and the government insists it doesn't have control of security in the areas where the materials are stored. He urged Syria to conclude "the remaining removal operations as quickly as possible, as the authorities have pledged to do." In a speech at West Point, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to increase support for the moderate opposition in Syria's war though U.S. officials said measures are in the early stages. Meanwhile, a U.S. citizen suspected of involvement with al-Nursa Front has conducted a suicide truck bombing in the northern Idlib province, in what is believed to be the first time an American has participated in such an attack in Syria.

Headlines  

  • Forces loyal to former Libyan General Khalifa Heftar have bombed a base in Benghazi belonging to the February 17 Brigade, a government-funded Islamist-leaning militia.
  • Cyber intelligence firm ISight Partners has reported that Iranian hackers have been using social networking sites and fake news websites to spy on U.S. and Israeli military and political leaders.
  • The Israeli military suspended a soldier for involvement in the fatal shootings of two Palestinian protesters after a video showed him opening fire.
  • Two Shiite activists have been convicted of attacking security forces in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province during the 2011 anti-government protests and have been sentenced to death.

Arguments and Analysis

'Egyptian Elections: First Conclusions' (Mohamed El Dahshan, Atlantic Council)

"Elections are not only judged by what occurs on D-day. In the run-up to voting, electoral silence was violated countless times. While ultimately they were not penalized for it, Sisi's campaign handed out tens of thousands of energy-saving light bulbs. They relied on state resources for his campaign, including the use of planes to drop leaflets and the army's spokesperson office as his private secretariat and its lavish hotels as meeting rooms. Caps on campaign spending, which were already increased in March, were made redundant through a loophole that limited financial donations and spending but not in-kind gifts, leading to the explosion of Sisi posters and billboards on nearly every other lamppost and sign across Cairo, gifted by wealthy supporters. As voting took place, advertising material near and even in polling stations has been ubiquitous; voter intimidation, mostly verbal and threatening, was rife-but, quite like the experience of expatriate voters in Egyptian embassies last week, it was not conducted by government or security forces, but rather by majority voters. Some pockets of strong Muslim Brotherhood influence also witnessed instances of intimidation of voters, committed by sympathizers of former president Mohamed Morsi rejecting the electoral process. In at least one instance, Brotherhood sympathizers forced shut a polling station to prevent any voting, requiring government intervention to be reopened." 

'Foreign fighters don't always help' (Kristin M. Bakke, The Washington Post)

"Yet, as we have come to see in Syria, domestic rebels and the population may grow skeptical of their foreign helpers. Indeed, it is not a given that foreign fighters strengthen the domestic rebel movements they join. While foreign fighters may boost a domestic rebel movement's coercive force through added resources and expertise, they can also weaken the movement's organizational cohesion and ability to mobilize supporters by introducing new ideas about goals and tactics. 

As I show in an in-depth study of the influence of foreign fighters on the Chechen separatist movement, the entry of new goals and tactics can cause divisions within the movement - and even outright defection - if local resistance leaders are not on board. The introduction of new goals and tactics can also make it more difficult for the movement leaders to garner public support."

-- Mary Casey

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

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