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Islamist Electoral Losses…and Iran

03/07/2009

Coming on  the  heel  of  President Obama’s speech in Cairo, the  swift   march  of  events seem  to  have  energized  voters  in  Lebanon and Iran who  turned  out  in  a  record number. President Obama did  mention  the  imperative  of  upholding minority  rights; and  singled  out  both  the  Christian Maronites  of  Lebanon  and  the Copts  of  Egypt .

By  the  same  token  he  emphasized  women’s  right  to  full  inclusion  in  public  life. At  least  in  the  case  of  Lebanon, both Maronites  and  women  voted  at an   unprecedented  rate  (60%) . Last  month  not  only  a  similar  high  turn  out  took  place   in  Kuwait ,  but  also  four  women  were  elected  for  the  first  time, despite  the fierce  resistance of  a  coalition  of  tribal  and  Islamist elements .

The  parliamentary  elections   in  Lebanon  earlier  and  from  Kuwait  last  month  clearly  indicate  that  Islamist  parties  lost  significant  grounds  to  secular  liberal  counterparts. Along  with  Turkey, these  two  countries  have  had  some democratic  traditions by  Middle  Eastern  standards.

Scholars  of  the  subject    maintain  that  societies  which  manage  to  have  four  or  more  consecutive, free and fair  elections  are   usually  judged  to  have  achieved  a democratic  transition.  Without  direct  visible  foreign intervention, both  Lebanon  and  Kuwait  seem  to  have  such  transition  well  under way .

The  fear  that  Islamists  might  impede  the  process  have  not  materialized. Leaders of competing Islamist forces conceded defeat and accepted the result. To  his  credit,  the  much  demonized  Hassan  Nasrallah  of  Hezbollah  made  an  eloquent  sport-like concession. The  often  repeated  contention  that  with  Islamists  in  the  fray, it  would  be “a one  man, one  vote, one time” is  yet  to  be  proven.

Now, enters Iran and the optimism for democratic transition starts to fade a bit. The tenth presidential elections of the Islamic Republic were held on 12 June 2009. The Incumbent President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the election with 66% of the votes cast and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate, had received 33%.

There was a big outcry of foul, both domestically and internationally. Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran’s dual system (the theocratic and the democratic ones) came out in a Friday prayers sermon declaring that the winner is definitely Ahmadinejad.

The whole sermon (yes, supposedly a religious, spiritual ritual) was centered on the election results and conveyed four messages to the four raisons d’être of the Islamic Republic: the people of Iran, the Islamist political elite, the enemies of the Islamic Republic Iran (or the imperial forces), and the hidden Imam.

The conclusion of the Supreme Guide, who supposedly should be above factionalism, was siding publicly and heavily with Ahmadinejad. That was expected. The election had to be stolen because otherwise Iran’s hardliners would have been confronted by a democratically elected president determined to revive republican values and institutions.

But the interesting part of the speech was the message delivered to America under Obama’s administration. It was not the regular “death to the imperialists” (despite the chants of the crowd). It was challenging Obama on his own turf: “Human Rights?!!…you Democrats burned Davidians’ children alive in Texas!” Ayatollah Khameini recalled (in a different context, he would ve probably added WTF?!).

Will the “Obama effect” crash when it comes to Iran? This we will yet have to see. But the defiance of the Iranians for democracy and freedom, the outpouring applause the President received in Cairo, and the electoral results of Lebanon and Kuwait all show that the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims are ready for democratic transition.

But being ready is just one little factor supportive of that transition. It takes a lot more than that. In most of the Middle East, the balance of power (and of terror) is heavily tilting towards the state against their own societies and whoever hijacks the state and the electoral results – whether Islamist or secular – is not ready for democratic transition.