As Iran’s elections approach (June 18, 2021), MERIP revisits recent articles that provide a deeper context for understanding politics in Iran today. The pieces gathered here include a forum re-thinking US-Iranian relations as well as articles examining key elections in Iran over the last 20 years, from 2001 to 2021.
November 2020 is election season not only in the United States, but also in Jordan where the prospects for a shakeup in parliament are quickly receding. Based on interviews with Jordanian political leaders, E.J. Karmel explains the shifting dynamics among candidates, lists, parties and currents that are undermining the potential for a changed parliament and seem to be leading to another business-as-usual election next Tuesday.
Iran’s parliamentary elections in February handed the conservative supporters of the Supreme Leader a major victory. Abedini and Armin explain how and lay out why the regime is poorly positioned to deal with popular discontent, crushing US sanctions and the spreading coronavirus.
Turkey’s authoritarian President Erdoǧan’s attempt to manipulate Istanbul’s recent mayoral election led to a humiliating defeat. Despite the tight grip Erdoǧan and the AKP appear to have over Turkish politics, Turkey’s population is much more fractious and agitated by the regime than previously known.
Turkish voters sent a strong message to its long-standing ruling party and its leader on March 31, 2019 that the government’s authoritarian turn has not fully succeeded. In nationwide municipal elections, for the first time in a quarter century, the political movement largely associated with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan lost control over both the country’s economic and political capitals, as well as numerous other districts throughout the country. The symbolic and economic significance of losing both capitals, especially Istanbul, cannot be discounted. This article explains why this happened.
Nine years since the last national parliamentary election, many in the country expected the emerging civil society groups to challenge the tradition sectarian-based parties. Despite the rumblings for change, the status quo prevailed.
The United States’ Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and the Challenge to the International Consensus
On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that the US was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would be moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv in fulfillment of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act (henceforth Embassy Act). In one fell swoop, the US has seriously challenged 70 years of international consensus enshrined in international law as regards the status of the city, and put the potential for a two-state solution into a tail-spin. What are the consequences of this major policy change?
From day one of his July 3 coup, al-Sisi has directed a relentless campaign to depoliticize and incapacitate the population, riveting the old relations of deference and subordination between those who rule and those coerced to obey. But plebiscitary elections are part of a different type of autocratic rule, one that orchestrates continuous and diverse performances of citizen enthusiasm and state-identification.
The scant international coverage of Oman’s 2015 Consultative Council elections is not surprising. An absolute monarchy widely perceived as a bastion of political stability, Oman rarely features in world news. The sultanate’s strong ties with both Iran and the Arab Gulf monarchies allow it to play an important role in regional diplomacy, but the representatives of Sultan Qaboos bin Sa‘id al-Sa‘id fulfill this role discreetly. When the wave of Arab uprisings in 2011 reached the sultanate’s shores, Omanis were as surprised as the international community. Protests in the cities of Muscat, Salala and Suhar lasted from January 17 to May 14 of that year, with demonstrators voicing demands for political, economic and social reform.
Speaking to a journalist days after the February 26 elections in Iran, leading reformist Mohammad Reza Aref stated, “When I saw the results for Tehran coming in, I was shocked.” Aref had expected the top of the list he headed to do well in the contest for Tehran’s 30 seats in the Tenth Majles, or Parliament, of the Islamic Republic. Most pre-election polls, in fact, had predicted that Aref’s slate would come out ahead in the capital. But its first-round sweep of all 30 seats, including many wins by unknown candidates, was a stunner for all involved.
On June 7, Turkish citizens went to the polls to elect the 550 members of the Grand National Assembly. Although the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 41 percent of the vote, it lost its majority in the parliament for the first time since 2002. It was a major blow for the party’s founder, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose plan to become a more powerful executive with fewer checks and balances seems to have been vetoed by the electorate.
Over three days in late May, ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, the retired field marshal and former head of military intelligence, was elected president of Egypt with 96 percent of the vote. This tally was far higher than the 51.34 percent recorded in 2012 by the man Sisi helped to depose, Muhammad Mursi, and higher than the 88.6 percent racked up by Husni Mubarak in the rigged contest of 2005. Since the only other candidate, Hamdin Sabbahi, scarcely disagreed with Sisi on matters of policy during the campaign, a Sisi victory was a foregone conclusion, even if the margin was not.
Iran’s 1979 revolution, in helping to push out Jimmy Carter and bring in Ronald Reagan, offered up one of the few instances in the latter half of the twentieth century where domestic politics in a Third World country affected domestic politics in the United States more than the other way around. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made no bones about it: The US couldn’t do a damn thing.
This fact remains an unspoken reason the Islamic Republic looms larger than life in our insecure American psyche. Thirty-four years later, it could happen again.
“Last night I sat in traffic with my wife and daughters for three hours,” a Tehran office manager recounted, “and the car did not move one meter.” The day before, Iranians had chosen Hassan Rouhani as the Islamic Republic’s seventh president. “All the cars honked their horns, and people danced and celebrated next to us in the streets.” The last time the manager had beheld such a scene was in June of 2009. “Four years ago I was also in my car with my wife and daughters, and traffic did not move, and cars were honking. But that time security men on motorbikes rode through the street smashing windows with their batons.” The contentious events of 2009 not only ensured four more years for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the president’s office but were also heralded as signaling the death of reformist politics in Iran. Yet as another presidential election approached, the three-decade political improvisation called the Islamic Republic once again went off script.
Many Iranians are pinching themselves and smiling uncontrollably after Hassan Rowhani’s victory in the June 14 presidential election. The purple-clad campaigners for Rowhani (or Mohammad Reza Aref, who stepped aside for Rowhani a few days before the balloting) still taste the bitterness of 2009, when their call “Where is my vote?” met with the full force of the regime’s security apparatus. They knew that reform-oriented candidates do better when 65 percent or more of eligible voters participate.
Shortly before polling day in Israel’s January general election, the Arab League issued a statement urging Israel’s large Palestinian minority, a fifth of the country’s population, to turn out en masse to vote. The League’s unprecedented intervention — reportedly at the instigation of the League’s Palestinian delegation — was motivated by two concerns.
For months prior to Jordan’s parliamentary elections, concluded on January 23, both the state apparatus and the opposition had been building up the contests as a moment of truth. The state presented the polls as a critical juncture in the execution of its strategy of gradual political reform; the opposition, riding the momentum of two years of concerted street protests, staged a boycott it hoped would delegitimize the whole endeavor.
In Egypt’s constitutional crisis today, there are echoes of the rise of the National Islamic Front (NIF) in Sudan.
In Egypt, popular sentiment runs high against those dubbed fuloul (leftovers or dregs), the epithet for politicians and former officials associated with the immense corruption and despotism of the Mubarak regime. Anti-fuloul sentiment ultimately doomed Mubarak’s final prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to defeat in the presidential runoff against the Muslim Brothers’ candidate Muhammad Mursi. And public anger has fueled initiatives like Imsak Fuloul (Catch the Remnants), which, among other things, calls for the implementation of a law that would exclude former regime members from politics for ten years.