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Extremists Make Major Political Gains

Tunisian Ennahdha party member Souad Abderrahim (C) jubilates after winning the municipal elections in front of the movement's headquarters in Tunis late on May 6, 2018. (Photo: SOFIENNE HAMDAOUI / AFP / Getty Images)
Tunisian Ennahdha party member Souad Abderrahim (C) jubilates after winning the municipal elections in front of the movement’s headquarters in Tunis late on May 6, 2018. (Photo: SOFIENNE HAMDAOUI / AFP / Getty Images)

Elections are taking place in several Arab countries this week, with extremists looking to make serious political inroads. With results already pretty much known in Lebanon and Tunisia, it’s clear the extremists achieved those goals. Iraqis go to the polls May 12.

Tunisia

The Ennahda affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood became the largest single party with 27 percent of the vote in local elections. The secular Nida Tunis came in second with 22%.

Ennahda was established some 35-40 years ago, inspired by the Iranian revolution and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Following the Arab Spring which began in Tunisia in 2011, they took 37% of the popular vote in parliamentary elections and formed the government. Ennahda ruled for three years during which it decided not to impose sharia because it faced too much opposition. Today Ennahda is a member of the ruling coalition.

Generally, Tunisia is secular minded. We’ve seen attempts by Ennahda to change that but even though the party is popular, secularism remains a strong force in the country. That having been said we should be concerned by the results of this week’s municipal elections and we can assume Ennahda’s fight  for Islamism in Tunisia is far from over.

Much is dependent on Nida Tunis’ ability to manage the country. Should it fail, the door is open for Ennahda.

Lebanon

The Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah was the big winner in this week’s parliamentary election, with at least 67 seats out 128, according to unofficial results. Hezbollah itself took some 13 seats – the most it could possibly gain under the complex political arrangement in Lebanon. The 67 seats includes a bloc of Hezbollah’s allies, including Sunni and Christian parties.

No less significant is the loss of approximately 12 seats suffered by Hezbollah’s main opponent, American ally and Sunni Sa’ad al-Hariri and his Mustaqbal Party. Again, because of the bizarre confessional (religious sects) make-up of Lebanon, al-Hariri lost the seats not to Hezbollah itself but rather to its Sunni allies.

Ever since Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, al-Hariri was the prominent voice calling for Hezbollah to disarm, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.

Unfortunately, al-Hariri lost considerable support in recent years, particularly from his former patrons in Saudi Arabia, who even reportedly held him against his wishes and forced him to resign. The Hariri family controls media and other businesses in Lebanon – these suffered financial setbacks in recent times, also leaving al-Hariri looking weak.

Given al-Hariri’s decline (even though he will likely be Lebanon’s prime minister after the election) and the Hezbollah bloc’s control of parliament, it’s safe to say Hezbollah will successfully block any attempts to disarm its own powerful military.

The U.S. financially backs the official Lebanese army, in addition to loans from the West. This will now be thrown into question given Hezbollah is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and others.

 

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RM
Ran Meir
Ran Meir is Clarion Project's Arab affairs analyst.

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