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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Elections Saudi Style

Saudi had its first municipal elections. Wow that’s awesome, that’s great news! Well, hold on a little, Islamists won every seat available! Those guys are more radical than the royal family itself. What, the royals are not radical? Nah, those guys are hardcore, they were endorsed by Saudi’s Wahabi clerics and won by a landslide.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think these elections were a step forward but the results should force us to pause and ponder a little.

What made those radicals win? Are Saudi’s radical in nature? I simply don’t know. There are no independent and fair opinion polls in Saudi to gauge how Saudi voters think. However, the results may shed light on three factors.

One, no woman was allowed to vote in these elections. Who knows, may be if women voted, the results wouldn’t have turned out to be that radical.

Second, just as the case in Egypt, the Islamists in Saudi are very organized as compared to their progressive counterparts. They have the backing of the country’s hardcore clerics and they simply dominate Saudi’s civil society (or the shreds of civil society that Saudi has). Progressives and other liberals were shut up by the royals (does Ayman Noor ring a bell?) and they simply have no experience in mobilizing the grassroots.

Third, the elections had a very low turnout. Many Saudis thought that such elections were useless and pointless given the fact that the royal family appointed half of the council members. In addition, others were simply not interested and didn’t want to bother themselves with standing in long queues and getting squashed between a group of angry campaigners. May be if the turnout was high, a number of liberals or progressives could have got elected

The last 2 factors have serious implication on the Egyptian scenario. The Islamists here are very organized and they appeal to a huge segment of the Egyptian conservative population (again no accurate figures here). In addition, I presume that the coming elections will witness a very low turnout due to the huge antipathy that the average Egyptian feels towards politicians as a whole. If you couple those factors together and you rush towards a fair ballot box in Egypt, you will end up with a disaster that could surpass what happened in Iran in 1979.

So the way forward is this: Mubarak should have another term in office but this time he has to allow liberals and progressives to start mobilizing and reaching out to people. Once liberals appear on Egypt’s political scene and the average Egyptian starts to believe in political participation, we will just have to hope and pray that the Egyptian people will elect enough progressives to counter the influence of Islamists and other radicals. If the Egyptian people let me down, you will find me running towards foreign embassies screaming “ASYLUM”. I hope that won’t be the case.

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