Egypt’s parliamentary vote likely to tighten Sisi’s grip

The pro-government Mustaqbal Watan party has the largest number of individual candidates, with 284 individual candidates in the two stages. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 October 2020

Egypt’s parliamentary vote likely to tighten Sisi’s grip

  • Elections are taking place as the Arab world’s most populous country faces a slight increase in coronavirus cases
  • Pro-government Mustaqbal Watan, or ‘Nation’s Future’, party has the largest number of individual candidates

CAIRO: Egyptians began voting Saturday in the first stage of a parliamentary election, a vote that is highly likely to produce a toothless House of Representatives packed with supporters of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
The elections are taking place as the Arab world’s most populous country faces a slight increase in coronavirus cases, with authorities warning that a second wave of the pandemic lies ahead.
Like the Senate elections in August, Egyptian election authorities said face masks would be handed out to voters for free and polling stations were disinfected.
Some 63 million voters are eligible to vote in the two-stage election, with results announced in early December. Election authorities reiterated previous warnings that those who boycott the vote could be fined up to $32 (9,500 Egyptian pounds).
A total of 568 seats are up for grabs, with over 4,000 candidates running as individuals competing for 50 percent of the seats. Prominent, wealthy government-affiliated power brokers have an advantage.
The other 50 percent of House seats are reserved for over 1,100 candidates running on four party lists. El-Sisi will name 28 seats, or 5 percent, bringing the total number of seats in the chamber to 596.
The first stage of voting was taking place Saturday and Sunday in 14 of Egypt’s 27 provinces, including Giza and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. Egyptian expatriates abroad voted earlier this week.
Voting in the country’s 13 other provinces, including the capital Cairo and the two provinces in Sinai Peninsula, will take place on Nov. 7-8. Each stage of the vote will be followed by runoff elections.
Final results will be announced in December and the new chamber will hold its inaugural session shortly afterward.
The vote is taking place amid an atmosphere in which public criticism of the government is strongly discouraged. Most Egyptian media are supportive of El-Sisi and regularly berate critics as traitors or supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, which is officially designated as a terrorist organization.
In recent years, authorities have ratcheted up their crackdown on dissent, targeting not only Islamist political opponents but also secular pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics. The tactic has left the president and his supporters with no formal political opposition.
Critics say the 596-seat legislature will be like the previous one, which was little more than a rubber stamp for El-Sisi’s policies, leaving the general-turned president with almost unchecked power.
The pro-government Mustaqbal Watan, or “Nation’s Future,” party has the largest number of individual candidates, with 284 individual candidates in the two stages.

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Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.