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Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.

 

Voting in Syria

2014-06-04

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

What could be the point of Syria’s presidential election? 

Why would anyone watch the voting in Syria yesterday? If I were a refugee, waiting on tables in Lebanon, would I? If resettled in Boston, would I? If on an extended visit with my daughter’s family in Kuwait, would I? Would the main candidate, incumbent Bashar al-Assad, himself even follow the polling?

Globally millions line up outside voting stations to elect a new president, members of parliament, local councils, party candidates. Some contenders run unopposed; some come from behind to surprise everyone. Some are first timers, some veterans fighting for a tenth term. Elections happened in fractious Ukraine, another was just completed in post ‘Arab spring’ Egypt. We watched Indians choose a new leader a fortnight ago. Newark, New Jersey had its mayoral election last week.

Syrian citizens should have their chance too, shouldn’t they? Surely they watch what others do across the world and want to have a go. Capable women and men who know something about governance and who dare to challenge an incumbent should get a crack at leadership, shouldn’t they? Their supporters need the thrill of a hard-fought campaign, of rallying together for something new, of believing their representative can do better than others.

But nothing of that sort is happening in Syria. Rather than this election making a real difference, it seems to be what analyst Fawaz Gerges suggests: -- a coronation of Assad. “It’s a celebration of his ability to survive the violent storm and basically go on the offensive," said the London-based professor.

Although a few Syrians are listed as opponents in yesterday’s presidential election, everyone knows they pose no challenge to al-Assad. Surely there was no one waiting earnestly for polls to open, and later watching anxiously as ballots were counted late into the night.

All that we outside observers— perhaps those inside the country too-- can ask is: why? Why bother with all the fuss; why invite the international scorn this exercise will likely elicit?

Perhaps the Syrian regime is looking at Egypt where the chief candidate, ex-general Abd el-Fattah el-Sisi, after winning handily with 96.1 % of votes cast, was assured by Washington that it would continue to work with him. It surely makes the US and its allies, all rabidly anti-Assad, look disingenuous about their concern for democracy. Whereas president Obama long ago arrogantly told the Syrian leader he must go, he takes a radically different position about the Egyptian commander–in-chief. That Bashar al-Assad, newly anointed, can use this election to quell unrest and unite his people, as his counterpart el-Sisi probably will do in Egypt, is doubtful.

El-Sisi has managed this election as a sanction for militarily acquired power, and he may succeed… with international support. Al-Assad cannot play the same game. This election is no cause for the Syrian leadership to enjoy any confidence, and no reason for Syrians to expect some respite from their war.

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