If you need a break from the congressional primaries, turn your attention to the Middle East, where the fifth Arab country is holding a major election since mid-April. Elections are already complete in Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt, and Palestine had a new unity government sworn in earlier this week.
The democratic spirit has touched down even in Syria, where dictator Bashar al-Assad is running his most persuasive get-out-the-vote campaign ever among the remaining citizens who have not fled the country, taken up arms against him, or been killed. All the elective activity has led Paul Salem of the non-partisan Middle East Institute to reflect:
Three years after the Arab uprisings brought hope to the Arab world, the scene today is very troubling. No parties or leaders have emerged to build on those popular uprisings and carry their message to power, and old parties or institutions have rushed to fill the void and negate much of the progressive momentum that those popular upheavals unleashed. …The current elections underline the fact that democracy means much more than elections, and that the road to democratic transition in the Arab world is still long and hard.
Speaking of transitions, the newly elected prime minister of Libya is trying to lead his country’s fifth government since the 2011 Arab Spring, according to the BBC. Libya’s situation differs from Egypt in its lack of a strong national army, established political parties, or any real history with self-government. Libyans have elected a parliament, but the de facto power is in the hands of up to 1,700 militant groups, none of which are truly national. In fact, the government at times pays these militias in the hope of strengthening one group or eliminating another. But militias can go rogue at any time, and they frequently do.
On Monday, Libya’s new prime minister had to have a police force take back his office before he could start his first cabinet meeting and broadcast an address to the nation. Force was needed partly to clear out any remaining militants, and partly because the parliamentary vote to elect him was so chaotic that the outgoing premier has refused to hand over power until the General National Congress clarifies the situation. Wrote Reuters:
Maiteeq arrived at the prime minister’s office late in the evening escorted by police cars, witnesses said. Thinni [the former premier] had moved earlier to another government building, his spokesman said.
In a brief statement after a cabinet meeting, Maiteeq denounced clashes between militant Islamists and army forces that had erupted in eastern Benghazi, killing around 20 people.
Standing behind his cabinet, the businessman vowed to make improving security and fighting terrorism a top priority.
Even the cabinet may not last long, as Libya is planning to hold yet another round of elections—the region’s sixth major election this spring—later in June.