x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Will Fatah let elections go ahead?

Palestinian elections have been scheduled for May 4, but Fatah's anxiety about risking another defeat may lead that party into stalling tactics, an Arabic-language commentator says. Other topics today: Egypt and Iran.

Fatah's fear of losing threatens to derail start of Palestinian presidential election race

The date set for the Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections, as agreed by Fatah and Hamas, is May 4, but it is uncertain if these elections are actually going to take place on schedule, or at all, columnist Nabil Amrou wrote in yesterday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

"When talking about the elections, spokesmen from both camps use a language of uncertainty," the writer said.

"And in their internal discussions about preparations, Hamas and Fatah officials start every sentence with 'If the elections happen'. At best, they would say: 'Let's act as if they are indeed going to take place'."

Elections of all kinds in the Palestinian territories receive exceptional attention. Whether they are presidential, parliamentary or even county or trade-union elections, Palestinians get busy and stay on alert.

With the May elections in particular, Fatah is more worried, and its moves will be more exciting to watch, the writer noted.

Fatah remembers well its defeat in the 2006 parliamentary vote, which saw Hamas win a comfortable majority on the council.

The Hamas win was followed by five years of animosity and rivalry with Fatah, which rules the West Bank. Hamas is the ruling authority in the Gaza Strip, and considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and other western countries.

"In the collective consciousness of Fatah officials, there are underlying fears of losing … that may lead Fatah to contemplate stalling the election process or delaying it repeatedly," the writer said.

Still, Fatah might end up going into the elections anyway, armed with the "tough wish" that its loosely-aligned ranks do not splinter ahead of the vote.

When choosing candidates to run in elections, Fatah members often give precedence to loyalty to family ties or regional affiliation over an objective selection of the members who are best qualified and more likely to attract constituents' votes.

"But because there is no guarantee that [internal consensus] is achievable in the next few months, Fatah's fears will persist and will grow, and with them the likelihood of postponing the elections until further notice."

Hamas, on the other hand, has less to worry about, due at least to two key factors. "Firstly, differences within Hamas ranks never dent the Islamist group's rigour in harnessing the voting process ... Secondly, Hamas has got a boost from the recent successes of political Islam in the Arab world, which makes it psychologically more confident and prepared for a win."

That said, Hamas may not achieve the same comfortable majority it enjoyed in 2006, as Fatah remains better supported by Arab and western friends for its diplomacy and patience in dealing with Israel.

Chances of war with Iran are diminishing

In an article for the Qatari newspaper Al Watan, columnist Mazen Hammad shed the light on the Iranian-western standoff following the European Union's decision to impose an embargo on Iran's oil exports.

As of the beginning of July, under the embargo, Iran would lose a fifth of its oil production. Added to the US-imposed financial sanctions, this measure would put Iran in a difficult economic situation.

What is most dangerous about these harsh sanctions is that they affect ordinary Iranian citizens as much as they affect the regime itself.

But although Iran sees these measures as a declaration of war and has been threatening to retaliate by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, the prospect of an immediate military retaliation on the part of the Islamic Republic has dwindled considerably in the past few days. US and other western vessels were able to traverse the vital passageway without any friction with the Iranians.

Although western naval forces have been mobilised in areas close to the Strait, and despite US threats to hit Iranian nuclear positions, it his highly unlikely that Washington would implement its threats.

That said, while Iran's naval power cannot compare to the might of western fleets, it can still wield some level of force and disable navigation in the region.


A new era in Egypt with Islamists in power

On the first anniversary of its revolution, Egypt ushered in a new era deeply rooted in its Islamic heritage, suggested Satea Noureddine, a columnist with the Lebanese daily Assafir.

Egypt gave the world a unique portrait that blends the various hues of the political spectrum.

"It is undoubtedly the era of political Islam in Egypt," he said.

"Contrary to the wish of the democratic revolution and the rebels who dethroned the dictatorship ... they received a mere quarter of the votes and seats, which qualifies them only to become the opposition."

The inaugural session of the new Egyptian parliament reflected this new categorisation.

Although it didn't witness any direct clashes between the religious majority and the small secular minority, the distance between the groups was too clear to be camouflaged and the language was too complicated to find common grounds.

"The test has just begun. The democratic secular powers have become witnesses and may turn into referees, but for the next six years at least they will remain in the ranks of the opposition, until voters express their new judgement, which could probably be more rational than the current spontaneous and vengeful choice [they made in the recent elections]."

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk