Islam Takes Tunisia

This is the first election held in one of the countries that have undergone “Arab Spring” uprisings. And predictably, probably foreshadowing the outcome in upcoming elections in other “Arab Spring” countries, secularism took a beating and a backseat to the Islamists.

Secular party concedes defeat in landmark Tunisian election

Tunisia’s leading secularist party conceded defeat on Monday after unofficial tallies from the country’s first free election showed a victory for an Islamist party.

The election came 10 months from from the moment street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in a protest that started the Arab Spring uprisings.

More than 90 percent of the 4.1 million registered voters cast ballots, officials said.

See also:
Tunisian Islamist party claims election victory, set to dominate writing of new constitution
Tunisian Islamists to gain huge victory in first elections of the Arab Spring
Tunisia’s Islamists claim election victory
Tunisia’s Islamist party claims election victory
Islamists set for power after strong vote for Muslim parties in Tunisia’s first democratic elections since revolution
Early sign in Tunisia of strong Islamist vote
Tunisia elections: An-Nahda party on course to win
Moderate Islamists lead in early counting of Tunisian votes
Islamists claim win in Tunisia’s Arab Spring vote
Islamist Party Takes Half Of Overseas Seats In Tunisia
Tunisian liberal party dismayed at poor elections show
As Tunisia Counts its Votes, Can the West Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Islamists?

Could these Tunisian elections be the first stepping stone toward a wider, regional Islamic Caliphate?

/stay tuned, Egypt has elections coming up and if the Islamists win there . . .

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Just Vote No

Here’s a chance for the secularists in Turkey to push back against Islam.

Turkey’s vote on constitution also a referendum on its premier

The battle between Turkey’s socially conservative, Islam-rooted government and the country’s more secular political establishment will come to a head Sunday, when Turks vote on a package of constitutional amendments in a referendum that is being cast as a judgment on the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A single up-or-down vote is required on 26 proposed constitutional changes. They include uncontroversial steps such as expanding rights for the disabled as well as a more polarizing amendment that would give the executive branch more power in appointing judges and state prosecutors.

The referendum is the most far-reaching attempt to amend the constitution since it was put in place in 1982 after a military coup. The results will shape Turkey’s political outlook as it heads into general elections in the spring. A no vote could bolster the opposition and cost Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) support in those elections. That could lead to a coalition government, which in the past has prompted economic instability.

A yes vote would give the AKP another chance to confirm its mandate and an advantage heading into campaigning for a third term. But it would also mean that the polarization among Turks about the country’s direction will continue to grow.

See also:
Turkey Referendum to Be Closely Watched
Recep Tayyip Erdogan facing crucial Turkey vote
Turks Hold Referendum on Amendments to Constitution
Key issues in Turkey’s referendum on amendments
Judicial referendum divides Turkey
Turkey votes in referendum to amend constitution
Turkey’s Vote A Popularity Contest For Democracy
Turks go to the polls in crucial referendum

This vote is huge, a microcosm for where the world is headed.

/keep your fingers crossed because it’s too close to call

It’s Allawi By A Nose

Allawi wins thin plurality in Iraq election

A secular Shiite, Ayad Allawi, has won a narrow plurality in Iraq’s national election, but it is a religious Shia party that will likely determine if he’ll form a government.

Mr. Allawi’s Iraqiya party took 91 of the 325 seats in Iraq’s Council of Representatives, electoral officials declared yesterday, 19 days after 12 million Iraqis went to the polls.

The current Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose party won 89 seats, immediately announced he would not accept the results and called for a recount.

But it is the third-place Iraqi National Alliance (INA), a coalition dominated by two religious Shia parties, that is in the driver’s seat.

With 163 members needed to form a majority, the result means that unless Mr. Allawi and Mr. Maliki join forces – which is highly unlikely, since they despise one other – the only way either man can likely form a government is with the support of the INA. Any coalition formed without it would be too fragmented and give undue clout to smaller parties.

Mr. Maliki, leader of the Shia religious Dawa party, would seem a natural partner for the INA, the product of a union between the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, led by Ammar al-Hakim, and the Sadrist followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. All three parties are pro-Iranian.

But two things stand in the way of such a coalition. The Sadrists want no part of a government led by Mr. Maliki, the man who crushed the Sadrist militia in Basra and Baghdad, while Mr. Hakim professes to have learned his lesson in last year’s provincial election that it is more important to emphasize broad national interests than narrow sectarian ones.

Indeed, it was the 2005 coalition government of these three elements, along with major Kurdish parties, that contributed to the country’s bloody sectarian conflict and the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Nevertheless, many Iraq watchers believe that Iran would still prefer to see these three Shia parties hook up again. That was reportedly Tehran’s view last summer when the three considered a union, but it was Mr. Maliki who turned his back on the idea, preferring to go it alone with his State of Law bloc. Now it’s Mr. Maliki who needs allies.

New life was breathed into the idea of a reunion of the pro-Iranian groups by a Supreme Court decision handed down this week. The court held that the stipulation in the constitution that the bloc with the largest number of seats gets the first chance to form a government is not limited to a bloc that ran in the election. It also could mean a group of parties formed after the vote. In other words, a quickly formed coalition of the three Shia religious parties could claim the right to try to form the next government.

For his part, Mr. Allawi, who served as the first, provisional prime minister in 2004, can argue that such a coalition will only stoke the fires of sectarianism, something that most Iraqis want to avoid.

Indeed, Mr. Allawi’s success is testament to that. A secular Shiite, he ran in partnership with several Sunni political figures determined to get a share of power. Mr. Allawi polled well in Sunni districts but, as Iraq-watcher Reidar Visser observed last night, his victory was more than just about his appeal across the sectarian divide.

“By winning more seats than expected south of Baghdad [where Shiites predominate], and almost as many seats as Maliki in [religiously mixed] Baghdad, Allawi has proved that he is more than ‘the candidate of the Sunnis’,” Mr. Visser wrote on his highly regarded historiae.org website.

With the support of the INA’s 70 members, plus a handful of others, Mr. Allawi could form a government. While some analysts, such as Mr. Visser, caution that uniting Iraqiya with the INA could “mean another oversized, ineffective government populated by parties with little in common,” not everyone agrees. Sheik Jalal Eddin al-Saghir, the INA’s most senior council member, says he has tried to get Mr. Allawi to join their alliance in the past.

“We can work with him,” said Sheik al-Saghir, imam of Baghdad’s most important Shia mosque.

Some of Mr. Allawi’s Sunni partners may have trouble working with the INA, however.

It was the INA that launched an anti-Baathist campaign that prevented several Sunni politicians from running in the election. Many of those blocked from running hailed from Iraqiya. They argue that they hold no brief for the memory of Saddam Hussein and left the Baath party long ago. Their history, they say, should not bar them from political office.

These same Iraqiya politicians may also have a difficult time teaming up with some of Iraq’s Kurdish political leaders. Prominent in Mr. Allawi’s party is a group of arch-nationalists who are determined to prevent the Kurds from claiming territory in and around the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk that lie between the Kurds’ northern heartland and Sunni Arab population centres.

Indeed, the first move in the game of coalition-building may well be an attempt by the major Kurdish leaders to team up themselves with the INA. Both groups share a preference for Canadian-style decentralized federalism and together could parley their combined force into concessions from either Mr. Allawi or Mr. Maliki.

See also:
Alliance led by ex-Iraqi PM wins election narrowly
Reports: Former Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi wins most seats in Iraqi parliament
Allawi wins narrow victory in Iraqi vote
Secular bloc wins most seats in Iraq
Preliminary results show Allawi wins most seats in Iraq election
Iraq Election Results Give Allawi Group Largest Bloc (Update3)
Secular challenger hails Iraq election victory
Secularist former leader Allawi wins Iraq vote
Allawi wins Iraqi election; al-Maliki rejects results
Maliki seeks recount in Iraq elections
Poll body rejects Iraq recount call
Iraq’s Allawi ‘open to talks’ over new government
Allawi pledges to work with rivals as Iraq election result declared
Iraq’s Allawi extends hand to rival
Iraq’s Allawi says open to all in coalition talks
Iraq election front-runners court possible allies
After Win, Will Former U.S. Front Man Rule in Iraq?
Ayad Allawi, once seen as a U.S. puppet, returns to the center of Iraqi politics
Allawi Wins and the Media Misses the Significance
Analysis: Allawi win could curb Iran’s influence
In Iraq’s election, a defeat for Iran

Although the margin is razor thin and the election dust is far from settled, this is arguably a victory for the United States and a defeat for Iran, since Allawi is a pro-West secular candidate, whereas al-Maliki is a pro-Iran religious candidate. Hell, the fact that this election unfolded as smoothly as it did is, in and of itself, a victory for the United States. Iraq sure has come a long way since 2003.

/now, let the coalition wrangling begin!

Turkey Trouble?

Ruh roh.


Arrest of top-brass generals deepens Turkey power struggle

The arrest of dozens of high-ranking military figures in Turkey over an alleged coup plan dating back seven years marks the latest episode of a power struggle between the Islamist-rooted government and the army, the bastion of the secular order, analysts said Tuesday.

In a massive swoop, anti-terror police Monday detained more than 40 people, including the former air force and navy chiefs, over a purported plan drawn up in 2003 to oust the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Until recently, such tough action was inconceivable against the military which has toppled four governments in 50 years and exercised significant clout in politics.

But recent reforms to align the country with the European Union, spearheaded by the AKP government, has reduced the influence of the once-mighty military.

Monday’s arrests constitute a “breaking point” in Turkish political history, said the liberal Taraf daily which exposed the alleged coup plan code-named “Operation Sledgehammer” last month.

“The republic is now changing. The era of ‘dictatorships’ is coming to an end. The coup plotters are being arrested and brought to justice,” wrote the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Ahmet Altan.

According to Taraf, “Operation Sledgehammer” called for the bombing of two mosques in Istanbul at prayer time and organizing attacks by soldiers disguised as Islamists against symbols of secularism.

The coup planners also allegedly plotted to escalate tensions with Greece to secure the downing of a Turkish plane in a dog-fight with Greek jets over the Aegean with the ultimate aim of showing the government as inept and justifying a military takeover.

The army has denied the exisence of “Operation Sledgehammer” and complained of a “smear campaign” amid a string of similar plots for a military takeover carried by the pro-government media.

Dozens of former officers, among them two retired generals, are already on trial over the so-called Ergenekon network, an alleged secularist-nationalist group accused of planning to foment unrest to pave the way for a military coup.

The probe was initially hailed as a success, but has since come under doubt with some suspects accusing police of fabricating evidence.

Government critics claim the coup allegations are a bid by the AKP to cripple the army and remove a major obstacle to a hidden agenda of transforming Turkey into an Islamic state.

Hugh Pope, a senior analyst specialising on Turkey at the International Crisis Group, expressed doubt there was a “witch hunt” against the army.

“Clearly, the judiciary is extremely serious and they would certainly not have taken so many high-profile people into custody unless they had an absolute certainty in their mind that this is a real case,” he said.

Pope acknowledged there was “uncomfortable evidence” of abuses in the judicial process against the alleged coup plotters, but underlined the investigation also represented “a process by which Turkey is establishing the supremacy of civilian authority” over military power.

Alexandre Toumarkine, a political scientist from the French Institute of Anatolia Studies, said the possibility of some limited form of military intervention in EU-candidate Turkey in the 21st-century was not pure fiction.

“The image of tanks in the streets carries such a heavy political cost that such a hypothesis is probably unthinkable,” he said.

Nevertheless, plans of more discreet military intervention aimed at “restructuring the political system in depth” have “germinated in the minds of quite a few people,” he added.

“We have the impression that they have reached such a level (of antagonism) that the army either accepts to withdraw from the political area or continues to prepare the destabilization of the current government to compel it to leave the scene.”

See also:
Turkey Arrests Military Officers in Alleged 2003 Plot
Officers detained over Turkey coup plan
Turkey arrests over 40 for plotting coup
Number of arrested generals in Turkey reached 50
51 military commanders arrested over Turkey coup plot
Turkey closer than ever to trying coup instigators
Turkey’s defence chiefs assess ‘serious’ coup plot arrests
Political tensions mount in Turkey over alleged coup plot
Army grilled on Turkey ‘coup plot’
Turkey army issues warning after ‘coup plot’ arrests
‘Sledgehammer’ inquiry divides Turkey
Arrests expose Turkish fault line
Turkey’s opposition leaders slam detention of military commanders
EU, US back ‘Sledgehammer’ investigation for Turkey’s democracy
A New Military Coup in Turkey Could Derail Protocols, Says Expert
Ruben Safrastyan: military coup unlikely in Turkey
Ruben Safrastyan: Events in Turkey may grow in to a military coup

/hmmm, Islamists versus Secularists, who to root for?