Lebanon’s New President is a Symbol of a System Designed to Fail

This Monday, the Lebanese parliament formally appointed former general and civil war-era warlord Michel Aoun president of Lebanon. His appointment ended a stalemate between Lebanon’s major parties and politicians that had kept the post vacant for two and a half years. While it has mostly been presented in western media as the triumph of the Hezbollah and Iran backed Aoun over the Saudi backed Hariri, the election of Aoun says more about the heart of the Lebanese political system than it does about regional power struggles. Lebanon was founded in 1943 based on agreements between political and social elites hoping to protect their networks of power and privilege within their own communities. These agreements still define the logic of Lebanese politics today. The path of Michel Aoun, a man who bears significant personal responsibility for the death of hundreds, to the presidency highlights just how well this system still protects the interests of political elites and how poorly it works for the people of Lebanon. Continue reading “Lebanon’s New President is a Symbol of a System Designed to Fail”

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Anti-Democratic Energy: Jordan’s Recent Gas Deal with Israel.

Image: “The enemy’s gas is occupation” [via Jordan BDS

Recently, Jordan’s government-owned National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) signed a 15 year, $10 billion deal to import Israeli-extracted liquid natural gas. In the eyes of the appointed government of the Hashemite Kingdom, the deal is a boon. Jordan is a notoriously resource poor country, having to import 96% of its energy needs from other countries. In previous decades, Saddam Hussain’s Iraq and Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt provided subsidized fuel to fill the country’s energy needs. However, according to the Jordanian government, the loss of these providers and the damage to gas pipelines due to recent unrest in the Sinai have caused NEPCO to rack up billions of dollars in debt. At the same time, energy prices have steadily risen for Jordanians. The government claims that this deal will lower energy costs and save NEPCO $600 million a year.

Despite these supposed benefits, the deal has caused widespread and unified protests of a scale unseen in Jordan since the start of the Arab Spring. Continue reading “Anti-Democratic Energy: Jordan’s Recent Gas Deal with Israel.”

Elections without Democracy in Jordan

This past week, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan held a general election to select a new parliament, four months after King Abdullah II dissolved the previous government by royal decree. The elections themselves were largely unremarkable. Turnout was underwhelming, with only 37% of registered voters casting ballots. The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, participating in its first elections since 2007, failed to meet its target number of seats. This was despite the overturn of the electoral system instituted in 1989 to limit the Brotherhood’s influence. Overall, the make-up of the new parliament remains similar to those of the previous two decades, leading analysts to predict that “no radical changes” will occur.

What is remarkable in these elections is the sense of apathy by Jordanians about the latest iteration of the parliament and lack of faith that anything positive will come of it. 87% of those surveyed in June thought that the previous parliament did nothing of note. The massive drop from an already meager 56% turnout in 2013 indicates the widely held belief that its successor will be equally ineffectual. This apathy is a logical reaction to the failure of repeated parliaments to address the same recurring issues of economic hardship and political corruption that have plagued the kingdom for years. As with all of Jordan’s ills, tribal politics remain the go-to scapegoat for explaining the incompetence of the elected parliament. And while family and tribal loyalties do play a role, the major limits on Jordan’s stuttering and unconvincing democratic process have their origins elsewhere. Continue reading “Elections without Democracy in Jordan”