Elections on their mind
Arabic media review

Elections on their mind

Arab press celebrates French democracy while bemoaning local shortcomings in the field

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Egyptian protesters chant anti-military slogans in Cairo Sunday (photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)
Egyptian protesters chant anti-military slogans in Cairo Sunday (photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)

The results of the French elections, with the historic victory of socialist candidate Francois Hollande over conservative incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, have managed to push aside coverage of the developments in Syria and lead the Arabic news Monday.

“France moves to the left, and chooses Hollande as president,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. It reports that France’s political change will mean opposition to Germany’s economic austerity measures. The daily describes Sarkozy as a president who tried to undertake “a break with the past,” an attempt which backfired, making him the least popular president in France.

“Francois Hollande is president of France,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat, displaying a photo of the victor waving and smiling. The daily reports that Sarkozy had tried to draw votes from France’s extreme right following the first round of elections, but failed. It notes Hollande’s political inexperience, remarking that he had never filled a ministerial position.

Saudi-owned news website Elaph opens its story with Hollande’s victory speech, where he declared that the French vote symbolizes a new trend in Europe “and perhaps in the entire world.”

“Goodbye Sarkozy,” reads the headline of the lead editorial in Arab-nationalist daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, with a note of satisfaction.

“Cartoon artists in French newspapers used to draw Sarkozy as a fox and Francois Hollande, his socialist contender, as a turtle. It seems as though French public opinion, indeed European public opinion, is tired and disappointed with foxes and prefers political turtles. This explains the fall of Tony Blair in Britain, Berlusconi in Italy and Nicolas Sarkozy in France.”

The editor ends with an assessment that Hollande’s victory will bode well for France’s North African immigrants.

“France now stands at the verge of a new stage, and not only a new presidency. Although we admit that the positions of the two candidates were close, the situation of over four million Frenchmen of North African origin will improve, or at least will not deteriorate.”

Syrians head to the ballot, or do they?

A day after France, Syria conducts parliamentary elections, albeit in a somewhat less festive ambiance.

“The political parties… and independent candidates are taking part in the elections with electoral rolls, alliances or independently under judicial supervision that ensures fairness, freedom and democracy for the electorate in choosing their representatives,” reports Syria’s news agency SANA.

But Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera reports that Syria’s opposition is calling the elections a “farce” and a “sham,” calling on the Syrian public to boycott the elections. The channel reports that voting is not taking place in areas under opposition control.

The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), an opposition group, called for a nationwide strike May 7-8 to protests the elections, Al-Jazeera reports.

Brotherhood and military clash in Egypt

The political standoff between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) surrounding the Brotherhood’s demand to sack the government of Kamal Ganzouri dominates the editorial pages of the Arab press on Monday.

According to Al-Hayat columnist Muhammad Salah, Egypt’s predicament stems from the incapability of its political players to admit any wrongdoing.

“Is there any doubt that all sides in Egypt’s political game made big mistakes since the fall of the previous regime? The reasonable answer is no,” he writes in an editorial titled “And what if the military falls?” “That begs another question: Did any political party… admit once that it had made mistakes, even without intending to, and that it is studying them in order to avoid similar ones in the future? The answer is definitely no.”

Egyptian intellectual Mamoun Fandy describes a grim Egypt on the verge of collapse, but also outlines a solution for its political woes.

“Egypt, have no doubt about it, is in a real crisis… it is only a step or two away from becoming a failed state,” he writes. Fandy believes that a deep change needs to take place in the country’s political atmosphere, which can only be attained by postponing the presidential elections.

“My plan for overcoming the current impasse begins with temporarily suspending the election farce, because proceeding with elections in the current atmosphere is a crime against the people,” he writes. Egypt’s problem is not electing a president but creating legitimacy for the entire regime.”

Fandy suggests appointing a young military general — one who does not belong to the current SCAF — to lead the country for a transitional period of one year, while a new constitution is drafted.

“We want a constitution for the coming generations, not for the living alone,” he writes. “Constitution first is the solution.”


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