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Middle East: Authoritarian Democracy and Democratic Authoritarianism

Friday, May 29, 2009

For a part of the world that doesn't have a lot of freedom, the Middle East certainly has a lot of elections that matter. On May 16, Kuwaitis elected a new parliament, sending women to the chamber for the first time. On June 7, Lebanese will go to the polls, and five days later, Iranians will have their turn.

That Kuwaitis voted four women into office was a surprise even to close observers, who just a year ago had watched all of the female candidates go to defeat. As for the upcoming elections next month, handicappers expect an uneasy tie between the pro- and anti-Hezbollah factions in Lebanon, and a photo finish in Iran. But what makes these elections so interesting is that their outcomes are truly unknown. In much of the region, the results are a foregone conclusion. Rulers elsewhere are not about to allow challengers, and victory margins of 20, 40, or even 90 percent are commonplace. These countries are different. ...

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