ISIS versus elections
It’s not surprising that jihadist groups affiliated with terrorist entities such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda are trying to disrupt the elections in a number of Arab countries.
ISIS, in particular, seems to want to signal that it is still around despite the crumbling of its so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
In Iraq, which is to have its first legislative election since the group’s defeat, ISIS has been trying to use the campaign period to promote its sectarian narrative. On April 22, ISIS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, via a messaging app, called on Sunni Iraqis not to take part in the May 12 elections.
“Our judgment will apply to those who call for them and participate in them… The voting centres and those in them are targets for our swords, so stay away from them and do not walk nearby,” he warned.
A few days later, the group’s Amaq News Agency released a video showing what it said was the shooting of “two advocators” for the elections.
On May 2, ISIS-affiliated suicide bombers attacked the Tripoli headquarters of Libya’s electoral commission, killing at least 14 people and injuring many more. The attack was meant to deepen uncertainty about elections in Libya this year.
Whether in Libya, Iraq or elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world, jihadists will predictably try to scare voters away from the polls and intimidate election organisers, campaigners and candidates.
Such terrorist groups claim inspiration from a perverted version of the Muslim faith, which they are bent on imposing on others through a reign of terror. The idea that an individual can exercise free will or even simply have a say on civic and governance matters runs counter to the totalitarian vision of jihadist groups.
Choice means pluralism and a diversity of views, which is contrary to the monochromatic model they espouse.
In March, an article devoted to assailing Tunisia’s political process appeared in ISIS’s weekly newsletter al-Naba. It claimed “democracy is not only infidelity to God’s greatness… but [also] dominated by the idolatrous rule of the tyrants.”
The jihadists’ threats must be factored in in preparations for elections but they should not determine whether or not voting takes place.
Voting is a step in the right direction for reconstruction and development in the region, even if it remains to be seen whether this month’s elections in Lebanon, Tunisia and Iraq can fulfil the dreams and aspirations of citizens for a better life. Elections in themselves are no panacea but they are the best alternative to open strife.
Extremists can offer nothing in this context other than chaos, all to promote the anachronism that is their illusory caliphate.
ISIS has been nearly defeated on most military battlefields. It should also be vanquished on the election front.