Muslims Debate

Abdul Rahman al Rashed    |   02 Nov 2011
Arab elections: money matters

The defeated parties in the Tunisian elections accused the winners, as Ennahda Party, of obtaining money that enabled them to win. This is similar to what the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists and secular parties in Egypt are accused of. Without getting into details, such accusation could be true. In order not to bury our heads in the sand, election is like Arab marriage, it is very expensive. Well, it is expensive everywhere there is a real election.

Whoever has more money, good organization and attractive program will be luckiest among the other hard-working honest contenders in winning the elections. This is a fact that applies on all elections worldwide, not only in the Arab world. Money will determine the Egyptian elections, as it did in Tunisia. Money will decide the following elections as well.

Tunisia’s independent higher elections authority had perfectly carried out its basic duties, including granting the parties around $8 million for 11 thousand candidates who ran election campaigns; however, it seems that a lot more than this sum has been spent under the table. But, it is quite hard for the higher elections authority to figure out how much money has been illegally paid by other Tunisian interest groups, such as the ones linked to the former regime for example, or funds provided by foreign governments or groups. The authority has neither monitoring tools nor access to bank info.

In the United States, in order to deter vulnerable candidates – who are not few in number – the monitoring security agencies not only keep an eye on their accounts and snoop on their closed-door meetings, but also they set up sting operations to see who is ready to receive dirty money. In one sting operation, FBI agents – dressed as Arabs – held a suitcase filled with dollars and trapped one congressman. Maybe we should do the same, using Arabs donating illegal money. The problem here is that politicians know who is real and who is fake!

Democracy will fail if not guided, and some think democracy can be learned in seven days. Parties that seek to win the elections need to learn how to raise funds from within their community, legally of course. They need to learn how to do better organization. We know honest promises need huge funds to be heard. They need to hire an army of specialists to promote programs and candidates. Tunis, like any U.S. city, needs to fight to get your message heard. Politicians need to spend on street billboards, TV advertisements, organize banquets, offer help and attract different groups.

The potentials that could enable the Muslim Brotherhood Group to win the elections are not mainly its ability to promise to give the faithful voters access to heaven and spare them hell, but also their skills to raise money and spend it on social services. Islamist groups are perceived to be less corrupted than other parties. Well, it is true, so far.

Arab regulators fear conspiracy. They think dirty money can buy people’s votes and power, well they are right. So, instead of making difficult for every candidate to get money, they should allocate more funds to help parties. $8 million is little money for organizing and promoting 11,000 contenders in Tunisia. How long democracy will last this time? Arab Spring will survive if advanced countries help with their long experience in running elections and monitoring funding.

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