Europe’s 2017 elections affecting lives of Arabs, Muslims

Forthcoming elections in France, Britain and Germany could have consequences for the Arab world.

Ripple effects. French citizens, including residents of Tunisian origin, arrive to cast their votes in the French presidential election at a polling station in Tunis, on April 23. (Reuters)

2017/04/30 Issue: 104 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Mahmud el-Shafey

Forthcoming elections in France, Britain and Germany look set to be domi­nated by domestic and regional issues but could have consequences for the Arab world and its diaspora communities as the world faces an unparalleled refugee crisis and terror threats.

The presidential election run-off in France between centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing Marine Le Pen on May 7 is viewed by many as a battle for the soul of France, with observers predicting a Macron victory. Le Pen’s campaign and its focus on immigration and security has been widely criticised for pro­moting Islamophobia.

Most French Muslims are likely to back Macron. The imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris and presi­dent of the French Council of the Muslim Faith Dalil Boubakeur called on Muslims to “vote en masse” for Macron against the “threat of division and fragmentation” in the run-off.

“French citizens must remain united in the face of the threat em­bodied by xenophobic ideas which are dangerous to our cohesion,” Boubakeur said in a statement.

British voters head to the polls June 8 following a tense general election campaign that has been dominated by Brexit. With polls predicting British Prime Minister Theresa May will remain in her post with a larger parliamentary majority, Middle East countries are looking forward to concluding post- Brexit trade and security deals with her Conservative-led government.

May embarked on a highly sym­bolic trade and security mission to the Middle East in April, less than a week after triggering Article 50 for Britain to leave the European Un­ion. Britain would seek “bold” and “ambitious” new trade deals with Arab Gulf countries after Brexit, May said.

German federal elections sched­uled for September 24 will also likely be dominated by issues sur­rounding immigration and secu­rity, with German Chancellor An­gela Merkel facing criticism for her open-door immigration policy and security record. The right-wing Alternative for Germany party is also campaigning on an anti-immigra­tion, Eurosceptic platform.

After elections in the Nether­lands and Hungary in 2017 failed to repeat the feared rise of right-wing populism indicated by Brexit and US Republican presidential can­didate Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, it will be the turn of French, British and German voters to head to the polls. The results could decide the fate of the European Union and the tone of European relations with the Middle East.

Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

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