The League of Arab States and UNDP Welcome IFES to Regional Conference
On May 10, 2016, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Director Zeinab Abdelkarim addressed a regional forum that brought together representatives from electoral management bodies (EMBs) in the Arab world. Jointly organized by the League of Arab States (LAS) and United Nations Development Programme, the forum provided an opportunity to representatives from LAS member states’ Department of Electoral Affairs to share their respective countries’ recent experiences with administering elections and referenda, as well as to streamline communication between electoral stakeholders within the Arab world. Acknowledging the role of international and multilateral organizations in providing technical assistance to electoral stakeholders around the world, the forum also invited IFES to present on its role in strengthening electoral systems and processes as well as building the technical capacity of EMBs in the MENA region.
As the sole representative of a U.S.-based international nongovernmental organization (INGO) at the forum, Abdelkarim showcased how IFES’ work has enhanced the technical and management capacity of several EMBs in the MENA region, most notably in countries facing new electoral challenges and opportunities following recent political transitions that swept a number of countries across the region. To that point, she noted that IFES’ work not only strengthens electoral systems and processes, but also aims to foster increased personal engagement in those processes by focusing on “inclusive participation and professionalism of electoral administration with the ultimate goal of deepening democracy and accelerating sustainable human development.”
Citing the importance of local ownership over a fundamentally national event, Abdelkarim noted that IFES’ credibility, impartiality, and assistance approach “is grounded on normative values of national ownership and respect for the sovereignty and laws of the host country,” and “provides us the legitimacy and neutrality needed to support sensitive national processes.” IFES currently has active programs in six countries in the region including, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Jordan and Syria. IFES has also supported national governments and elections management bodies in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Sudan in their efforts to hold credible and legitimate elections that meet internationally recognized standards.
Abdelkarim noted, “IFES is a very strong proponent of the mantra ‘there is no blue print for democracy’ and we understand that elections may not guarantee democracy, but democracy cannot exist without credible elections.” As elections are highly political and visible events that can both generate and help resolve conflict, she explained that IFES strives to maintain political impartiality at all times. Within this context, “our involvement is always grounded on enhancing the electoral process through applied research, sharing of information and lessons learned, providing analysis and mobilizing resources to increase the trust in these processes,” Abdelkarim said.
IFES’ participation in the forum followed a meeting in February 2016 between IFES and LAS representatives, during which they discussed opportunities for future partnership, including technical support to the League’s Department of Electoral Affairs. Over the last three decades, IFES has worked in over a dozen countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. IFES programming and research continues to respond to challenges throughout the region in an effort to strengthen electoral systems and democratic institutions to provide citizens with the opportunity to have a say in how they are governed.