Elections are sites of festivity, celebrity, and sometimes dramatic suspense, unique occasions for the simultaneous nationwide engagement of candidates, campaign volunteers, poll-workers, voters, and even abstainers and school-children in the quintessential patriotic experience. Yet in an era of globalization, national elections are not necessarily purely domestic affairs; a large cadre of expatriate consultants, trainer-trainers, and monitors often participate directly. This paper considers two alternative understandings of the role of North American, European, and international democracy brokers in Arab elections since the early nineteen nineties. The usual story is that Western democracies set aside democratic altruism to protect vital interests, allies, and spheres of influence in the Middle East: instrumental realism trumps lofty idealism. The counter-argument is that a transnational regime, industry, or consortium of experts forging technical standards and sharing knowledge through epistemic communities gradually empowers Arab publics to select their leaders. This paper presents the case that these mutually exclusive viewpoints reflect concurrent yet fundamentally incompatible patterns. Evident for over a decade, these trajectories collided in the ironic juxtaposition of "by the book" Palestinian elections that defied Western preferences with the unorthodox, slapdash balloting in Iraq. In other words, great powers disregard and ultimately undermine the "codes of conduct" written by transnational networks of experts and understood by an important segment of the educated Arab public. The analysis contains an ethical paradox inasmuch as Euro-American interference in Arab elections would be easier to criticize if it were not resisted by despots defending decidedly anti-democratic practices.

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Copyright © 2008 Mediterranean Program Series. This working paper first appeared in EUI Working Papers RSCAS 2008/24 (2008), 1-14.

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