The International Republican Institute (IRI) hosted a delegation of prominent political party members from the Middle East and North Africa region to observe the U.S. mid-term elections from November 2-8, 2006.  The delegation observed national and state races in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC.

For this mission, IRI hosted party activists from Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon who play important roles in their parties for campaigning and elections.  The objective of the mission was to provide party members in transitional countries with a hands-on experience of competitive campaigning and nonpartisan election administration.  

The delegation of six party members represented a broad array of political perspectives.  The group included two female members of parliament from Morocco, Amina Ouchelh of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces Party and Fouzia Oulgour of the Front of Democratic Forces; Ali Rahal and Wafa Abed, two party leaders from Lebanon representing the Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party respectively; and Said Abd Al Hafez Said Darwish and Abdul Nasser Saad Abu El Eineen Mohamed, two party leaders from Egypt representing the Al Wafd and Al Tagammu parties respectively.   

During their observation mission, delegates met with Democrat and Republican party representatives, local boards of elections, campaign staff, pollsters and political analysts.   During these briefings and campaign events, the group looked specifically at the core elements of a campaign, such as grassroots outreach, use of technology, communications, voter turnout, volunteer coordination, polling, fundraising and campaign finance.  In addition to gaining new information on campaigning and election organization, the delegates had a chance to exchange best practices from personal experience.     

The trip illustrated that election administration is a constantly evolving process.  The delegates were impressed by the nonpartisan nature of federal, state and local election authorities and their efforts to address irregularities or problems with the confidence of the public.  For countries that these delegates represent, this is valuable lesson.

Meetings with campaign staff and attendance at campaign events were the highlights of the trip.  During a meeting with the grassroots coordinator of Virginia U.S. Senate candidate Jim Webb’s campaign, the delegates learned about the effective use of volunteers to spread the candidate’s message and profile.  From a visit to the phone-banking headquarters for Maryland gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich and Maryland’s U.S. Senate candidate Michael Steele, the group observed outreach efforts during the final 72 hours and the use of technology to record voter intentions.  

During an early morning rally to energize volunteers, Virginian candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, George Allen, Tom Davis and Frank Wolf, demonstrated the effectiveness of a political stump speech that conveys passion and vision.  One of the participants noted,” If this were Morocco, each politician would have spoken for hours!”

In the final meeting of the trip, participants shared what they had learned and what might be applied in their home countries.  They noted the culture of volunteerism in the U.S., voting on issue-based platforms versus voting for personalities, the extent of political education and the involvement of community leaders.

The benefit of the trip was evident when Egyptian delegate Abdel Nasser admitted that before he arrived, he had a negative view of the U.S. and now, he said, he has “a completely different perspective on Americans and the U.S.,” and added that, “there is much to learn from the American experience.”

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