- Crucial elections could set tone for Europe and the Middle East
- Egypt: a member of Mubarak's old regime against a Muslim Brotherhood candidate
- France: Will legislators elected help Francois Hollande govern?
- Greece: Will it decide on a party to lead the country out of its economic nightmare?
It's a very busy year in elections around the world, from revolutionary political shifts in the Middle East to economic woes driving voters to polls across Europe. And that's not even counting the Romney vs. Obama faceoff in the U.S.
A hectic year comes to a point this weekend. There's a presidential runoff in Egypt. Greeks will try again to decide which party should run the debt-laden country. And France will hold legislative elections that will probably determine how much Francois Hollande can get done during his term as the nation's new president.
Here's more about what's at stake:
On Saturday and Sunday, Egyptians are expected to choose between two leading presidential candidates: Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general and civil aviation official who served under Hosni Mubarak as prime minister. Some have argued that the choice is really between two tyrannical men who are unlikely to bring about the kind of change protesters demanded in 2011 during the historic uprising in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
The contest itself has become just one part of an increasingly chaotic political landscape. On Thursday, Egypt's highest court declared the parliament invalid, and the country's interim military rulers promptly claimed full legislative authority. Those rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, have been in control of the country since Mubarak's ouster. They said they'd announce a 100-person assembly that will write the country's new constitution by Friday.
Egypt's Supreme Court also cleared the way for Shafiq to run after weeks of debate over whether his candidacy was legitimate. The court ruled that a law banning former regime members from vying for office violated Egypt's constitution and touched off a firestorm of debate over how much control the military would have in the country.
For Shafiq's supporters, the news was heartily welcomed. They have argued that he is the only candidate who can calm the unrest that has shaken Egypt since Mubarak's ouster. Critics say he represents the old regime far too much. He'll bring back Mubarak's brand of rule, they fear. In early June, new protests erupted in Tahrir Square when news broke that Shafiq would be running.
"Where is the revolution?" demonstrators chanted. Shafiq's campaign headquarters was ransacked and set on fire.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's dominant Islamist group, was a major voice in parliament before the announcement Thursday. Morsi, an American-educated engineer, has stood with protesters and vowed to bring the hopes of those who fought to oust Mubarak to the presidency. He's also argued for barring women from the Egyptian presidency and called Israeli leaders "vampires" and "killers." One analyst describes him as an "icon" of those seeking an "extreme agenda." Morsi "represents the older, more conservative wing of the Brotherhood and openly endorses a strict Islamic vision," Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in an opinion piece for CNN.com.
"A vote for Mohamed Morsi will consolidate the Brotherhood's political influence, which could translate into a constitution with weaker provisions for protection of minority and women's rights," she wrote.
In early May, voters didn't give either of Greece's two most established parties a majority, crippling the country's ability to form a government. This weekend's vote may end the stalemate. Greeks want it to happen sooner than later, as the debt crisis threatens the stability of the European Union's single currency.
A temporary Greek government took office in May. Polls have suggested a narrow victory for a radical leftist party that wants to tear up an international loan agreement which forced the government to make deep budget cuts. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza party, has equated austerity with hell.
"People will conquer fear. They will not succumb; they will not be blackmailed," he said, accusing the parties that made the international loan agreement of "irresponsible scare-mongering."
Right-leaning New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras has said that it wants to remain in the eurozone and alter existing policies, including stringent austerity measures, to "achieve development and offer people relief."
In May, young people on the streets of Athens sounded more concerned about the hardships the Greek people are facing than the international consequences of their vote.
Things are so tense in Greece that a well-known politician was videotaped throwing a glass of water at a colleague and slapping another on a popular morning talk show. A kind of depression has befallen the Greeks, who say austerity measures have made it impossible to get by.
The bottom line: What happens in Greece will not stay in Greece. American leaders should pay attention for their own sake, say analysts.
"If Greece exits the euro, it won't be alone. Others will exit," said Paul Donovan, a global economist with UBS bank.
"There would be bank runs across multiple countries," he predicted recently. "Citigroup, for example, may not be exposed to Greece, but it may be exposed to Portugal, Spain, France. ... It may be exposed to a company that's exposed to France or exposed to exports to EU."
Much attention was paid to Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande's presidential victory in May. It was the first time France had had a Socialist president in 17 years and brought promises of widespread change to France's political landscape. That's why this weekend's legislative election is crucial. In order for Hollande to meet his goals, he needs similarly aligned lawmakers to win seats.
Though Hollande beat Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president is still working against his successor. CNN's Jim Bitterman reported that Sarkozy set out after the election to strategize the election of a majority of right-aligned lawmakers.
The contest between Sarkozy and Hollande got personal and bitter, fiercely dividing the politicians' supporters. What happens during the legislative election will be a "good bellwether of exactly how divided the country is," Bitterman said. "Hollande says he's going to try to bring people together and that Sarkozy was a divisive force."
In the presidential election, divergent political views emerged among parties, some of them extreme. Those same parties will be part of the legislative election, Bitterman said. There's going to be great focus on the controversial National Front party, which could affect how votes are divided, and because the party has a history of anti-Semitism and racism in France.