The Ripple Effect
From Algeria to Iran and the countries in between, a look at how revolution fever is spreading across the Middle East.
When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia on Dec. 17 after a municipal worker confiscated his wares, it appeared to be simply another sad story in a region plagued by corruption, brutal state security services, and lack of accountability. But against all odds, his act of desperation has spurred a wave of reform that has engulfed the entire region, toppling the autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and threatening to engulf other countries across the Middle East.
But the uprising has not followed the same course in every country. In Jordan, protests have forced the government to abandon liberal reforms in favor of an unsustainable economic status quo. In Algeria, they have highlighted the public’s disaffection with the political process. In other countries, the reverberations from the popular upheaval are still unclear. In the West Bank, for example, opinions remain divided about whether the events represent an opportunity for the Palestinian Authority, or its death knell.
Read on for dispatches and observations from the countries most affected by the Middle East’s revolutionary moment.
MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemen: The Revolution Turns Bloody
By Laura Kasinof
In the impoverished south Arabian country of Yemen, there has been an important shift in the anti-regime movement since Hosni Mubarak relinquished power in Egypt on Feb. 11. The old-guard leaders of Yemen’s political opposition who had led anti-regime rallies in the past few weeks have taken a step back. Meanwhile, more energized and angrier younger activists have taken the lead, as protests, which have grown notably more violent, have erupted in major cities across the country.
In Yemen’s capital of Sanaa, hundreds of students have been coming out daily since Friday night calling for an end to the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. There has been a notable shift in the intensity of rhetoric used in demonstrations in past weeks. Many of the protesters are unemployed college graduates who say they are tired of how their society’s endemic corruption prohibits them from obtaining work. “I can’t afford my studies because there is corruption,” one visibly upset young Yemeni protester told me. “There is no real justice in Yemeni society. Some people get everything and others are starving.”
They shout the same chants heard during Egypt’s revolution and carry signs that say simply in Arabic: “Leave.” And, as in Cairo, the demonstrators have been routinely attacked by pro-government thugs using sticks and throwing rocks. Sunday marked the first time official security forces used violence against opposition protesters, when riot police used tasers to disperse a crowd of about 100 staging a sit-in at one of Sanaa’s main squares.
But it’s important to note that the number of protesters on the streets in Yemen remains fairly small. On Sunday, about 1,000 anti-government protesters took part in what were the largest rallies to date. The country has yet to see the sort of mass mobilization that came together to topple the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
Furthermore, there are also competing pro-government rallies taking place. Tribesmen, mostly heralding from staunchly pro-Saleh areas outside the capital, have set up tents in the main square of Sanaa since Friday night. “We are here to protect our country,” declared Mahyoub Dahan, one pro-Saleh supporter from Beni Hushaish, who on Tuesday was affixing two pins to his suit coat, one with a photo of Saleh and another that read: A united Yemen. “Maybe we’ll stay [in the square] one month. Maybe more.”
Saleh badly wants to stave off a mass uprising in Yemen — a scenario that Washington also wants to avoid because of the strong al Qaeda presence in Yemen. In a Feb. 2 speech before an emergency session of parliament, Saleh announced that he would not run for president again — nor would his son succeed him. He also proposed a number of economic reforms. On Monday night, he said that he would open the presidential office to civil society organizations in order to discuss “issues concerned by the public.” But these concessions have not appeased the political opposition, which says that Saleh has not dealt with any of the issues that truly need to be addressed, such as calls for secession in south Yemen.
This is why Yemen’s coalition of formal opposition parties, the Joint Meetings Parties, is pushing for more. Yet even while gaining a lift from the anti-regime energy of Tunisia’s and Egypt’s revolutions, the opposition in Yemen suffers from disorganization and a fractured leadership. Its leaders have not been clear about what their response will be if the president refuses to meet their demands. They know what they don’t want — but what they’re in fact advocating for remains even less clear.
Laura Kasinof is a freelance journalist based in Sanaa, Yemen.
MOHAMMAD HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Iran: The Green Movement Lives On
By Kelly Golnoush Niknejad
It seemed like a peculiar time for Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, prominent leaders of Iran’s Green Movement, to call for protests. After all, it wasn’t just Iran’s venomous hard-line press that had long declared the democratic movement dead. In the absence of street protests for more than a year, the Western mainstream media had ruefully pronounced that the Islamic Republic had succeeded in violently repressing the nascent reform movement. But the two leaders, despite being placed under house arrest by the regime, urged their followers to take to the streets on Feb. 14 for the largest protests since the muzzling of the Green Movement in December 2009.
True, the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt sent ripples throughout the region. But the Islamic Republic is its own peculiar animal, and the odds were stacked against a significant turnout by the opposition. Despite Iranian officials’ grandstanding about the events in Egypt, contending that they were inspired by Iran’s own 1979 revolution, they refused to grant opposition leaders a permit to demonstrate in solidarity with the brave people of Egypt.
The stakes were high — in a word, death. If you didn’t get shot on the street, there was the distinct possibility of falling prey to Iran’s version of swift justice. The rate of executions has increased — in mid-January, the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran put it at one every eight hours.
That punishment has now been extended to a Dutch woman of Iranian descent arrested during the 2009 post-election protests and a web developer facing execution for allegedly building an adult website.
The death sentences sent chills beyond the sphere of political activists. “Now we don’t know exactly what he has done,” a musician in Tehran wrote me a few days ago, “but if it is only designing a website that is considered immoral by the government and getting a death penalty for it, then it is truly terrifying.”
But despite the enormous risks, tens of thousands of Iranians streamed into the streets of Tehran and other cities for the Valentine’s Day protests. “It was beyond anything we had expected,” a Tehran Bureau correspondent in the capital told me. “I was all over on foot and on the rapid transit buses. The crowds were EVERYWHERE.”
There were reports of scuffles, confrontations, and even severe beatings throughout the city. At least one protester was killed. But on the whole, the security forces were restrained. “It seemed like the Basij were ordered not to act until ordered,” our correspondent added. “They just stood around looking bewildered. When the riot police would drive by on their bikes, they just put the fires out.”
And perhaps most significantly, it appeared that Iranians from working-class neighborhoods were involved in the protests for the first time.
“I see the frustration over higher prices for fuel and basic food stuff and the jadedness of people toward the laws and regulations attacking their very foundation,” a friend from affluent north Tehran wrote me in an email. “And I see the strength of the moneyed — the privileged importers (ghachaghchis), the big developers, the quasi-government businesses — keeping their grip on the economy by enriching the ruthless to rule the innocent. The tragedy is beyond description.”
Iranian state media did its best to demonize the protest movement. The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting repeatedly showed a clip of the former shah’s son Reza Pahlavi praising Monday’s protests and Voice of America and BBC Farsi analysts supporting the demonstrations. “In between the clips, [Iranian media featured] pictures of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi [with] a backdrop of a Star of David and U.S. flag,” reported a Tehran Bureau intern who watched state TV coverage of the protests.
The protests raged into the night, but few expect them to spill over into successive days. Conditions in Iran are far more repressive than under the autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt, and Iran is far less susceptible to international pressure. The question on everyone’s mind was whether anybody would show up in the first place. In that sense, the Feb. 14 protests opened a window of opportunity for the Green Movement and showed that its leaders can still bring their followers to the streets.
Kelly Golnoush Niknejad is the founder and chief editor of Tehran Bureau, now in partnership with PBS’s Frontline.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Jordan: A Step Backward
By Alice Fordham
Blink, and you’ll miss the tiny shift toward change in Jordan. In the capital of Amman, where pictures of King Abdullah and his gorgeous consort Queen Rania deck public buildings, dissent is unusual. But lately, protesters have marched through its rain-washed streets.
Jordan has not been immune to the wave of unrest sweeping the region. As the Egyptian government tottered, protesters took to the streets in the thousands to protest rising commodity prices and rampant unemployment. They rallied outside the Egyptian Embassy in downtown Amman, the Islamists waving elaborate green banners and yelling “Allahu akbar” into megaphones. Stern women marched with small children, declaring that they, too, were demonstrating for their country’s future.
But the bloggers and tweeters — the young, secular, and liberal citizens who caught the imagination of Western audiences in Egypt and Tunisia — have mostly stayed at home. In this poor, sparsely populated kingdom, the protests have come from tribal elders and religious conservatives. The populist concessions the king has made to his noisy critics have marked a significant step backward for the country.
In a bid to contain the simmering discontent, the king fired Prime Minister Samir Rifai, reversed a government hiring freeze, and raised wages for civil servants. In the place of Rifai, the king appointed Marouf Bakhit as prime minister, a more conservative figure who used to be the head of national security. King Abdullah also held talks with the Muslim Brotherhood and listened sympathetically to tribal leaders, who argued for greater representation in parliament.
While sold as reforms, critics said that giving more political power to tribes and Islamists, and more money to government employees, were in fact regressions to business as usual. The tribal segments of Jordanian society — or “East Bankers” — the inhabitants of the area who predate the arrival of the Palestinian population, are the bedrock of support for the king, and they demand civil- and security-service jobs in exchange for loyalty. However, critics worry that the economy cannot sustain this bloated mass of government workers for long.
The regime has rigged electoral districts and election laws to make sure that loyalists and tribal figures are disproportionately represented in the country’s parliament. Reformist MPs were stymied in their effort to push through a new election law before the most recent parliamentary elections last November, and the elections went forward as they had previously — with low turnout and predictable winners. The biggest loser in this dynamic has been the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized party in Jordan. It boycotted the most recent election but would likely do well in another, fairer contest.
Abdelatif Arabiyat, a member of the Brotherhood’s shura council, said that its main demand was simply for real polls, but indicated a desire to distance Jordan from the United States as well. “The West has implanted Western terminology about liberal democracy,” he said. “Why is democracy only for liberals?… All U.S. policy is to stop Islamists. This is bad and will fail.”
This order has been shaken lately by a sagging economy and soaring population. Jordan has few resources, and the money coming in from aid, tourism, and knowledge industries like technology and medicine is not enough to support its growing population.
The previous government attempted to implement painful measures to remedy the situation, instituting a hiring freeze in the civil service and pay cuts, which hit East Bankers hard, because they make up the bulk of government jobs. Rifai also carried out World Bank-supported liberalization programs of state assets, continuing the privatization of the telecommunications network and large parts of the Aqaba port operation.
In a departure from previous examples of dissent, some Jordanians have boldly escalated their critiques to explicit attacks on the royals during the current wave of protests. An open letter to the monarchy issued by 36 tribal leaders included some snide invective about Queen Rania, comparing her to Tunisia’s famously profligate former first lady, Leila Trabelsi. The monarchy responded harshly, threatening the Agence France-Press journalist who reported on the letter with legal action and demanding that the AFP remove her from her post.
But while the monarchy tries to quell dissent, its concessions on its program to reform the economy mean that it has already lost the larger battle. The Jordanian economy cannot survive the country’s backward politics much longer. As life for Jordanians gets harder, the protests on the streets of Amman will only get louder.
Alice Fordham is a Middle East correspondent who has reported from Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Egypt.
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images
Tunisia: Ben Ali Is Gone — But Economic Hardships Remain
By Eric Goldstein
Since Tunisians ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali four weeks ago, many refugees have returned to emotional homecomings, while other émigrés have said they will head home soon to help build a new Tunisia.
But the surprise arrival over the last few days of 4,000 Tunisian “boat people” to the small Italian island of Lampedusa, off the Sicilian coast, is a stark reminder that, “Jasmine Revolution” or no, many Tunisians see their best chance for a better life in Europe rather than at home.
Tunisia may commonly be labeled a middle-class Arab nation, but it still has a large underclass, and even for the moderately well-off, the standard of living remains far below that of Europe. Little surprise, then, that many Tunisian youth are ready to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats. Some who reached Lampedusa say they also fear continuing instability at home. While their status has yet to be determined, most will likely be repatriated to Tunisia if they cannot make a viable case for asylum.
Tunisia’s transitional government is now faced with the difficult task of responding to the economic demands of an impatient public. The government is headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi — the only holdover from Ben Ali’s last council of ministers following a cabinet shake-up on Jan 27. The government includes many respected independent figures and leaders of two small opposition parties. On Feb. 9, parliament voted to give acting President Fouad Mebazaa, the speaker of the assembly, the authority to rule by decree.
Labor unrest has mounted following Ben Ali’s departure, which lifted the lid on the population’s long-suppressed demands. Elementary school teachers went on strike on Jan. 24, the day schools were to reopen, keeping many parents home from work. Baggage handlers at Tunis’s airport walked off the job on Jan. 31, forcing at least one arriving jet to turn back mid-voyage. Last week, it was sanitation workers in Tunis seeking better working conditions and benefits. And unemployed university graduates have held frequent rallies in front of government ministries, demanding state jobs.
These strikes have clouded the country’s short-term economic outlook, while sustained street protests have tested the police force, which is ill-trained in nonviolent crowd control techniques. Adding to this combustible mix is the pervasive suspicion that militias and provocateurs from the deposed regime are provoking crowds and instigating violence, calculating that fear and instability benefits them and whoever is giving them their orders.
The transitional government, led by Mebazaa, has moved ahead boldly on human rights issues, communicating a determination to break with the repressive past. The government has conditionally freed most of the 500-plus political prisoners held at the end of Ben Ali’s presidency, pending a promised general amnesty. It also has promised that Tunisia will join the International Criminal Court, making it the first North African state to do so, and become a signatory to other international human rights treaties.
The transitional government also has taken steps to dismantle the infrastructure that enabled Ben Ali’s repressive rule. It has formed a commission to recommend legal revisions that will ensure the general elections promised for later this year are free and fair. The reformist interior minister announced he would sack 42 high officials associated with the old leadership. Judges renowned for their high conviction rates in political cases have been reassigned to desk jobs. But there has been no indiscriminate de-Baathification-style purges so far; the new ministers have retained most of the high-level bureaucracy they inherited, at least for now.
One dramatic change is in the state-run and state-influenced media. Now, the national media is giving voice to the grievances of ordinary Tunisians, putting thinkers and activists blacklisted until one month ago on camera. Tunisia has become the only North African country where people seem to be tuning in to their own television stations as much as Al Jazeera.
These are positive steps — but the challenge, exemplified by the arrival of thousands of Tunisian refugees on the shores of Italy and the need to reassure foreign investors and tourists, still looms large. One can only hope that the tangible gains Tunisians have achieved since ousting Ben Ali will strengthen their resolve to get through the tough economic and political challenges that lie ahead.
Eric Goldstein is deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
Algeria: A Recipe for Repression
Algeria, where social and economic unrest have produced frequent mass protests over the last 10 years, has long been at the top of everyone’s list of countries poised to be swept up in the wave of unrest that has engulfed Egypt and Tunisia. However, the riots and demonstrations in the country have so far failed to coalesce into a mass political movement that could threaten aging President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the tight clique of military elites surrounding him.
Activists opposed to Bouteflika’s regime have attempted to ride the wave of unrest currently sweeping the Middle East. The Coalition for the Coordination of National Change (CNCD), an umbrella coalition of opposition parties and human rights groups, demonstrated against the government on Jan. 22 and again on Feb. 12. The CNCD’s demand for political reforms include the repeal of the country’s 19-year-old emergency law, which bans public demonstrations. The organization also vowed to hold protests every Friday, beginning on Feb. 18, until the government meets their demands.
So far, however, protesters have been badly outnumbered by the Algerian security services. Police quickly dispersed the demonstrators on both occasions. The government deployed 30,000 riot police in anticipation of the Feb. 12 march, who made quick work of the 2,000 to 5,000 protesters.
But while the government has reacted harshly to any signs of unrest, Bouteflika has also signaled that he has heard Algerians’ desire for political reform. On Feb. 3, the president released a communiqué announcing the government’s plans to lift the emergency law “very soon.” There have also been rumors of a cabinet reshuffle, which could replace as many as 15 long-serving and unpopular government ministers.
Bouteflika has spent the better part of the last decade trying to re-establish a sense of normalcy in a country traumatized by the civil war of the 1990s. The repeal of the emergency law fits this narrative well. The president coupled his announcement about lifting the emergency law with a declaration that he would introduce two new antiterrorism laws. But Algeria’s oldest opposition party, the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS), dismissed the measure as a “scam,” claiming that the legislation would simply institutionalize the emergency law’s restrictive provisions.
Algeria’s protests have also been shunned by the major opposition parties, which has hindered their effectiveness. The head of the left-wing Workers Party criticized the protesters, saying, “Half of them were journalists assigned to cover it, and there was no public involvement in the process.” Religious leaders also told followers to keep away from the demonstrations, leaving only a small Islamist presence featuring Ali Belhadj, former head of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS).
As in Egypt, the legal opposition has been co-opted by the regime and reluctant to engage in anything but the most timid criticism. Algeria’s opposition leaders are hardly popular; many ordinary citizens are as suspicious of the professional opposition — which they see as legitimizing a fraudulent political system — as they are of the government. This view is shared by the Rally for Culture and Democracy, a small political party that has emerged as a vocal faction within the CNCD and that supported the military junta during the civil war in the 1990s.
The political elites in Algiers have responded cautiously to the crisis of stability in the Arab world, but have been able to call on more tools than their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia. Common Algerians’ alienation from the political class has made it exceedingly difficult for opposition parties to mobilize a mass movement. And the regime has also gained experience managing similar waves of protest and discontent over the last 12 years through symbolic reforms, a strong security service, and liberal allocations of oil money. For now, this recipe for maintaining stability seems to be doing the trick.
Kal writes The Moor Next Door, a blog on politics in North Africa and the Middle East.
Palestine: This Revolutionary Moment Will Re-Energize the Palestinian Leadership
By Nour Odeh
Palestinians are in a revolutionary and festive mood following the overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt.
But while ordinary Palestinians have been most forward in expressing their solidarity with the protesters, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was far more cautious. Mubarak’s regime was a source of political backing for Palestinians in the international arena, and it would have seemed ungrateful for the PA to jump on the revolutionary bandwagon early on. “Our position has been very circumspect — we are very much aware of the difficulties Egypt is going through and we cannot take sides,” said Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah official, as the uprising unfolded.
But behind closed doors in Ramallah, many Palestinian politicians admired the revolution in silence. “These young students remind me of myself when I was a college student in 1967,” a senior Palestinian official told me. A silent split emerged in the Palestinian leadership between these figures, who lobbied for the right of Egyptians to express their demands for more freedom, and other more traditional and regime-allied figures, who fought back.
This fact explains the PA’s shifting response to demonstrations in the West Bank supporting the Egyptian uprising. The first such demonstration was organized by young Palestinians on Facebook on Feb. 2. Held in the center of Ramallah and attended by young Palestinians, it was quickly and violently crushed by the Palestinian police.
Three days later, a much larger pro-revolution rally was held in Ramallah and attended by senior Palestinian officials like Hanan Ashrawi, an independent member of the PLO Executive Committee, and Bassam al-Salhi, the secretary general of the left-leaning People’s Party. And on Feb. 11, the day Mubarak stepped down, hundreds of Palestinians from all walks of life and different political persuasions poured into Ramallah to celebrate the revolution’s victory, chanting the Egyptian national anthem and calling for Palestinian unity. The celebrations lasted for hours.
In response to the events in Cairo, the Palestinian Authority is going back to basics. It is paying more attention to the Palestinian public’s demands and reconnecting with its role as the leadership of an occupied people. For example, the reshuffling of the Palestinian cabinet led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, while not directly caused by the Egyptian uprising, is meant to respond to growing public discontent with the performance of certain ministries.
Sources close to Fayyad have confirmed that consultations to fill the cabinet slots will include civil society and academics, including prominent figures in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. This break in the traditional political factions’ monopoly over political discourse is one of the positive lessons drawn from Egypt’s revolt.
The Palestinian leadership has also taken steps to increase official accountability. The resignation of the PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, following Al Jazeera’s publication of thousands of official documents leaked from his office, the Negotiations Support Unit (NSU), marked the first time that a Palestinian politician took responsibility for a scandal he was involved in.
The Palestinian leadership even went a step further, dissolving the NSU — a popular move, given that there are no negotiations with Israel at this stage. The main message here is that it is not business as usual and that the Palestinian leadership is reforming the way it conducts its business.
Palestinians are perhaps most thankful to Egyptians for the new sense of optimism and activism that the revolution has brought to the region. For decades, international support for the universal rights of peoples, freedom, and democracy seemed to stop at the gates of the Middle East. Egypt changed that. Now, Palestinians are hoping those that embraced the Egyptian revolt will also extend support for their struggle for national unity and liberation. That makes these events an opportunity for the PA to rally wide public support — and a test of the world’s commitment to a just solution in Palestine.
Nour Odeh was Al Jazeera English’s senior correspondent for the West Bank from 2006 to 2011.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
Palestine: …Actually, It Just Highlights Their Bankruptcy
By Jared Malsin
If Palestinians were to stage an uprising against their own authoritarian leaders, Ramallah’s al-Manara Square might be their equivalent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Palestinians celebrated news of the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in al-Manara on Friday night, Feb. 11 — a brave decision, given that their protest was in violation of an explicit order by the Palestinian Authority (PA) banning demonstrations in solidarity with the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
In Ramallah that night, Palestinians showed a willingness to defy the PA rarely seen in the areas of the West Bank it controls. Civil society activist Omar Barghouti was one of those who joined the Ramallah gathering, which he called a “wonderful celebration.” He held a sign reading “Freedom Wins! 2 Down, 20 to go!” Fireworks could be seen over several West Bank towns.
As publics throughout the Middle East follow Egypt’s lead in demanding accountability from their governments, the PA figureheads in Ramallah — President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — have good reason to be alarmed. Long before the Egyptian revolution, the PA faced serious questions about its legitimacy from Palestinians who increasingly view it as complicit in Israel’s occupation of their land.
The PA initially sided with the Mubarak regime when the Tahrir uprising broke out, sending security forces to crush pro-democracy protests in the West Bank. Senior PA officials vilified the Egyptian demonstrators, with Abbas aide Tayeb Abdel-Rahim making dark allusions to the protesters’ “suspicious allegiances” to “international and regional forces,” a reference to the laughable theory that the uprising was a foreign or Islamist conspiracy.
Since then, the PA and PLO have adopted a more moderate, more conciliatory tone, responding to the present demands for accountability with three measures: the resignation of chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, the dissolution of the cabinet, and a call for local elections in July and parliamentary and presidential elections by September, though no dates have been set.
In the long run, none of these measures is likely to rescue Abbas and Fayyad. A similar cabinet reshuffle in May 2009 resulted in little substantive change. Any new cabinet would also continue to face questions in terms of legality: Fayyad’s unelected government derives its mandate from a 2007 presidential emergency order of doubtful constitutionality.
Erekat’s resignation, coming in response to Al Jazeera and the Guardian‘s release of peace process documents known as the “Palestine Papers,” was more significant because of his seniority in the PLO. But this move, and the subsequent closure of his Negotiations Support Unit, could prove problematic. If direct control over negotiations reverts to Abbas, as some Palestinian officials privately predict it will, this would further centralize power with the president. It would also further blur the lines between the PA, whose authority is limited to the West Bank and Gaza, and the PLO, an organization intended to represent all 10 million Palestinians — including refugees across the Middle East and the world.
The PA’s call for elections is also not viable because the PA never stood a chance of convincing Hamas, which governs Gaza, to accept it. Since 2007, the group has argued that political and administrative reconciliation must precede elections. In the new reality following events in Egypt, Hamas is even less likely to compromise on this point, viewing the PA’s position as weakened. To be fair, Abbas’s Fatah movement and the PA are hamstrung from striking a new unity deal with Hamas due, it is widely believed, to opposition from the United States and its other international backers. Any deal with Hamas would risk Western donors canceling the funding the PA needs to survive.
This lack of diplomatic independence is another of the sad truths that alienate the PA from its own people. In the wake of Egypt’s revolution, Abbas and Fayyad will face calls for deep and radical reforms — including their own resignations — and demands for a viable liberation strategy vis-à-vis Israel. If they do not heed these calls, they could soon face their own Mubarak moment in al-Manara Square.
Jared Malsin is the former chief English editor of the Palestinian news agency Ma’an. His website is jaredmalsin.wordpress.com.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images
David Kenner was Middle East editor at Foreign Policy from 2013-2018.
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