Analysis: A sign of desperation

The PA president is worried that the tsunami that swept the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents from office could hit Ramallah.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: AP)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to reshuffle the Palestinian cabinet is seen by many Palestinians as a sign of the immense pressure he has been facing following the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Abbas is worried that the tsunami that swept the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents from office would sooner or later hit Ramallah.
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In the eyes of many Palestinians, Abbas is not much different from Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Like the two ousted dictators, Abbas has also been accused of being a “puppet” in the hands of the Americans.
The events in Tunisia and Egypt have taught Abbas that US backing alone is not a guarantor for the survival of his regime in the West Bank. He knows that without the support of a majority of Palestinians, he could end up facing a popular revolt.
Arab leaders who failed to draw the conclusion from the downfall of the Ben Ali regime have finally woken up. The intifada that ended Mubarak’s authoritarian rule has shown them that the Arab masses are serious in their demand for reform and democracy.
Abbas is perhaps one of the few, if not only, Arab leaders who stand to lose a lot from Mubarak’s departure from the scene. For many years, the Palestinian president considered Mubarak to be a strong political ally in the Arab and international arenas.
Mubarak supported Abbas against Hamas, Israel, the US and hostile Arab and Islamic regimes such as Syria and Iran.
The downfall of Mubarak’s regime is a “catastrophe” for Abbas and an award for Hamas, admitted a senior Fatah official.
Almost immediately after it was announced that Mubarak had stepped down, Abbas convened PLO leaders in Ramallah and declared his intention to hold long overdue presidential and parliamentary elections by September. Earlier, Abbas had also announced plans to hold municipal elections in July. On Monday, he went a step further by asking Fayyad to form a new cabinet.
All these measures are seen as an attempt on the part of Abbas to prevent the anti-government wave from reaching the Mukata presidential compound in Ramallah. It’s hard, however, to see how Abbas would be able to hold the elections, given that Hamas and other Palestinian groups have announced that they would not only boycott the vote, but would also prevent it from taking place in the Gaza Strip. It’s also hard to see how replacing a number of cabinet ministers would help Abbas and Fayyad, especially in light of the grave damage that has been caused to the PA leadership’s credibility with the recent publication of the leaked “Palestine Papers” by Al-Jazeera.
Had Abbas called for elections and reshuffled his cabinet before the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, he would have scored more points. But the fact that he’s doing all these things only now reinforces the impression that Abbas, like most Arab leaders these days, is freaking out.