Abbas: The New Mubarak?

Palestinian Authority Forces in Ramallah

The clashes in Tahrir Square over the past 24 hours are a clear sign of the desperation of a faltering, falling regime. Pro-government ‘protesters’ arrived at Tahrir Square yesterday and initiated clashes with the protesters demanding Mubarak’s resignation. The pro-Mubarak forces apparently rode in on camels and horses, wielding sticks, rocks, knives and swords, attacking the demonstrators while the army sat idly by. The attackers were allegedly hired by Mubarak and wealthy businessmen to create chaos and disrupt the protests. One would think that the brutal actions – condemned by the US – will increase pressure on Mubarak, from Egyptians and the international community, to step down immediately.

The violence seems to be the beginning of the end (of the beginning?) of the uprising. While violence is sure to continue for some time, it looks even less likely today that Mubarak will make it to September. A lot has been said about the contagion effect of the Egyptian/Tunisian revolts (Tunisami?); Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, Jordan, SyriaChina? could all follow the lead of Tunisia and Egypt. There have been rallies across the world in solidarity with the Egyptian people, ranging from Amman to Seattle to London to Washington DC. Yet one place that remained suspiciously silent was Palestine.

[tweetmeme] Most Palestinians admire and support the Egyptian protesters, as they are breaking free of a repressive regime and demanding freedom. Moreover, the Egyptian people are overturning a regime that has conspired with Israel to lock the population of Gaza in an open-air prison. Understandably, the Palestinian people, who are clamped under two tiers of oppression by the PA and Israel, would like to express admiration and support for people demanding freedom. Unfortunately, the first of those tiers of oppression is making it impossible. A week after disallowing a rally in support of the Tunisian uprising, the Palestinian Authority violently shut down a similar rally in support of Egypt. In a rare act of agreement, Hamas also shut down a rally supporting the Egyptians.

The recent history of nonviolent protests in Ramallah suggests that the Palestinian Authority is slowly transforming into a police state, similar to the one that is about to be overthrown in Egypt. A recap: after the explosion of the Palestinian Papers embarrassed the PA, a pro-PA demonstration was staged. Protesters marched through Ramallah’s Manara Square and attacked the Al Jazeera office, spraying graffiti equating Jazeera with Zionism. Later it was revealed that many within the protest were undercover Palestinian police officers – predating Mubarak’s use of paid thugs to disrupt the protests in Cairo. Then the PA cracked down on the Tunis rally, the the Cairo rally. Yesterday, supporters of the democratic movement in Egypt tried once more to rally in Ramallah. Predictably, the Palestinian Authority, which supports Mubarak, shut down the rally and arrested several of the organizers. Moreover, again resembling the heavy hand of Mubarak, the Palestinian Authority staged pro-Mubarak protests, again, heavily infiltrated by undercover police.

Yesterday, during the attempted protest, I received some messages from a friend at the scene:

– i never thought this day would come. i just got back from an impromptu protest at the al-manara square in ramallah. we wanted to express our solidarity with egypt. within the first few minutes of the protest, the palestinian authority riot police came out in full force– helmets, guns, sticks– and detained some of our colleagues.

– the number of protesters kept growing and the security officials kept pushing us onto the sidewalk, divided the group into two parts, and then began pushing us, yelling, and beating the protesters aggressively. we were totally nonviolent, carrying palestinian flags, chanting slogans in support of egypt, and singing palestinian songs.

– i saw a young woman being dragged by several riot police while a group of protesters tried to help her. the pa was successful at breaking the protest up, chasing everyone away from all sides of the square so that we found ourselves totally scattered. this is not the first time the pa does this.

After the protesters were pushed around, I received an email this morning calling for another attempt to rally around Egyptian democracy [entire text at the bottom of the post]:

Occupied Ramallah-02-2-2011: About two hundred demonstrators gathered in Al-Manara square in Ramallah to support the uprising of “[their] families in Egypt,” as invites circulated on Facebook and Twitter stated hours before the demonstration began. Within minutes of the demonstration beginning, Palestinian Authority security officers, dressed as civilians and aided by uniformed police, arrested two male demonstrators despite attempts by other demonstrators to stop the arrests. A large group of PA police immediately dragged arrestees to a nearby police station. PA police officers then formed a line and violently harassed protestors using sticks. Numerous officers physically pushed demonstrators outside Al-Manara square, breaking up the demonstration. Several participants reported being beaten by police officers during the demonstration. One demonstrator reported being forced to delete images from his camera.

Ramallah used to be a scene of popular demonstrations and the crackdown on public expression by the PA is frustrating many here. “Embarrassing,” said a colleague when I asked about the broken demonstration effort. He remembered when Manara Square used to be a stage for people to present their views openly. At least once a week, my colleague complained, the entire office would go down to protest for national rights; now, under Abbas, the era of free expression is over. With the PA strengthen by the US and Israel, there is no more room to speak.

The Palestinian Authority does not want Palestinians questioning their own corrupt and clearly illegitimate leaders and thus refuse to let Palestinians support their Arabs neighbors who are fighting for the very thing the PA is denying. While the PA has promised to hold new elections – the last ones were cancelled and Hamas won the ones previous – but such elections in a politically divided Palestine would be a farce to lend some electoral legitimacy to Fatah. Hamas – the main opposition party (if you can call them opposition as the last elected government) has refused to participate.

All in all, Palestine – in both the West Bank and Gaza – is turning into the very thing that Arabs around the Middle East are demonstrating against: an anachronistic, US backed (in the West Bank at least), police state whose sole aim is to keep power. With each suppressed rally and each fake or cancelled election, Mahmoud Abbas is looking more like Hosni Mubarak. The world has been enthralled by the mass democratic movements taking place throughout the Arab world, as the Arab people are willing to take no more. Yet, as eyes across the globe are glued to Facebook, Twitter and Al Jazeera, Palestinians can only sit and watch their few remaining freedoms evaporate. Yesterday’s Palestine was one in which questioning power was the norm. The Palestinian people were able to speak out and the government answered.

Today, while protesting the Israeli occupation is allowed, Palestinians are increasingly silenced, by other Palestinians. Ironic timing, indeed; as oppressed populations across the Middle East have found their voices, Palestinians are losing theirs.

Full Text of Call for Solidarity:

For immediate release:  Palestinian Authority suppresses demonstration in support of Egyptian uprising

Contacts: hirakalshabab@gmail.com

Occupied Ramallah-02-2-2011: About two hundred demonstrators gathered in Al-Manara square in Ramallah to support the uprising of “[their] families in Egypt,” as invites circulated on Facebook and Twitter stated hours before the demonstration began. Within minutes of the demonstration beginning, Palestinian Authority security officers, dressed as civilians and aided by uniformed police, arrested two male demonstrators despite attempts by other demonstrators to stop the arrests. A large group of PA police immediately dragged arrestees to a nearby police station. PA police officers then formed a line and violently harassed protestors using sticks. Numerous officers physically pushed demonstrators outside Al-Manara square, breaking up the demonstration. Several participants reported being beaten by police officers during the demonstration. One demonstrator reported being forced to delete images from his camera.

“This demonstration was called for a few hours before it started, using Twitter, Facebook, and text messages,” said one organizer.

“Due to previous PA crackdown on demonstrations in support of the revolution in Egypt and Tunisia, it was not possible to call for this demonstration before then.” He continued,

“The PA’s suppression is but a continuation of its crackdown on activists, and anyone expressing dissent. It is a clear violation of our basic rights.”

Another demonstrator said, “The PA’s increased suppression of freedoms, including its crackdown on demonstration in support of Egypt and Tunisia can only be seen as a sign of fear by official PA bodies that the Jasmine revolution will soon reach Palestine.”

Another demonstration in support of the people’s revolution in Egypt and Tunisia is called for on Saturday, February 5th in Ramallah at noon, as a part of activities of a global day of Solidarity with Tunisia and Egypt.

Photo from Press TV

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