Rivals step up as doubts grow over ailing Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has won international admiration for his pragmatic policies. File/AP
Updated 07 April 2018

Rivals step up as doubts grow over ailing Abbas

AMMAN: After Mahmoud Abbas took over the Palestinian presidency on Jan. 15, 2005, journalists in Ramallah noticed something different. The new resident of the presidential compound, known as Al-Muqata, followed normal business hours. He would arrive in the morning, go home for lunch and leave at 5 p.m.
The business-like atmosphere indicated a new kind of leader. Gone was Yasser Arafat, the revolutionary who dressed in fatigues and often worked through the night before his death in 2004. Here was a suit-and-tie leader who wanted to show he was a civilian leader ready for negotiations, not a Che Guevara-style guerrilla.
But Abbas, who turned 83 recently, has little to show for his efforts, with peace talks moribund and US President Donald Trump’s administration taking a hard line on issues such as Jerusalem, which Washington has recognized as the Israeli capital.
Abbas has been outraged by the change in American policy, railing against the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv. But while his angry words have garnered sympathy from sections of the international community, he has failed to gather support for a new strategy that rejects Washington as the main broker in peace talks.
A series of health scares has further focused minds on who might succeed Abbas and the future priorities of the Fatah party that he leads.
Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian prime minister, told Arab News that the need for political direction was more important than any change in personnel.
“We need to have a clear strategy that can help us deal with the huge challenges ahead,” said Fayyad, now a visiting professor at the Woodrow Wilson School for public and international affairs at Princeton University.
“The number one priority must be to find ways to unify the splintering Palestinian population and leadership.”
A recent opinion poll found that 68 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, while just 33 percent said they were satisfied with his performance, according to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.
Fatah candidates tipped to succeed Abbas include Jibril Rajoub, a former security chief, and Mahmoud Aloul, a veteran party leader, both members of the decision-making central committee. Analysts see these men as the main contenders.
Majed Farraj, Abbas’ security chief, is another possibility. Marwan Barghouti, a former leader of the second intifada or uprising, is still popular among Palestinians, but is serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Dahlan, who lives in exile in the UAE, has the support of Gulf countries, but is bitterly opposed by the local leadership in Ramallah.
Concern over Abbas’s future has led to the Israeli authorities preparing for the possibility of a prolonged succession struggle that could threaten the relative calm in the West Bank, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Fatah is the dominant party in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and leads the Palestinian National Authority, controlling its budget and security forces. The party remains in bitter dispute with Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 after winning the last legislative elections for the PNA in 2006 when Abbas won the presidency.
The Palestine National Council (PNC), the main legislative body of the PLO, is set to elect a new executive committee at a meeting likely to take place in Ramallah on April 30. The PNC includes Palestinians from the diaspora, but does not include Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
Hani Almasri, general manager of Masarat, a Palestinian think tank in Ramallah, told Arab News he would like to see the PNC unify the Palestinians. “What we badly need at the PNC meeting is a meeting of minds so that we can all agree on the new direction of the Palestinian national movement.”
The presidency is decided by a national vote, which should take place after a 60-day period following the death or resignation of the previous incumbent. Palestinian residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza aged over 18 can vote, but not Palestinians outside those areas.
 

 


Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

Updated 1 min 50 sec ago

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

  • Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines
  • In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment

CAIRO: Their accounts are similar. The girls and women describe meeting the young man — a former student at Egypt’s most elite university — in person and online, followed by deceit, then escalating sexual harassment, assault, blackmail or rape.
Some were minors when the alleged crimes took place. In all, more than 100 accusers have emerged online in the past two weeks.
It’s resulted in a new #MeToo firestorm on social media, and the arrest of the suspect last week from his home in a gated community outside Cairo.
Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines; many in Egypt have previously portrayed harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
Women’s rights champions hope the authorities’ swift response signals change in how Egyptian society handles accusations of sexual assault.
“What’s before this case is totally different from what’s after,” said Nihad Abuel-Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victim of such crimes.
In a statement, the public prosecutor’s officer said the accused man acknowledged he blackmailed at least six girls, saying he would send sensitive photos of them to their families if they cut ties. Several attempts by The Associated Press to contact him or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Amr Adib, Egypt’s most prominent TV host, said in a recent episode that he’d spoken with the young man’s father, who occupies a high-ranking position at a telecommunication company. He said his son dismissed the allegations.
At least 10 women have officially reported their claims, according to Abuel-Komsan, of the women’s rights center. Activists also set up the Instagram account @assaultpolice to collect allegations, said Sabah Khodir, a US-based writer who helps run the account. She said there are more than 100 accounts.
“We are demanding to be listened to … We are just using what we have, lending our voices to hopefully create some kind of change,” she said.
A court has ordered the accused to remain in custody pending an investigation into an array of accusations that include attempted rape, blackmail and indecent assault, according to a five-page statement by the public prosecutor. In the same statement, the prosecutor urged more alleged victims to come forward.
Last week, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi moved to amend the country’s criminal law to increase protections for the identities of sexual assault victims, which activists have welcomed. The amendment still needs parliamentary approval and El-Sisi’s signature to be made law.
The allegations against the student cover a period of at least three years.
Many of the anonymous accounts appear to be from fellow students at the American International School, one of the country’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo, which school officials said the accused left in 2018. It would appear that he then enrolled at the European Union Business School in Spain, in an online program last year.
In February, he spent three weeks at its Barcelona campus, but the school expelled him after an accusation of online harassment that was subsequently proved false, said Claire Basterfield, a spokesperson for the EUBS. The school has filed a 54-page criminal complaint with the Spanish police, seeking further investigation into his actions.
The head of the American University in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said the university has a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment, but that he would not comment on an ongoing case.
According to accusations posted on social media in the past two weeks, the former student would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs. He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them to have sex with him. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
In some cases, he “attracted their sympathy by claiming he was going through a crisis,” then lured them to his home in an upscale compound where he sexually assaulted them, the prosecutor’s statement alleged.
In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment. During and after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, women were frequently harassed, groped — and in some cases, beaten and sexually assaulted — during mass protests.
This time, there are signs of wider ripples throughout the society. The current series of complaints has prompted Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, to speak out on sexual harassment and assault, even challenging the widely held belief that a woman is at fault if her clothing is less than modest. It’s a departure from the norm for the conservative Muslim majority country where most women wear headscarves.
There are also other corners where accusations of sexual harassment are emerging, such as in civil society groups and businesses.
Two rights groups said they fired one employee and suspended another, and opened investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct against them were made public. Authorities also detained a prominent publisher over the weekend after a poet filed a complaint with the Cairo police, accusing him of sexually harassing her, the state-run Al-Ahram reported. The publisher denied the allegations in a Facebook posting. He was released late Sunday on 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($313) in bail, pending an investigation.
The recent cases — reaching into the Egyptian elite — have “refuted all previous arguments and justifications for harassment, from poverty to illiteracy and things like that,” Abuel-Komsan said.