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.
 

 


Artists take a stand in Lebanon’s peaceful uprising

Updated 17 November 2019

Artists take a stand in Lebanon’s peaceful uprising

  • What blankets the walls of the ongoing 'revolution' in Beirut and other cities is art
  • For the protesters, public art is a means of communicating their political message

BEIRUT: Cries were heard in the town of Khaldeh, south of Beirut, on the night of Nov. 12. They were different from the sounds that have become the background noise of the Lebanese Revolution.

A soldier had killed Alaa Abou Fakher, a local official from the Progressive Socialist Party headed by Walid Jumblatt, a political leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, marking the third death in 27 consecutive days of protests.

The killing has escalated tensions that were already running high amid a nationwide protest movement that started off as a reaction to proposed new taxes before morphing into a veritable “people power” movement.

Protesters are demanding changes to Lebanon’s sectarian system of government, calls that have prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and will likely lead to more departures.

Meanwhile, what blankets the revolution’s walls of Martyrs’ Square; the ring (the tunnel linking west Beirut to east Beirut); the ESCWA (the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia) boundary wall; the area next to Parliament; throughout Tripoli; and in countless other places is another form of protest: Art.

“The art we were trying to express has documented almost all the incidents of the revolution so far, day by day,” said Said Fouad Mahmoud, a graffiti artist who has been practicing for 11 years. “Some people are good with speech, others with song, and we raise our voices with drawings. I drew pictures of the moments that affected me the most: The role of the female in the revolution; the guy cleaning with one leg; and the first day of the revolution, with the flag and the fire.”

Graffiti by Said Fouad Mahmoud. (Supplied)

Many of the progressive-graffiti-laden walls fall under the umbrella of Iman Nasreddine Assaf’s Art of Change initiative, which she founded in May in partnership with local Beirut-based NGO Ahla Fawda and UK-based Where There’s Walls.

“Our purpose is to promote urban art to more than just the graffiti scene in order to spread important messages throughout the community,” said Assaf. “Our revolution walls are in support of, and part of, the demonstration and revolution. They are expressing people’s pain and demands and the impact has been strong. Art is the international language that touches all.”

Art has emerged as a favored medium of the revolutionaries to convey their political message. To this end, Art of Thawra (Art of Revolution), an Instagram page, is collecting and showcasing relevant artworks produced during the 2019 protests.

“There’s been a drastic increase in street art during this revolution,” said Mahmoud. “People are trying to send messages through their paintings. The art indicates how civilized people have been during the protests and how peaceful the revolution has been until now. I hope it will remain peaceful until the end. If it does, then it means art played a major role in this revolution because art is peace in itself.”

Lebanon’s contemporary art community has issued numerous statements regarding the closures of spaces, programs and exhibitions as artists, curators, and gallerists participate in protests for non-sectarian unity. Beirut’s art community had just assembled for the Home Works event when the protests began on Oct. 17.

The message from the organizers, Ashkal Alwan, postponing the event stated: “Artistic and cultural institutions and initiatives are in no way isolated from broader civic, political, economic, and ideological context but rather shaped as a result of and in response to historical events and their repercussions.”

On Oct. 25 the Beirut Art Center sent out a similar statement: “In solidarity with and participation in the popular uprisings taking place across Lebanon against the current systems of power, we the undersigned cultural organizations and structures collectively commit to Open Strike, and call for our colleagues in the cultural sector to join us.”

Another artistic expression of solidarity is visible at leading Lebanese art dealer Saleh Barakat’s space in the Clemenceau area of Beirut. On Nov. 8 he opened a show featuring an installation by Palestinian Beirut-based artist Abdul Rahman Katanani.

Graffiti by Said Fouad Mahmoud. (Supplied)

A series of temporary abodes made using painted scrap metal and wood, and surrounded by barbed wire — much like the surroundings of the Sabra refugee camp where the artist lives — were stationed throughout the gallery.

Katanani’s immersive and precarious installation, on view until Jan. 4, asks the question: What future awaits Lebanon?

“Many are now trying to figure out a good balance between getting their work done and participating in the public upheaval,” said Basel Dalloul, founder and director of the Dalloul Foundation. “Cultural production in all its forms can and will be one of the economic drivers of a future Lebanon.”

Ayman Baalbaki, one of Lebanon’s most recognized painters, “is not involved in creating art right now,” said Barakat. “He is going to all of the protests and is completely involved in the need for political change.”

The design duo David Raffoul and Nicolas Moussallem, whose studio goes by the name David/Nicolas, said in a statement: “What’s happening today is very important for all of us Lebanese who would like a brighter and honest future where corruption is not surrounding us.

“We are trying to work but it is not easy. Right now we are focused on how we can help our country.

“On the other hand, creativity is stronger because the revolution gives you such a push.

"Most places are closed and open spontaneously. Thank goodness for social media, so that we can show what we are doing to the world.” 

Marwan Sahmarani, a Lebanese painter known for his bold abstract canvases replete with their gestural brushstrokes and vibrant coloring, noted the difficulty of working during a time of turmoil.

“It’s a disturbing moment for everyone,” he said. “There are many feelings, good and bad. I divide my time when needed between my studio and the street. But what do I paint that can be relevant now and not fall into a journalistic rendering of current events?”

Individuals in the creative scene have joined hands in camaraderie to produce several initiatives in solidarity with the protesters. One is Nour Al-Thawra, staged by Sara Beydoun, founder of Lebanese fashion house and social enterprise Sara’s Bag, and her friend Mariana Wehbe.

On the evening of Nov. 6, a group of Lebanese women gathered in Martyrs' Square, each carrying a lighted candle. “Let’s light a candle for the strength we have shown and the resilience that will never die,” wrote Beydoun on her Instagram account. “Bring a candle and your peaceful prayer and let’s combine all of our strengths to light up Martyrs’ Square.”

Beydon told Arab News: “We all want one thing — the Lebanon we dream of.”

Wehbe agreed. “Sarah and I have been on the ground since day one,” she said. “Like every Lebanese woman from this revolution, each one of us is trying to find her way to help, support and move this forward.”

The candle-bearing crowd of women, which the pair turned into a moving video that went viral, was driven by the need to create a “peaceful symbolic prayer.”

“It was a prayer for our country, for our future, for unity, no matter where you come from and what your religious beliefs are,” said Wehbe. “It is a symbol of unity and protection for love, compassion and for our home, Lebanon.”