July 25, 2021

In loss of legitimacy, Mahmoud Abbas sinks into authoritarianism

« Irhal ya Abbas ! » (“Abbas get out!”), Shouted the crowd in Ramallah, Saturday evening July 3, distant echo of the “Arab Spring”. The few hundred Palestinian demonstrators, however, failed to reach the Mouqata’a, the palace of the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas: the road was blocked by the security forces. The slogan is not unanimous in the West Bank, but it crystallizes the slow end of the course of a vigilant president, illegitimate for years, for lack of elections, and whose unpopularity has taken a new step in recent weeks.

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President without a State, administrator of a territory over which he has no real control due to the Israeli occupation, Mahmoud Abbas is today isolated. Of his people, in the first place, which he no longer sees as a security threat. At the end of April, he announced the postponement sine die elections, suddenly sweeping away any hope of democratic openness. In the absence of a ballot for fifteen years, against a background of intra-Palestinian divisions, the president has been in power since 2005, having only passed the ballot box once.

Stifling the protest

In May, when Jerusalem bursts into flames and Gaza is shelled by Israeli bombardments, the West Bank joins in with large protests. “The Palestinian Authority is then going through the most serious existential crisis in its history. It was as if they no longer existed, no one took them into account, no one heard them. The Prime Minister barely published a tweet to support what was going on… Because they didn’t know what to do! “, explains Tahani Mustafa, analyst for the NGO International Crisis Group. Cornered, Ramallah’s leaders have responded to the humiliation by stepping up the crackdown on any dissenting voices in the West Bank because “Their clientelist networks are no longer sufficient to perpetuate or consolidate their control”, she assures.

Abbas governs day by day, by decree, without opposition. He “Has gradually developed a paranoid vision of the relationship he has with his population”, describes Xavier Guignard, researcher at the Noria research center, for whom the PA can be similar to “Type of Ben Ali regime in Tunisia”. With this difference: Ramallah “Lacks the capabilities, but neither does it need to exercise such repressive power, because a whole part of the security management of the Palestinians, including those perceived by the PA as a threat, is carried out by Israel “.

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