Abbas Crackdown Reflects Trend Toward Autocracy

GAZA (Reuters) -
Self-exiled Abbas rival, Mohammed Dahlan. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has tightened his grip on power by stripping the parliamentary immunity of five lawmakers seen as opposing him, weeks after being reappointed chairman of the main political party.

The move follows a decision by a Palestinian court last week to sentence Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah party member and vocal Abbas critic, to three years in prison over the disappearance of $16 million when he was in office several years ago.

While Abbas has no immediate challengers, he appears to be at pains to shore up his authority amid criticism over his rule from neighboring Arab states, from Hamas and from Israel.

Dahlan, who frequently assails Abbas’s leadership from his self-imposed exile in Abu Dhabi, was tried, convicted and sentenced in absentia. He has dismissed the sentence as politically motivated and “ordered by Abbas.”

All five of those who had their immunity from prosecution revoked are regarded as allies or associates of Dahlan.

Hassan Al-Awri, Abbas’s legal adviser, said the attorney general had asked Abbas to strip them of their immunity so they could be “investigated over a number of issues.”

In the run-up to the recent Fatah gathering, Dahlan spoke critically of Abbas’s leadership and urged his supporters to oppose him. It was seen as an attempt to undermine Abbas’s rule rather than unseat him, and position Dahlan or his allies to take over if Abbas dies or loses when the next elections are held.

But Abbas restricted the number of delegates invited to the gathering, making it harder for Dahlan loyalists to mount a challenge. The newly elected, 21-member Fatah central committee is largely made up of Abbas supporters.

Abbas’s increasingly autocratic style — he has removed several opponents from their posts, issued decrees and rarely speaks to the media — has drawn criticism from within his party and from members of parliament. The latter has not met since Fatah and Hamas fought a brief civil war in Gaza in 2007, which led to Hamas seizing full control of the territory.

Several Fatah legislators issued a joint statement late on Sunday demanding the decision to strip parliamentary immunity be reversed, arguing there was no clause in the Palestinian basic law giving Abbas the right to revoke it.