Friday, December 10, 2004


Democracy Undermind in Palestine, or The Problem with Fatah

There is an article by Graham Usher in al-Ahram Weekly about the candidacy of Marwan Barghouti, which in my opinion is very perceptive in getting to the bottom of what politics are really at play here. I think the issue here is that Fatah is, at the moment, essentially a non-democratic institution. Fateh as the largest and most powerful political organization in the Palestinian territories is in favor of democracy in terms of national decision-making because it knows that it is the most powerful. But internally, this is not the case. As Usher writes:
Like many in Fatah, he had been angered by the way Abbas had been chosen. It had remained the prerogative of Fatah's Central Committee (FCC) and Revolutionary Council (FRC), two institutions dominated by the so- called "old guard" or those "outside" Fatah leaders who had returned from exile with Arafat and who derived their position (and privileges) solely from him.
So within Fatah there is a difference between democracy and power. The idea that Barghouti's candidacy is "dividing Fatah" is somewhat of a canard. The implication is that Barghouti is weakening Fatah. This is not the case - as Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan's wife, says in an interview:
He is not dividing Fatah. Marwan is Fatah. And there are lots of people in Fatah -- including leaders from the first and second Intifadas -- who will support his candidacy.
Marwan is Fatah. Not that he encapsulates what Fatah is or isn't, but he is a member of Fatah and is a Fatah candidate (whether he is running as an "independent" or not, everybody knows that he is Fatah). Whether he or Abu Mazin wins, it will be a Fatah victory. And his entering his candidacy in no way reduced the possibility of a Fatah victory. There is no non-Fatah challenger in this race. As much as I admire Mustafa Barghouthi, this is the truth. So what, then, is meant by "dividing Fatah"? Essentially it means dividing Fatah's power internally. It means diluting the power held by the FCC and the FRC, taking the decision-making out of their hands and putting it in the hands of the voters. And this is what makes the FCC and the FRC, and the "old guard" in general, fundamentally undemocratic. These men are not interested in democracy so much as in power. And those of the "young guard" or "insiders" such as Zacharia Zubeida of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who have now come out against Marwan Barghouti's candidacy are exposing themselves as having a greater interest in power than in democracy. And to some extent, this is the more attractive option. Abu Mazin travels to Syria and Lebanon; as for the Barghoutis, Marwan is imprisoned and Mustafa is beaten up by the IDF and cannot travel to Gaza or even into Hebron. Writes Usher, "Mahmoud Abbas's home in Ramallah is a palatial villa spread on a hillside surrounded by black limousines and a ring of Palestinian police. Marwan Barghouti's home is a second floor flat in a six-storey concrete apartment block." This is the choice of the Palestinians.

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