He didn't do much for Palestine. But at least he always looked thin next to Ariel Sharon.
This week Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas decreed that elections for his own office will take place this coming January, and further he announced that he will not seek re-election.
The 74-year-old Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, made the announcement speaking to reporters in English, because the phrase "will not seek re-election" is believed not to exist in Arabic.
Abbas was elected president on January 9, 2005, two months after the death of Yasser Arafat. Though his term officially expired earlier this year he granted himself a one-year extension so that the presidential election and term could be brought into line with parliamentary elections and terms, which (all things considered) is not really a bad excuse.
However, Abbas jumping the presidential ship before his death is a bold move, in the context of the Arab world.
Currently, the presidents/kings/emirs/Qaddafis of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Djibouti have been in "office" a combined 254 years (an average of 18 years per man; Sultan Qaboos, pictured, of Oman has been throning it up since 1970).
Only the rulers of Kuwait*, Saudi Arabia**, Iraq***, Lebanon****, Mauritania***** and Comoros****** have taken the helm of their respective nations since Abbas won in 2005.
* Current emir succeeded his brother who succeeded his father.
** Current king succeeded his brother who succeeded his father.
*** Most recent elections in 2005 may have been held under duress.
**** Elections were held in June, but the winner has not been sworn into office yet.
***** Current leader overthrew democratically elected former leader in a 2008 coup.
****** Held a successful election in 2006 which featured a peaceful transfer of power from one party to another.
To be sure, Abbas doesn't have much of a record to stand on. His party lost parliamentary elections to rival Hamas, after which he oversaw a mini civil war that resulted in Hamas taking over the Gaza Strip. He failed to achieve a badly needed unity government, barely whimpered as Israel erected settlement after settlement expansion, and barely blinked at the worst social catastrophe in Palestine since 1967.
And recently he was accused of treason for not backing the Goldstone Report [PDF], which we now know was partly because of his ties to a mobile phone company whose prospective millions would've been threatened if certain Palestinian business ties with Israel were severed because of political unrest.
Still, for Mahmoud Abbas to call it quits after a measly 5 years in office is, well, unpresidented. Especially since he hasn't groomed his son and/or brother to succeed him. Right now his Fatah party has no clear Number 2.
Does this mean we're about to witness a truly open and transparent multiparty democratic election process that properly represents and reflects the political diversity of a nation of people who don't even have their own country because their land is enduring a sixty-one-year military occupation?
Or will this guy just take over?