Are the sons of the Palestinian president growing rich off their father’s system?
The president’s son is certainly entitled to do business in the Palestinian territories. But the question is whether his lineage is his most important credential — a concern bolstered by the fact that he has occasionally served in an official capacity for the Palestinian Authority. In 2008, Yasser reportedly visited Kazakhstan as a special envoy, and according to a former Bush administration official, he “regularly accompanies his father on official travel.”
Tarek Abbas appears less inclined than his older brother to take part in the political aspect of the Palestinian cause, but is just as ambitious in the business world. His online biography indicates that he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, working in the same Gulf contracting firms, as well as a trading company in Tunis during the early 1990s.
Today, he appears to be a successful entrepreneur. His principal enterprise, Sky Advertising, had 40 employees and earned $7.5 million in sales in 2010. And once again, the firm has worked with the U.S. government: Reuters reported in 2009 that Sky received a modest grant of approximately $1 million in USAID funds to bolster public opinion of the United States in the Palestinian territories.
The younger Abbas is also listed by the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC), as the vice chairman of “Arab Shopping Centers.” This is presumably shorthand for Arab Palestinian Shopping Center Company, valued on the Palestine Exchange at $4.2 million. The company, a project of APIC, now has two shopping centers, three supermarkets, and two indoor play facilities in the West Bank.
APIC is an economic juggernaut in the West Bank. In 2010, the company had more than $338 million in revenues. The company lists Tarek Abbas’s Sky Advertising on its roster, as well as the Ramallah-based Unipal General Trading Company, where Tarek sits on the board. Unipal, which has 4,500 retail outlets in the Palestinian territories, distributes consumer goods to Palestinians, including products from Philip Morris Tobacco, Procter & Gamble, and Keebler.
Since the Arab Spring began in late 2010 and early 2011, the Abbas brothers have largely dropped out of sight in the West Bank. Where have they gone? According to an article written by Rachid on the staunchly anti-Abbas website InLight Press, the family owns lavish properties worth more than $20 million in Gaza, Jordan, Qatar, Ramallah, Tunisia, and the UAE.
Of course, the Abbas brothers’ absence doesn’t mean that Palestinians will forget. On a research trip to Ramallah last year, several Palestinians told me that the Abbas family dynasty is common knowledge. However, discussion of the issue rarely rises above a whisper — thanks to growing fear of retribution by PA security officers, who have apprehended journalists and citizens for openly challenging President Abbas’s authority.
At a time when the sons of Arab strongmen are under scrutiny, the questions surrounding the Abbas brothers will not go away. Indeed, the Arab public continues to demand accountability from its leaders — and the upcoming Rachid trial will only bring this controversy closer to Ramallah.
(www.foreignpolicy.com / 06.06.2012)