World Bulletin / News Desk
Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian opposition leader with a controversial background, was handed a Serbian passport. Dahlan’s wife, four children, a relative, and five supporters were also given Serbian passports.
In February 2015, Ivica Dačić, Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and chairperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), publicly confirmed that his country had granted Dahlan citizenship in 2013.
A former Fatah party strongman, Dahlan had promised Serbia millions of dollars in investments from the United Arab Emirates, where he had been living in exile since 2011. The Serbian government has refused to confirm whether the investments were the reason he was handed citizenship.
The Serbian Connection
One year ago, in March 2014, Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolić called an early general election. Aleksandar Vučić, then Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), the largest party in parliament, won the elections by a landslide with 49% of the vote. As a result, Vučić was named Prime Minister.
A former nationalist known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s – at the time of the conflict, Vučić said that his country would kill 100 Muslims for every Serb who died – Vučić now touts himself as a pro-European politician capable of attracting substantial revenue to cash strapped Serbia through business deals with the UAE’s political leaders. He openly boasts of a close, personal relationship with Abu Dhabi’s crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and in August 2014 secured a one billion dollar loan from the UAE to solve Serbia’s liquidity problems.
Dahlan, meanwhile, is one of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s most trusted advisers. After splitting with Fatah in 2011, Dahlan was named a security aid to the UAE government. He has also been placed in charge of UAE-sponsored media efforts against the Muslim Brotherhood, and has often been seen traveling with the Crown Prince on his visits to Egypt and other countries.
The Middle East Eye reported that Vučić’s relationship with the Crown Prince would have been impossible without the help of Dahlan, who helped smooth things over after the UAE became the first Arab country to recognize the independence of Kosovo, Serbia’s breakaway province, in 2012. Dahlan has also been credited with facilitating the UAE’s investments in Serbia.
Dušan Pavlović, an adviser to Serbia’s Minister of Economy from September 2013 to January 2014, told that “This agreement included provisions to overrule some domestic law in Serbia. For example, any investment that comes from the UAE is given priority over local deals,”
In one case, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) revealed that the Serbian government paid several times more than its UAE partner for a 51% stake in the company, Air Serbia. While Serbia paid $90 million for 51% of the airline, its partner from the United Arab Emirates paid $40 million for 49%, BIRN reported.
Meanwhile, the lucrative Belgrade on the Water project has been handed to a single developer, the Abu Dhabi based company Eagle Hills, without a public tender or competitive design process. Laws have been modified and public money invested to speed up the launch of the unpopular project.
Dahlan’s Life in Serbia
The amount of time Dahlan actually spends in Serbia remains unclear, as do the details about his activities in the country. Some analysts have suggested, for instance, that Dahlan is planning to use Serbia as a base from which to challenge Abbas’s leadership over the Palestinian Authority.
As it seems improbable he will return to the West Bank any time soon, and, without much pressure coming from the country’s media, Dahlan will likely be traveling to and from Serbia for some time to come. It also does not appear Vučić and his team will abandon their commitment to promoting UAE business deals in Serbia anytime soon.
It would seem, then, that everyone is happy – except, of course, for those Serbian citizens who are wondering what exactly is going on.
Who is Mohammed Dahlan, in fact?
A brief overview of his life shows a man at the center of violent political infighting in the Palestinian territories.
After becoming politically active as a teenager, Dahlan was instrumental in the establishment of the Fatah Youth Movement in Gaza. Between 1981 and 1986, he was arrested eleven times by Israel for his activities with the group and involvement in the first intifada.
Eventually, however, Dahlan became friendly with both Israel and the United States, as reflected innumerous reports about Dahlan negotiating with Israel and cavorting with the CIA.
In 2002, former Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer admitted that he had offered Dahlan control of the Gaza Strip to maintain calm along the border.
After talks with Dahlan at the White House in July 2003, George W. Bush publicly praised him as “a good, solid leader,” as reported by Vanity Fair. Eventually and unsurprisingly, some Palestinians began to view Dahlan as a traitor.
Following Hamas’s legislative victory in 2006 and subsequent split between Hamas and Fatah in 2007, Dahlan became one of Fatah’s leading figures.
As Vanity Fair later revealed, Dahlan had been a key actor in precipitating that split, and had been placed in charge of a U.S. orchestrated plan to remove Hamas from power in Gaza through violent means. When the plan backfired, and Fatah and Hamas severed ties, Dahlan fled Gaza for the safety of the West Bank.
From 1994-2007, Dahlan served as the Director of the Preventive Security Forces, a group of around 20,000 men trained with help from the CIA.
In this role, he was responsible for the arbitrary arrest of hundreds of Palestinians, using especially brutal tactics.
For a time, Dahlan was seen as the heir apparent to Yasser Arafat, former President of the Palestinian National Authority and leader of Fatah.
But, in 2011, Fatah expelled Dahlan from the organization. President Mahmoud Abbas accused him of corruption and insinuated he may have been involved in the death of Arafat, who many believe was poisoned.