Hamas entrenched in Gaza after 5 years of rule (AP) Associated Press) By IBRAHIM BARZAK and KARIN LAUB GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip 06/23/12 2:59 am ET)
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-Top
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip In five years of rule in the Gaza Strip,
Hamas has established a functioning, authoritarian mini-state with a
strong Islamic flavor, so firmly in control that nothing short of an
unlikely Israeli military takeover seems capable of dislodging the
The Islamists of Palestine were once respected as a supposedly honest
alternative to corrupt secular rivals, the Western-backed Fatah group
led by the late Yasser Arafat. But that luster has mostly been lost
as miserable Gaza becomes even poorer and more aid-dependent. The
corruption of the Fatah days is perceived to have persisted into
Hamas´ rule, as Audis, Porsches and Hummers are driven around
potholed streets by a newly wealthy class of black market traders who
benefit from the regime.
For those inclined to fight Israel, even that appeal was lost as
Hamas has mostly stuck to a truce in recent years.
On the streets of Gaza, bitterness seems prevalent.
"I am not saying Fatah was better, but when I voted for Hamas I voted
for change," said Fahmi Khamis, 42, a vendor who sells made-in-China
household goods in Gaza City´s outdoor market. "This did not happen.
Instead, we lost a lot."
This month marks five years since Hamas violently seized Gaza in a
brief civil war a year after winning 2006 parliamentary elections
and following an effort at joint rule with Fatah. The anniversary
comes at a tense moment in the region. Its parent group, the Muslim
Brotherhood, is locked in a struggle for power in neighboring Egypt.
Results from last weekend´s close presidential vote are expected at
any moment and there is widespread fear of renewed violence if the
Brotherhood´s Mohammed Morsi is not declared the winner.
Are there lessons to be learned here about what would follow in Egypt
should Islamists ultimately come to power there? The inclination to
seek them is natural enough: Hamas became the first branch of the
region-wide Muslim Brotherhood to get a chance to govern. But the
differences are considerable between huge, proudly independent Egypt
and tiny Gaza, with its narrative of victimization, struggles with
Israel and split from the still Fatah-ruled West Bank. And for fellow
Islamists on the rise not just in Egypt but in Tunisia, Libya and
other countries transformed by the Arab Spring the Hamas experiment
in Gaza seems mostly an embarrassment.
"If they (Islamic movements) look at Hamas, it´s as a negative model
of what happens if you win elections too quickly and face unfavorable
international conditions," said Nathan Brown of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace.
From the moment Hamas seized Gaza from Arafat´s successor,
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel and Egypt sealed the
territory´s borders and much of the world boycotted the Islamists for
refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel. The economy
hobbled along, relying on blockade-evading smuggling tunnels under
the Egyptian border, support from a U.N. aid agency that serves two-
thirds of the population, Iranian largesse and continued salary
transfers from the Abbas government in the West Bank for tens of
thousands of pro-Fatah civil servants who were paid not to work for
Today, the blockade though eased slightly in the last two years
continues to prevent economic recovery and slows down badly needed
infrastructure projects, such as sewage treatment plants. The per
capita GDP is 17 percent lower than seven years ago, 90 percent of
drinking water is unfit for consumption without treatment and 90
million liters of untreated or partially treated sewage are dumped
into the sea each day, according to U.N. figures. One-third of the
workforce is unemployed.
At the same time, the black-market economy and unchallenged one-party
rule have created a new wealthy class. Lack of oversight over
millions of dollars in annual aid from Iran and private Arab donors
has fueled rumors of official corruption. Tunnel smugglers are seen
driving around in fancy cars.
Government spokesman Hassan Abu Hashish said Gaza´s Hamas leaders are
as frugal as when they ran an underground movement.
"We are talking about clean-handed leaders," he said. "They have
stayed in their homes in the alleys of refugee camps and in their old
neighborhoods and drive old cars that were used for years by the
Hamas has set up a well-oiled bureaucracy with 24,000 civil servants
and a 16,000-strong security force, whose salaries gobble up more
than half of the 2012 budget of $769 million, leaving little for
services. Only $174 million is expected from local revenues, but
Hamas remains tight-lipped about where it gets the rest.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency shoulders much of the burden,
providing medical care, schooling and food supplements to the
descendants of those displaced by Israel´s 1948 creation, a large
majority of Gazans. Half of Gaza´s children attend U.N.-run schools.
Hamas has refrained from passing sweeping Islamic legislation,
apparently fearing a public backlash. Firebrands in the movement have
tried to push the boundaries whenever they see an opening, ordering
female lawyers to cover their hair in court, preventing women from
riding on the backs of motorcycles and demanding they not smoke water
pipe in public. However, such edicts are rarely enforced for long.
There is a marked Islamic shift, but Gazans say it comes more from
social pressure instigated by Hamas loyalists than direct official
coercion. Only a few teenage girls dare to attend school without
headscarves, fearing the disapproval of teachers and peers, but there
is no formal rule to cover up.
But in education, Hamas abandoned early attempts to Islamize the
curriculum when it became clear that Gaza high school degrees would
only be accepted by foreign universities if endorsed by the West Bank
government, said West Bank government spokesman Ghassan Khatib.
Hamas has systematically silenced dissent. Fatah activists have borne
the brunt, mirroring similar crackdowns on Hamas in the West Bank
where authoritarian tendencies have also increased. Hamas has also
shut down independent media, harassed journalists and prevented some
gatherings viewed as undermining its absolute control.
Gazans, many struggling to feed their families and forced to endure
hours-long power cuts every day, still feel free to gripe to
relatives and friends about life under the Islamists, generally
without fear of arrest. However, advancement in government jobs and
business opportunities are largely reserved for Hamas loyalists.
On the positive side, many Gazans agree that the government has
managed to restore a sense of personal safety, after years of
internal strife and deadly clashes with Israel, including a full-
blown war three years ago.
And despite the obstacles of the blockade, the Hamas government has
launched several ambitious public works projects.
Gaza City is getting a 40-meter-wide boardwalk, financed with $3
million by a West Bank-based company. The Rafah passenger terminal
busy again since Egypt eased restrictions on travel from Gaza after
the ouster of pro-Western President Hosni Mubarak last year is
being refurbished with $1.6 million from Arab Gulf states.
As things stand now, it seems Hamas can run Gaza for many more years.
Israel eased the blockade two years ago, under mounting international
pressure. It also does not seem to have the appetite for another
major military offensive, let alone retaking a hostile territory
which it occupied from 1967 to 2005. ___ Laub reported from Ramallah,
West Bank. (© 2012 The Associated Press 06/23/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY