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Hamas Discovers Hypocrisy and Corruption

When Hamas booted Fatah out of Gaza in 2006, many Gazans cheered because they expected Hamas to clean up Fatah’s corrupt and inefficient government, and were swayed by Hamas’s tough stance against Israel. After years in power in the small Mediterranean strip, Hamas is failing on both fronts.

Israel’s blockade and commercial restrictions on life in Gaza make things tough for most Gazans. Hamas, whose policies are responsible for the blockade in the first place, compounds the damage by bad policy and corruption, in effect collaborating with Israel to make life harder for ordinary Palestinians in the strip.

Instead of using their near total grip on power to improve living conditions for refugees and setting an example of enlightened Islamic governance, a large number of Hamas officials are choosing to enrich themselves, friends and family members, and loyal party cadres. The Washington Post reports:

[H]opes of Islam-guided fairness and an end to the graft that had tainted the tenure of the secular Fatah party have turned to widespread griping about Hamas corruption and patronage.

Hamas has hired more than 40,000 civil servants, and analysts say the top tiers are filled by loyalists. Members of the Hamas elite are widely thought to have enriched themselves through investment in the dusty labyrinth of smuggling tunnels beneath the border with Egypt and taxes on the imported goods. That money has been channeled into flashy cars and Hamas-owned businesses that only stalwarts get a stake in, critics say.

Furthermore, instead of continuing the fight against Israel, Hamas has stood down. In the most recent clash with Israeli forces, Hamas allowed Islamic Jihad to fire rockets into Israel but kept its own fighters well away from the action. One Islamic Jihad fighter told the Washington Post that Hamas has “different calculations and bigger responsibility. . . . It has a lot to lose.”

Via Meadia commends this caution as both prudent and humane, but given the realities of politics in Gaza, Hamas’s failure to do anything concrete about Israel further damages its image. The people wanted jobs and safety, to reconstruct their homes and cities. They also wanted confrontation with Israel. In reality, they cannot have both; Hamas’ policies have given them neither.

Is this what happens under “Islam-guided rule”? Unfulfilled promises, persistent corruption, Islamist politicians behaving like, well, ordinary politicians? Many Egyptians are looking to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the hope that it can change the way government was run under Mubarak. Hamas’s example does not paint a pretty prospect.

Islam can be a matter of the heart; it can also be a political slogan. For many Hamas leaders, it is much more clearly a matter of politics than of sincere conviction. Is this how things will work out across the rest of the region?

Italy’s Christian Democrats set the global standard for corruption by a party which professed to be grounded in and guided by the tenets of a faith. It looks as if some of the Middle East’s Islamist movements will soon show the world that when it comes to bad governance, Arab Muslim hypocrites are every bit as effective as the Italian Catholic variety.

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  • Brett

    This can happen to a lot of violent revolutionary groups, if they get into some kind of power. They get complacent, drift into corruption, and a movement for a specific purpose simply becomes a movement that’s all about promoting its own power. Look at what happened to the FARC in Colombia.

    It could eventually evolve into something like Hezbollah, where they’re a militia that provides social services as well as running in politics. It depends on how bad the graft is, and it looks bad right now – setting up a top-heavy bureaucracy is a lot like what Fatah has done.

  • Luke Lea

    Palestinians need to turn to non-violent protest. And direct it against the EU instead of Israel. It was European anti-Semitism that drove the Jews out of Europe, and it was European statesmen who decided to solve their “Jewish problem” by giving someone else’s land away.

    If A pushes B into C forcing a fight between B and C who is responsible for the damages to C?

  • Luke Lea

    As a side note, I’ve long been curious how the allied powers got Japan to vote in favor of League of Nation’s mandate for Palestine as a future home for the Jewish people. As I remember there were eight signatories, six of whom were European. Can’t remember who the eighth was.

    Anyway, a few weeks ago, while researching the history of early 20th China I noticed that, against all reason, Japan was allowed to keep its concessionary territories in northern China. (This is what sparked the nationalist revolt against the last imperial dynasty, which led to the Japanese occupation of China and eventually to the communist takeover.)

    Anyway, I wonder if there was a quid pro quo behind the scenes? Does anybody know the diplomatic history?

  • Corlyss

    “When Hamas booted Fatah out of Gaza in 2006, many Gazans cheered because they expected Hamas to clean up Fatah’s corrupt and inefficient government, and were swayed by Hamas’s tough stance against Israel. After years in power in the small Mediterranean strip, Hamas is failing on both fronts.”

    A couple of years after Tienanmen Square, a documentary on PBS did a post-mortem on the revolt. I was particularly struck by one observation, about how the students organized themselves and acted when they realized they would be on-site for an extended period of time, and needed to take care of certain aspects of a siege, like feeding the crowd, sanitation, health and safety, and crowd control and dispute resolution. All those activities are very government-like. Well, the only government they knew inimately was . . . the Chinese tyranny. They began behaving repressively toward students who didn’t toe the line, who were involved in violent disputes. An interviewee observed, “People do what they know.” All the students knew was tyranny, so they behaved like a tyranny, demanding conformance, punishing outliers harshly, etc.

    When Hamas took over Gaza, I posted elsewhere Economist’s striking cover on the take over, with my caption, “Who’s gonna pick up the trash?” Hamas really didn’t have a clue about government or governance. Hamas is a terrorist organization. It blows things up. It kills innocent people. It masters publicity. It don’t do governance. Being a response to tyranny, it can only do tyranny, with all the nasty attributes, including corruption and malfeasance and brutality.

    People do what they know. Contrast those two examples with how the Lewis & Clark expedition resolved thorny issues: by discussion and vote, even tho’ one of the members was a woman and another a black slave. They came from a democratic ethos, what they knew was to discuss matters thoroughly and then take a vote of all the “stake-holders.” I realize it’s only a small vignette, but it seems to me to confirm the wisdom of “people do what they know,” and justifies skepticism concerning all the national movements wrapped up in the “Arab Spring.” None of the concerned nations have experienced democratic institutions. There is not now nor ever was any reason to expect them to behave democratically.

  • J R Yankovic

    For the record, let me stress how thoroughly offended I am at your snarky little hints and innuendoes to the effect that confessionally-based politicians are as corruptible as their secular counterparts. Why, anyone with half a conscience knows what hard and unrewarding work it is doing the will of God in the political arena. How DARE you try to make their thankless job even harder?

    I shudder to think where Via Meadia may be going with this. Next thing you know you’ll be suggesting other groundless parallels between God-fearing politicoes and the godless. Maybe even – who knows? – that the former need to start considering the welfare not just of themselves and their (more well-heeled and -connected) co-religionists, but of their countries and constituents as a whole. Have you no shame? No compassion? Where’s your sense of Divine justice? Of global (business) realities? Of the need for hard-working, career-driven, raised-themselves-up-from-nothing politicians to take care of their own?

    On a more serious note, thanks for a reminder that I think can never be made too often: That is, even NGO poster-child Palestinians can’t eat the whole cake and have it left over. I mean, if I’m SERIOUS about the reconstruction of Gaza, why should I do anything that could be interpreted as seeking the deconstruction of Israel? (Jeez, don’t I know by now how WORKED UP they can get?) On the other hand, if my PRIMARY aim is to make you look as bad as possible – and, conversely, to make myself look as WRONGED BY YOU as possible – then ultimately what do I care how much you “oppress” my family and community? In a sense the more the better, right?

    Finally, by all means let’s hope EVERYONE in Egypt with an ounce of sense is paying the very closest attention to the Hamas spectacle.

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