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.