January 26, 2006

More on Hamas & the bigger picture

These elections should be a clear message to the US and European Union that Palestinians and the Arab street in general are not easily co-opted. They cannot be fooled by Fateh’s “tree planting ceremonies” (funded by US AID), nor will they accept that any foreign power intervening in their domestic affairs. The money would have been better well spent had it addressed the real needs of Palestinians, rather than trying to delve into the internal politics of another country, further reinforcing the predominant view in the Arab world that the US wants to impose a certain democracy that does not conflict with its greater interests in the Middle East.

The “Arab Street” is not as easy to understand as some academics and journalists have made it seem. Arab populations are not stupid, and they are not weak. Indeed, they are taking a “slowly but surely” approach to uprooting corruption and establishing democracy. There is no denying that there are many obstacles on this path, but the Arabs can and should be allowed to figure this out alone. While we cannot deny Islamic parties the credit they deserve in getting out the vote and producing convincing platforms, it must also be said that the voting for Islamic parties is not due to their religious platform in isolation. The lack of other options has also contributed to this trend. As we saw in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, the Left has not been able to convince the public of their agenda or prove that they are able to govern in a way that can accommodate the needs of the majority of the population. The third (mostly leftist) parties failed miserably in the Palestinian elections as well as Egyptian elections because they are scattered and disunited. The only option left for them is to join in coalition with the Islamic parties to seek a moderate socio-political agenda to govern those countries.

Hamas now has a huge responsibility on its shoulders to govern the Palestinian territories effectively and avoid a policy of Islamization, which I believe they are very aware of and will not attempt to do. However, the most pressing problem will be funding. The US and EU will most likely not agree to send aid to a government ruled by Hamas, even if Abbas remains president. The irony is that these countries have been giving the Palestinian Authority a few million dollars per year, fully cognizant of the administrative and financial corruption that the ruling party, Fateh, has continuously been mired in. So it’s acceptable to pour money down the Fateh pipes, but not ok to give it to a fiscally responsible part that will use the money in favor of the Palestinians. Hamas has proven that it is working first and foremost for the Palestinian people. Its members that have been involved in politics, unlike their counterparts in Fateh, have not been receiving fat paychecks, luxury cars and homes which the average Palestinian cannot even dream of. They are a grassroots organization that has gained the popularity of the Palestinian people because of their social programs and their politically responsible actions. Other parties can learn a lot from them.

Nevertheless, this does not erase the fact that many people do have genuine fears about Hamas’s armed wings, and their Islamic views on various social issues. Naturally, this will be of concern for many, probably more people outside the territories than inside. Hamas should address these concerns, and presumably they will do so by avoiding any such measures that will seek to impose Islamic law on individuals. They will probably focus on maintaining security for the average Palestinian family, and a way for them to put food on the table and decrease the skyrocketing rates of poverty and unemployment.

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