The Guardian reported Thursday that despite the popularity boost Hamas experience in the wake of the Shalit prisoner exchange, Gazans are finding it exceedingly difficult to ignore the corruption tainting their government; as well as its "single focus" on Israel, which takes precedence over any other pressing civilian issue.
"The people are now looking up to Hamas," movement official Ismail Radwan told the Guardian. "With the prisoner release, Hamas has given to the people what no other faction has given. If there is an election tomorrow we will win even more votes than before."
Still, the political gain achieved by Hamas seems to be fading and the civil discontent with the militant Islamist movement's five-year rule is rising amid suppression of political opposition and the constant claim that the violent resistance to Israel must remain more important than even the dire unemployment situation in the Strip.
Frenemies? Haniyeh and Abbas (Photo: EPA)
Prof. Mkhaimar Abusada of the Al-Azhar University in Gaza said that "The prisoner swap has boosted Hamas' popularity for now, but it won't last more than a few months. Hamas' popularity has declined every year it has been in power.
"Hamas control of Gaza brought an Israeli blockade and siege. Even though it was Israeli-imposed, a lot of people blame Hamas. The Palestinians voted Hamas for reform and change. They didn't vote for siege and blockade and unemployment. They voted to end the corruption. None of that happened," he told the UK paper.
'Hamas as corrupt as Fatah'
The people of Gaza, the report ventured, are disappointed to find that Hamas – whose upset victory in the 2006 election was based largely "on despair with the corruption and the misgovernance of the ruling Fatah" – was essentially cut from the exact same cloth.
"They're back to the same old corruption," Mohammed Mansour, a human rights activist told the Guardian. "Hamas is a party that only benefits its own supporters. If you want a job, if you want to do business, you must be a supporter of Hamas."
Gazans, most of whom are struggling to simply get by, are growing more and more resentful of the ruling party, he said.
The real despair, however, is focused on the widespread lack of hope for change: Hamas is focusing its efforts on two main avenues: The armed conflict with Israel and the fierce political feud with arch-rival Fatah.
The Arab Spring has not gone unnoticed in the Strip, but Gazans are in no hurry to rally against Hamas, which unlike other Arab regimes across the Arab world, came to power via an open election.
Hamas is ever sensitive to any challenge against its authority. Recent rallies demanding Hamas and Fatah resolve their political differences and reunite the Palestinian territories under a single government were violently suppressed.
Senior Fatah official Faisal Abu Shahla accuses Hamas of holding 700 political prisoners in Gaza as part of a broad campaign to suppress dissent.
"When I talk to young activists who are under pressure from Hamas, they are prevented from travel, they are watched, they take their computers, they take their cell phones, they are investigating them," he said. "The Gaza Strip is not that big. They cannot hide. There's no one to protect them."
Radwan was dismissive of the allegations: "The people who make these accusations are the people who hate Hamas and are collaborating with Israel. Hamas respects freedom of speech. The freedom that people here have is not matched anywhere in the world, including in the US and Britain," he said.
Still, Fatah is not necessarily likely to capitalize on Hamas' fading support: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has gained major political ground following his tenacious pursuit of UN membership, but the Palestinians have yet to forget life under Fatah's corrupt and equally cruel regime.
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