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Hamas: An Islamist party tries to regain its luster

Living conditions in Gaza have deteriorated under Hamas rule, potentially leaving the Islamist militant group on the hook for rampant unemployment and other societal problems.

By Staff writer, and Ahmed AldabbaCorrespondent / September 5, 2012

Palestinian women look at members of Hamas security forces as they patrol in a street in Gaza City on Sept. 1.

Suhaib Salem/Reuters

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Jerusalem; and Gaza City, Gaza

Hamas has refashioned its government in an apparent bid to adapt to the sweeping changes in the Arab world and bolster its support among Gazans who, six years after bringing Hamas to power, are largely disillusioned and desperate for better lives.

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Over the weekend, the Islamist rulers of Gaza replaced seven of their 14 government ministers, including those in charge of housing, justice, and finance, in what officials and analysts say was a move to put more popular, competent officials in power.

“I believe the reshuffle is fully related to the results of recent elections of Hamas political bureau that brought new faces to the Islamic movement's leadership,” says Naji Shurrab, political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. “So they are now exchanging roles of those who have spent long years in the leadership of the movement and the government with those who now enjoy a big support in the movement.”

A United Nations report released last week warns that Gaza’s numerous longstanding challenges could reach a crisis point within less than a decade, as its bulging youth population matures. Already, at least 90 percent of Gaza’s water supply is unsafe to drink, according to World Health Organization guidelines; 85 percent of schools are running double shifts; unemployment is nearly 30 percent; and the territory’s population is set to grow from 1.6 million to 2.1 million people by 2020. 

“My seven kids don't receive proper health education and services. Electricity is always cut off and we can barely get clean water at home. I spend 50 shekels per month [about $12] on buying drinking water. I'm very worried about the future of my kids who live in very poor conditions,” says taxi driver Mohammed al-Gharabli from Gaza City, who says he makes 30 to 40 shekels a day. “These kids must be cared of by the government. They should have clean water, electricity, and good health and education systems. Poverty cannot make brilliant future for the new generations."

Compounding the situation are tight Israeli restrictions on imports and exports from the territory, which is host to numerous jihadist groups that threaten Israel’s security. Israel claims that its blockade of Gaza, which began after Hamas seized full control of the territory, has ended, but Gazans still refer to the restrictions as a siege.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said that Sunday’s shake-up was aimed at “ending the [Israeli] siege and easing the problems of citizens, especially with regard to electricity and water.”

But as long as tight Israeli restrictions on the coastal strip continue, the Hamas leadership will remain limited in what it can deliver to its citizens. 

"The government's claim that this reshuffle is meant to end the blockade and reconstruct Gaza could be true because the government cannot be successful unless the blockade is over," adds Professor Shurrab. 

A barrier to Palestinian reconciliation?

New ministers at a glance

The new ministers include:

Ziad al-Zaza, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance

  • Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Alexandria University in Egypt
  • Former minister of economy from 2006-09

Mofeed Mukhalalti, Minister of Health

  • Dean of the faculty of medicine in the Hamas-owned Islamic University
  • Bachelor’s degree in medicine from Cairo University

Dr. Yossif Ghraiz, Minister of Housing and Public Works

[no information available]

Dr. Ismail Radwan, Minister of endowments and Islamic Affairs

  • Former spokesman of Hamas in Gaza
  • PhD in Islamic studies from University of Holy Quran and Islamic Sciences in Sudan

Mohammed al-Farra, Minister of Local Government

  • Former mayor of Khanyounis City

Ali al-Tarshawi, Minister of Agriculture

  • M.Sc. in Soil and Irrigation Science from the University of Jordan in Amman
  • Former lecturer in Environment and Earth Sciences at Islamic University, Gaza

Mazen Haniya, Minister of Justice

  • PhD in Islamic studies from Islamic University of Omdurman in Sudan
  • Formerly Ismail Haniyeh’s advisor for religious affairs
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