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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.

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Many Gazans today blame not only Israel, but also the split between Hamas and its secular rival, Fatah, for the lack of improvement in living conditions. Hamas violently ousted Fatah from Gaza in 2007, and they have yet to fully reconcile, with Hamas ruling the coastal Palestinian territory and Fatah dominating the Palestinian Authority (PA) that governs the West Bank.

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"I don’t think anything will change as long as there are two governments and our leadership is divided,” says Nemer Abu Shaaban, who has yet to find a job after graduating three years ago from Al-Azhar University in Gaza with a degree in accounting. “My life is meaningless. I cannot get married. I can’t have a house and make a family…. Gaza is unlivable."

Hamas leaders harshly criticized PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision earlier this year to reshuffle the PA cabinet before the two sides were reconciled, leaving Hamas without a say in the appointees. But after their own shake-up this weekend, Hamas officials were quick to deny that the move signaled a deepening divide between the two rivals.

Salah al-Bardwail, a Hamas leader and member of parliament in Gaza, says that the new Hamas cabinet is temporary and would be dissolved once reconciliation is achieved – a step that would allow for a Hamas-Fatah unity government once again.

"The reshuffle can never be an obstacle to unity, and it will be null and void when reconciliation is achieved,” says Mr. Bardwail. “The main goal of the new shake-up is improving the performance of the government through appointing professional ministers. We assure our people that we have always been supporters of national unity, and we urge Fatah not respond to the Israeli demands that hold off the achievement of national reconciliation."

Response to the Arab spring

But the Hamas cabinet shuffle was not purely an internal move. Coming after 18 months of upheaval in the Arab world, Prime Minister Haniyeh said it would give the movement “an opportunity to deal with these changes” in the broader Middle East.

“I think what they are predicting is that following the [US] election, assuming that Obama will be the president, something will move on the Palestinian front since almost everywhere in the Arab world, there have been some dynamic developments,” says Shaul Mishal, coauthor of “The Palestinian Hamas” and a professor of government at Tel Aviv University. “They assume that they have to be ready for such development. They have to find a way to balance power within the organization.”

Already, Hamas appears to have shifted its alliances somewhat, decamping from an increasingly violent Syria earlier this year and championing the antiregime protests, thus essentially writing off the support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Qatar has pledged a quarter billion dollars to help rebuild Gaza after a brief 2008-09 war with Israel. And European and Arab nations have pledged to raise funds for a major desalination plant designed to help address Gaza’s water shortages. 

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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