Palestinian Walid Salem offers this projection of events. His prediction that Hamas will attempt to Islamize Egypt is alarming. It is interesting in view of persistent reports that Egypt will support the Hamas in order to combat Al-Qaeda. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Both sides will try to use each other. As he points out, Hamas will probably make order in Gaza, providing some benefit to the average citizens. This is, in fact already beginning to happen according to reports.
Salem is right of course that Islamist tendency is on the ascendant, and the Arab Nationalism and "National Liberation Movement" ideas of the 60's which were the mainspring of Fateh/PLO ideology are failing. Add to this the money and training provided by Iran and other countries, and you have a fairly lethal mixture. Additionally, many people pointed out that Yasser Arafat was probably the only leader who could unite the Palestinians, and many predicted that with the death of Yasser Arafat, it was only a matter of time before the PLO/PNA disintegrated.
Those who insist that Israel is somehow at fault for the barbarities that took place in Gaza and the rise of the Hamas, should consider that had the borders been open as they insisted, Hamas would have imported heavy arms. If free passage to the West Bank were opened, as even now Mahmoud Abbas is demanding, Hamas would be free to spread its influence there as well.
Walid Salem is not a Zionist of course, and the opinions expressed below are his own.
This article is taken from Middle East - MidEastWeb where it is published as: Gaza Coup: Islamization is coming.
Additional articles in this series are listed at the conclusion.
(1) The rise of Islam in Gaza
In response to the events in Gaza last week, Dr. Sa'eb Erekat the Head of PLO Negotiations Department, said on 14/6/2007 "This is the worst event Palestine witnessed since 1967 war defeat".
On the other hand, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman of Hamas in Gaza, declared cheerfully in a Hamas Radio broadcast in Gaza last Friday, 15/6/2007, that what happened is the second liberation of the Gaza Strip:
"The first liberation was from the herds of Israeli settlers, and this second is from the herds of the collaborators with Israel"
as he said. Other Hamas leaders used to call those who were defeated the "Lahdis" (referring to Antoin Lahd, the head of the Previous South Lebanon Army that was connected to Israel), and they even differentiated between those "Lahdis" and Fatah, saying that the clashes took place only with the "Lahdis", and not with Fateh in any way.
Erekat and all the PLO factions release very pessimistic reactions to the events in Gaza, while Hamas is cheerful, and even organized marches and public meetings in order to celebrate the second liberation of Gaza?
The PLO and the Palestinian national program era are in decline, while the new era of Islamisation is in the ascendant. This new era began with the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections, and got more momentum with Hamas unilateral control of Gaza beginning from Friday 15/6/2007. The question now, is whether or not this will be a first step to take over West Bank (or possibly Egypt) by Hamas or the Moslem Brotherhood? Future events will answer the question.
(2) Islamization Versus Nationalism
In the era of Palestinian nationalism, the Palestinian national agenda was the priority, and the work toward that agenda in order to get to a Palestinian state took up the nearly the entire effort of the PLO and its factions.
Today, this has changed. The Palestinian national issue is only one point in Hamas agenda. As part of the Muslim Brotherhood groups, their main issue is the creation of an Islamic Caliphate system. Therefore what might follow their taking over Gaza is not necessarily a take over of the West Bank, if the situation there is not ripe, but it might be Egypt, for instance, if it will be ripe before West Bank for Islamization. The Muslim Brotherhood groups, including Hamas, will work for Islamization, wherever it is possible first, without restricting themselves to a certain national agenda, as they believe that their agenda transcends nationalism. This is why Hamas are not frightened by issues such as the separation of Gaza from West Bank and the prevention of the establishment of a Palestinian state, as the PLO factions accused them of doing. Simply put, these issues are not part of their major agenda. However, Hamas, as a Muslim brotherhood branch in Gaza, and also in the West Bank, will also work to take over West Bank after Gaza in order to avoid separating them from each other.
That being said, one should add that the Muslim Brotherhood was found in 1928 in order to re-create the Islamic caliphate system. Since that time they were unable to achieve that in any of the Islamic countries. Therefore they will not hesitate to do it in Gaza, by establishing a semi-caliphate in the shape of an Islamic Emirate there. The destruction of the houses of Yasser Arafat (and Abu Mazen) Gaza as the biggest symbols of the Palestinian nationalism is but a signal on that direction, while what will follow will be bigger.
(3) The Islamization Process
How will the Islamization process of Gaza Strip take place?
This is important to follow because this is the first time that a Muslim brotherhood group is in power, and it will be a rehearsal of what they will do in other countries when they take them over later on.
No full answer for this question exists yet, but the few statements made by some Hamas leaders in Gaza, are giving signals about the willingness of Hamas leadership to impose Islamic rules in Gaza. In Friday 15/6/2007 speech of Sheikh Ismail Hannieh, he asked Al-Qassam Brigades to deal with the hostages from the PA defeated security forces according to the "Islamic tolerance" rules which obviously tolerate those who did not kill previous Hamas members, while rule at the same time in favor of executing those who killed or attacked Hamas members.
In another example Shiekh Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader, said on Thursday 14/6/2007 that what happened in Gaza was a conflict between Islam and apostasy, and that it is finished by the closing of the era of secularism and atheism in Gaza. He added that he will transform the PA security forces headquarters in Gaza to a mosque, and that he will make a Friday prayer speech in the Muntada (The headquarters of President Abbas in Gaza).
If one add to these statements, the growing activities of several Salafi groups in Gaza that are supported by some Hamas wings, and act against the internet Cafes and women who do not wear scarves on their heads and against Christians, then the trend towards imposing Islam on all Gazans including on those who do not believe on it, will become clearer. What will take place thereafter is the range and the type of Islamization that will be implemented on the basis of the differences of the positions of different Hamas wings, but this is a detail, and it will not influence the main direction, which is a direction towards Islamization.
The direct response to that process of Islamization was not only that some Fateh people are trying to leave Gaza, but also the seculars, the intellectuals, the private sector businessmen, the NGO leaders, and most of the liberal democrats who all are leaving because of the threats on their lives. Unfortunately on the other hand, this will accelerate the process of Hamas imposing its rule in Gaza.
(4) People's life in Gaza
Beyond the Islamisation process that will be accelerated in Gaza the other question is: How the people will live in Gaza now on?
First: Security: The irony here is that the man in the street will feel better security now with Hamas' unilateral control of Gaza, but at the same time violence will continue, including extra judiciary killings for revenge and counter revenge, and executions of those who are considered to be apostates or "collaborators." The word ďcollaboratorĒ in Hamas language does not only refer to ďinformersĒ who give information to Israel. In their parlance, there are other different types of collaborators, such as the political collaborator, the cultural collaborator, the economic collaborators, and the behavioral deviation collaborator, as detailed in a paper written by Dr. Saleh Abdel in 1988.
Another issue that will influence security will be the contradiction between the security forces of Hamas, and those who take orders from Ramallah. This is a future contradiction because in the short run, Hamas will be the full authority in Gaza.
Second: The internal political map in Gaza will change. Hamas itself will witness a growing influence of its extremist and ideological wings who want to Islamize the society, while Fateh in Gaza already lost (at least temporarily) its factional trend that wanted to crush Hamas (this trend was defeated in the events of the last week. Two other Fateh factions will grow now in Gaza. One is led by Ahmad Hilles the previous general secretary of Fateh in Gaza, who prevented his supporters from fighting against Hamas in the last weeks' events, supported by Mr. Ibrahim Abu Naja the head of the faction's national follow-up committee. They will try now to get to a comprise with Hamas on daily life matters, taking the new context in consideration. The other trend in Fateh will comply completely with the new structure of power in Gaza trying to find solutions for personal and individualistic problems within that new power structure.
The new opposition to Hamas in Gaza will be now the Islamic Jihad, with their national agenda for continuous resistance to the Israeli occupation without a respite through ceasefire as Hamas proposed several times. But more dangerously, the new Al-Qa'eda type organizations of Suyuf Al-Alhaq (The Swords of the Right), Jaish Al-Islam (the Army of Islam) and the Kata'eb Al-Jihad Al-Muqaddas (The Brigades of Holy Jihad), who are also supported by the extreme ideological wings in Hamas.
Hamas by itself will be divided into those who are more ideological (Mohammad Zahhar and Nizar Rayyan) and those who are more political and less ideological (such as Ghazi Hamad, the spokesman of the Government, who was silent all during the previous weeks of attacks). Hannieh is leading, taking the middle position between the more political and the more ideological, because he needs both: He needs the ideological position in order to Islamize the society, and also in order to continue crushing the Fateh resistance enclaves in Gaza, and needs the political in order to speak with the wider world.
Finally, the Fateh wing that was defeated might continue the attempts to fight back, but this will be reflected in minor incidents here and there, after they lost their strongholds and also their weapons that were all confiscated by Hamas.
Third: Economy and making a living: In the absence of an economy in Gaza after the election of Hamas in January 2006, and the international sanctions that followed, smuggling became the economy, and the way to make aliving for many people there. Now after the closure of all the crossing borders with Gaza after Hamas taking over, smuggling will increase, including weapons and all goods unless the Egyptian side will be allowed by Israel (contradicting the Camp David agreement) to deploy massive forces in the Egyptian side in order to stop that smuggling.
On other hand, the employees of the PA in Gaza will continue getting their salaries either from the new Emergency Government of Salam Fayyad (the Prime Minster) composed in 17/6/2007. or (if appointed by Hanieh after Abu Mazen's decision to fire him from his position, which he refused to comply with), from Hamas, who will continue to get funding from the Muslim Brotherhood Branches all around the Islamic countries, and also from Iran, and probably indirectly from some Arab countries like probably Qatar.
Still, the serious problems will be those that are related to daily existence for people, and will be exacerbated mainly if Israel will continue closing the border crossings, which will not mean only disconnecting Gaza from West Bank completely, but also will mean the prevention of the humanitarian assistance of the UN organizations and others to reach the needy people in Gaza. Moreover Israel will prevent importing goods to Gaza through the Israeli ports.
Walid Salem is the director of Panorama, the Centre for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development, East Jerusalem office. He is also the author of books and articles on such issues as democracy, citizenship, youth rights, civil society development, Israeli-Palestinian peace-building, and the right of return.
Additional articles in this series: Gaza Coup: Why now?
in which Salem explains that Hamas feared a Fateh coup, and also wanted to impose Islam on the Gaza strip, and Ten reasons why Fatah collapsed in Gaza
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