Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Islam is the Solution

Posted by vmsalama on January 26, 2006

Hamas gains ground in historic Palestinian vote

By Vivian Salama

Daily Star Egypt

January 26, 2006

EAST JERUSALEM:  Across from the Damascus Wall on Salah El Din Street in East Jerusalem – the city’s Arab section – journalists and television cameras surround a young man as he professes in broken English his desire for peace, and greater opportunity for the Palestinians. 
            “I hope one day we live together – peace, no killing,” said Atef Badran, 22, outside the main polling station in East Jerusalem. 
            After getting their soundbite, the cameras leave.  Realizing that I speak Arabic, Badran looks around as though to ensure that they’d all gone away.  Then he continues.
            “The only answer for peace, for change for the Palestinians, is for Hamas to take control,” he says, almost whispering.  “They are not criminals.  They are not warriors.  We’ve seen what Fatah can and cannot do.  Hamas is the best representation of the Palestinians and the only ones who can make a difference in the lives of those who need in the most.”     
            Early opinion polls leading up to yesterday’s historic election – the first in which Hamas participates – indicated that the militant Islamic group might walk away with as much as 40 percent of the newly-expanded 132-seat legislature, on the tail of the ruling Fatah party, under Abbas.  Concerns are high among Israelis, as well as neighboring countries with moderate, secular governments – such as Egypt and Jordan – that an Islamic stronghold in the Palestinian parliament might further aggravate decades of tension. 

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            Voting in East Jerusalem has been a point of contention between Palestinian and Israeli authorities as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to postpone elections should the city’s 3 million Palestinians be barred from voting.  Last week, Israel’s cabinet, under acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, voted unanimously to allow voting in East Jerusalem, though Hamas was banned from campaigning there. 
“Don’t think that just because they prohibited Hamas from campaigning here that they have no representation – on the contrary, the Arabs of Jerusalem support Hamas,” added Badran.  “People around the Arab world are realizing the benefits of having Islamists in control.”   
            Indeed, the campaign slogan “Islam is the Solution” has gained ground outside of the Palestinian territories as well.  Just over a month ago, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood saw unprecedented gains in parliamentary elections, winning 88 of Egypt’s 144-elected seats.  Running under the slogan “Islam is the solution,” independent candidates supported by a reformed Muslim Brotherhood, relied less on touting Islamic ideologies of shar’ia law, and more on the basic principles of government and humanity. 
            “The major concern now is that the gains of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the first time participation by Hamas might enhance other Islamic movements,” explains Khaled Dozdar, head of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem.  “The whole region is experiencing this.  They are bringing dogmatism to the region via another form of tyranny – dogma, not just to the peace process, but to the socio-economic level.  The only side to blame for this is the authorities because this is the complete result of years of neglect and misuse of power.”
            “For me, it isn’t about voting for Hamas, it’s about a change of power,” says Adel Adwayat, a native of Jerusalem.  “I think that just like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas will grow in strength because they are working a real political campaign, not a campaign of fear as they have done in the past.”
            During the first intifadad, Hamas was founded in the Gaza Strip in 1987 as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The group’s military wing dedicated itself to the destruction of the State of Israel.  When the group rejected the Oslo Accords, however, it opened the door for Fatah to engage in dialogue with the West.  It is the rejection of the Oslo Accords and firm stance against Israel that some experts believed actually boosted Hamas’s support in the region.

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            “The people are comforted knowing that Hamas is political active,” says Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Essam Al-Arian.  “We support all the Palestinian people.  This is not an ordinary election because it will decide the fate of this conflict.  Everyone will see that the Palestinians support the Resistance Group, not the corrupted one.  The people are comforted knowing that Hamas is politically active.” 
            Despite their reputation for militant activity, Hamas is active on the community level, running preschools, youth clubs, and health clinics.  It has regularly provided financial assistance to the needy people of Palestine.  Despite their civic contributions, however, Egyptian officials have adamantly supported the ruling Fatah party as some fear Hamas might benefit from the vulnerability of the Gaza Strip following the withdrawal of the Israeli military last August. 
“Total chaos will equally affect the two neighboring countries – Egypt and Jordan, as well as Israel,” says Dozdar.
“Hamas was not born yesterday – Israel is showing they are afraid for nothing,” insists Mohammed Asem Ibrahim, Egypt’s Ambassador to Israel.  “At the same time, if Hamas does interfere in the process taking place these coming days, then of course, Israel has a point to say that there are no partners for peace here.  And it is the responsibility of Egypt and Jordan, given their peace treaties with Israel, that they play a role in this process.”
More than 35 delegates have been sent from Egypt to monitor the electoral process in the West Bank and Gaza.  Last year, some 500 international monitors traveled to the Palestinian territories to monitor the first presidential elections since the death of longtime leader, Yasser Arafat.  Egyptians hold a stake in overseeing the withdrawal and rebuilding of the Gaza Strip, as lax security and governing could expose the Sinai to exported fundamentalism.  Still, with poverty and lagging revitalization in Gaza, many believe it will boost Hamas’s reputation among Palestinians as the people’s party.          
“Remember, the enemy of our enemy is our friend,” notes Al-Arian.  “I think Israel’s restriction against Hamas will only add to their power and popularity.”
      
           
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