An open letter to the Hamas movement
Published yesterday (updated) 04/11/2012 21:57
By Issam Younis
I remain an advocate of the right of Hamas to govern and I absolutely reject
the double standards employed by the international community towards the
movement. The financial and political sanctions on Gaza are simply unjust
and scandalous. Hamas won a free and fair election in 2006. The world was
well aware that Hamas would run in the elections.
But my recognition of Hamas’ legitimacy does not mean that I agree with the
way in which Hamas has been ruling Gaza. Hamas’ legitimacy to exist, as a
movement, must be complemented by its legitimacy to rule, by acting as
justly as possible under the circumstances.
Hamas is integral to the Palestinian political system. Its presence is both
normal and justified, at least by the approval it enjoys from Palestinian
society. Therefore, its presence remains in the interests of the Palestinian
people, as well as a healthy sign of a diverse political system. From this
standpoint, it is imperative to state the truth to everyone, including
Hamas, the movement and the government, must not be portrayed as an affair
that interests only those who belong to Hamas. As citizens subject to its
rule in Gaza, Hamas is now of interest to us all. We have the full right to
hold Hamas to account and to criticize its discourse as well as its actions.
The resilience that the movement and the people of Gaza have shown under the
most severe conditions, and the foiling of past efforts to undermine the
party, deserves appreciation. However, Hamas must bear in mind that everyone
in Gaza has paid the price, not only the movement.
In the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to meet twice with the chair of
the Hamas politburo, Khalid Mashaal, together with other activists and
intellectuals in Cairo. I was impressed to meet the man and know more about
I found a person who was not a ‘factionalist’, but an individual with a
broad national view, a leader. He listened to us carefully and openly. Some
of the concerns I raised with him deserve to also be made public. This is
why I am now writing an open letter to Hamas.
Still acting like a movement
Since their 2006 electoral victory in the elections and later composition of
a government, Hamas, together with the entire population of Gaza, has been
put under sanctions.
Both Hamas and Gazans have been punished for an alleged sin: the election
results were not to the liking of those who gave the elections a green
light, support, and even facilitated it freely. They were the same actors
who imposed an unjust closure and catastrophic sanctions -- the occupation
forces and the international community.
Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, the weight of the siege increased.
However, Hamas and its government have been able to run Gaza under extremely
complex and difficult conditions, especially with most civil servants and
security personnel refraining from resuming their work in public office.
Many of those workers were also expelled from their work by the Hamas
The main problem of its years of ruling Gaza is that Hamas has been unable,
until now, to step out of its role as a movement into its role of a
government. The government in Gaza has been run with a movement’s mentality,
if not by the movement.
Running a political organization is essentially different from that of a
government, a society, in terms of the mentality, the tools, and the
What works for running the institutions of a political organization --
working in semi-underground conditions with decision-making mechanisms
accepted among the members -- is necessarily inadequate for managing public
affairs when the organization is in power.
The relationship between a government and the citizens it rules is founded
on a social contract.
Citizens are expected to abide by the law, and government has a duty to
protect their rights, dignity, and property. A critical consensus on the
rules that secure security, stability, and justice, is necessary in exchange
for conceding part of citizen's absolute liberty.
In this sense, society and government are freely bound by a contract that
guarantees citizens their rights, while they freely accept the situation of
subjecting themselves to the public authority.
Hamas’ management of public affairs in Gaza has been influenced by real-life
events. Closures and sanctions were devised to make Hamas raise the white
flag to confirm an anticipated failure.
However, Hamas, under these conditions, insisted on assuming the role of a
victim. It tried to make use of the fact that the movement and its members
were excluded from participating in government and public service during the
years of Palestinian Authority rule.
When faced with failure, its discourse focused on listing its many enemies.
Therefore, success has been that of Hamas; failure is because of others.
The result of this attitude is a speedy evolution of a ‘party state’, where
the government is seriously confused with the political movement.
This condition is exactly how the infrastructure of a totalitarian regime is
founded. Such regimes maximize the power of a group, or even a small part of
the group, at the expense of citizens.
At this stage of the evolution of such a regime, the dynamics of power push
public affairs in a direction that might not match good intentions. The
increasing acquisition of power, and the real or alleged legitimacy it
seeks, will promote a dangerous path for both society and the political
It is one way to self-destruct, and it requires serious consideration by the
Hamas movement now.
The social contract
The core of the social contract is state responsibility towards its citizens
as genuine citizens, not as subjects. A party that wins the public vote of
the citizens will have a government that is responsible for all, including
those who did not vote for it. In fact such responsibility must extend
especially to political opponents and citizens who bear different beliefs,
religions, or ways of life.
Governments must secure the necessary conditions for all citizens including
their liberty, security and dignity under the rule of law. Governments
cannot be ‘owned’ by a party and its supporters. They are owned by all women
and men, Muslims and Christians, the secular and the religious, as long as
they are citizens.
Public affairs cannot be run by good intentions or assurances. While people
in power have the right to say what they want, or claim what they want, what
they say or claim is not a sufficient basis to rule or have legitimacy.
Public affairs can only be run after submitting to the principle that
citizens are equal, be that in terms of the delivery of basic services,
securing equal social protection, or effective law enforcement. It requires
organized, transparent action, overseen by effective monitoring of all who
are entrusted with law enforcement.
Good governance that allows for participation in political life requires
this minimum degree of the social contract. The alternative is exclusion and
the alienation of citizens in their homeland. Conversely, ensuring this
minimum will strengthen the government and the ruling parties.
The government in Gaza is not an actor outside of this historical logic.
Again, good intentions alone are insufficient to bring about good governance
or good public management.
Under the entrenched political schism between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine,
the most important priority is to get monitoring and controls right to
ensure the government fulfills its obligations to its people.
Is it possible to keep the control and accountability mechanisms confined to
circles within the Hamas movement, who remove one government and form
another, nominate ministers and sack others? Does the Palestinian
Legislative Council - and I will avoid legality questions at this stage –
represent a genuinely accountable institution?
In Ramallah, the PA, which is also acting without legislative oversight, has
a government that can be held accountable to its donors, but not to any
other body, including its creator, the Fatah movement.
In Gaza, where a Hamas-only legislature is somehow working, the government
remains accountable only before the institutions of the Hamas movement, not
to society nor other public institutions.
In both cases, there is a serious flaw in the system, which is leading not
only to more concentration and abuse of power, but also to leniency with
corruption and human rights violations.
We can see in Gaza that civil and security institutions are subject to
oversight. The problem is that the government and other agencies overseeing
them belong to the same political group.
At the end of the day, government members and those who oversee them meet as
brothers in the same movement. How can oversight and control be effective
and independent under such a structure?
Control and oversight does not necessarily mean that we have to assume bad
intentions on the part of government officials. It is merely a mechanism
that guarantees that the law is enforced at all times, and that oversight is
conducted in a way to improve performance and guarantee transparency, which
can only strengthen the integrity of the government and the party behind it.
The issue here is not about calling into question the intentions or desires
of the people in power. It is more about the actual process of governance in
such a unique situation like Gaza.
What is needed is for the government to interact openly with society, with
all of its social and political structures. Society also has a duty to
reciprocate and to be open to interacting with the government.
Issam Younis is the General Director of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights.