Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Hamas in Political, Financial Squeeze

August 24, 2011 7:38 pm 0 comments

Khaled Meshaal in a meeting with spanish journalists. Photo: Traangal.

Hamas’s rule in Gaza may face new difficulties, with reports emerging about the group’s potentially dire financial situation and domestic pressure on its sponsors, Iran and Syria.

“In a sign of a cash crunch, the Hamas government in Gaza has failed to pay the July salaries of its 40,000 employees in the civil service and security forces,” Reuters reporter Nidal al-Mughrabi wrote in a recent story on the group’s financial woes. “Hamas leaders promised full payments in August, but not all employees received their wages as scheduled on Sunday.”

The financial crisis was sparked by Iran’s reduction – and then suspension – of aid, primarily because the group has not sponsored rallies in favor of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.

But Hamas finds itself caught between a rock and hard place, as Syria’s embarrassing and brutal crackdown on protesters extended to a Palestinian refugee camp near the city of Latakia. Assad’s naval gunships and armed forces pounded the camp, killing an unknown number of residents and forcing more than 10,000 Palestinian refugees to flee. Syria has since been accused of covering up the incident.

“On the one hand, Hamas does not want the Syrian regime to disappear,” Syrian political scientist Bassam Ezbidi told The Media Line, a Jerusalem-based news agency. “But on the other hand, how can it justify its strategic alliance with a state that kills Palestinians? Hamas has always regarded itself as a resistance movement which represents the Palestinian people, and that’s the bottom line.”

Financial struggles are a hit that Hamas has been unwilling to fully acknowledge. Despite the group’s claims that it is only having “financial liquidity” programs, Hamas’s reliance on Iranian aid vastly exceeds its revenues from all other sources. Taxes on merchants and goods from Israel and tunnels accounted for about a tenth of the group’s $540 million budget last year. Iranian aid is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

There has also been a sharp decline in funding from the Muslim Brotherhood, another major supporter of the Palestinian terrorist organization, as the Brotherhood allocates funds to political forces of the Arab Spring.

Financial support isn’t the only thing that Iran and Syria offer Hamas. The group has withstood tremendous diplomatic pressure from outside sources, particularly since it violently seized the Gaza Strip in 2007. Iran and Syria have helped the group sustain its campaign of terror through weapons shipments and advanced military courses.

In 2006, Syria proclaimed its unabashed support for Hamas, promising to raise funds for the group and establish direct phone links with it. “We are not afraid of anyone in our support for the Palestinian cause,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said at a joint press conference with Hamas leader Mahmoud Az-Zahar. Huge Iranian shipments of weapons passed through Syria on their way to Hamas, including 50 tons of weapons which were seized by the Israeli navy in March.

Despite a common interest in harassing Israel, Hamas’ brotherly relationship with Syria has soured at a rapid pace. Hamas refused to support the crackdown on fellow Sunni protesters in Syria, putting it at odds with the country’s non-Sunni leadership and Iran’s Shiite government. In May, Hamas fought back against rumors that it would move its offices from Damascus to Cairo, even arguing with reports on the move from its ally, the Muslim Brotherhood. Although these rumors proved to be false, the negativity between the two parties has been an open secret in diplomatic circles and even on the Palestinian street.

Outside pressure on the group has been matched by internal stresses.

Islamist groups are pushing Hamas to Islamize Gaza more rapidly and thoroughly, at times carrying out violent actions. Salafi Islamists like Jaljalat and Jaish al Islam call for an Islamic Emirate based in Gaza, creating a base for an unending war with Israel.

These groups also believe that Hamas doesn’t go far enough in resisting its enemy. On online forums and in rallies, they accuse Hamas of “leaving the path set by the group’s great founders,” including the liberation of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and “defending the Quran.” Instead, they claim, Hamas has grown too close to disbelievers and uses “fake” scholars who go so far as to justify the killing of Muslims. Worst of all, they are accused of abandoning the jihad against Israel.

Hamas has maintained an uneasy relationship with these Salafi groups, at times cooperating for attacks but often cracking down on them. They have even smashed smaller groups like Jund Ansar Allah, who denounced Hamas, declared their own Emirate, and started to impose a stricter form of Shariah in a corner of Gaza.

Many Gazans, on the other hand, are resentful of the material prosperity of the Hamas elite or in its harsh imposition of certain Shariah restrictions.

Many among Gaza’s budding middle class are Hamas members, a fact which the group denies but is sparking resentment among many people. “Hamas has become rich at the expense of the people,” The Associated Press quoted one Palestinian saying. The story noted that Hamas rose to power by “tending to the poor – through charitable aid, education and medical care – along with its armed struggle against Israel.”

The imposition of Islamic law has been both harsh and cynical, with Hamas activists sometimes using the excuse of religion to violently break up protests against Hamas rule. Restrictions on women and public displays of affection have been applied, sometimes half-heartedly, sparking protests from secular groups about religious coercion and Islamists about the slow pace of Islamization.

Hamas has also felt pressure to balance between Western considerations and local concerns. A leader of a fellow militant group, the Popular Resistance Committee, wants greater Islamization in society, but recognize the “foreign considerations” at play. “If the West weren’t applying pressure, Hamas would probably enact more Islamic laws,” he said, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. In effect, Hamas pushed its agenda as a movement into the government, using rumors and haphazard enforcement to create a self-censorship in Gaza.

In addition to pressure on its core in Gaza, thousands of Hamas supporters outside of Gaza have faced a campaign of arrest, according to the Islamist group’s news site. Primarily, this has been an effort by its Fatah rivals who have sought to control Hamas’ growth and activity in the West Bank.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →