Speaking before the Islamists and Democratic Governance Conference a few months ago, Khaled Mishal, head of the Hamas political bureau, acknowledged there was a difference between opposition and governance, between imagination and reality, and between being a critic and a practitioner. He concluded that the Islamists in general had to admit that governance was harder than they had first imagined, and this applies to Hamas as well.
Two days ago Asharq Al-Awsat quoted another leading figure in Hamas acknowledging that his movement has failed to “convince the street”, whilst Fatah has succeeded despite what has been described as a leadership division. In his published comments, Dr. Yahya Musa, deputy head of the Hamas parliamentary bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council, called upon the Hamas leadership to take note of the large crowds who gathered a few days ago in Gaza to mark Fatah’s 48th anniversary. He suggested that Hamas should pause for a moment to review the gap between the foundations of the movement and the masses of the Palestinian people, as he put it.
These are not the only examples of Hamas leaders acknowledging the difficult experience of governance or mistakes committed by the movement. Others talked about it after Hamas tried to govern for a year through the ballot box, then for another five years or so after carrying out a coup against the Palestinian Authority and expelling it from Gaza. That day Hamas became the second Islamist group to monopolize governance via an armed group, after the Islamic Front in Sudan which chose a military coup over democracy more than 23 years ago, and still rules today with stringent security and repression after accumulating mountains of mistakes and sins. It is true that Hamas tried to justify its coup by claiming that it had been forced to do so, and this has been expressed by a number of its leaders on several occasions, including Mishal. He summed up the matter by saying that Hamas’ experience in the Gaza Strip was borne out of necessity rather than normal conditions. He argued that his movement was forced into the division [with the Palestinian Authority] and did not choose it, claiming that it is not right for there to be an authority or government in the West Bank and another one in Gaza, rather there must be one authority and one government. However, the reality is that Hamas could not adapt to the pressures of governance and its requirements, especially in light of the Oslo commitments, so it decided to escape by masterminding a coup and monopolizing power over Gaza. As is well known, the coup did not “solve” Hamas’ problems but rather exacerbated them; it increased pressure on Hamas and worsened conditions for Gaza and its people, and the Palestinian cause has suffered because of the state of division and fragmentation.
Today, after other Islamic movements have come to power through elections and on the back of the “Arab Spring” revolutions, the experiences of Sudan and Hamas serve as a source of many lessons, whether for the Islamists eager to rule or for their opponents who fear them and question the extent of their commitment to democracy and its rules. In both cases [Sudan and Hamas] the Islamists movements chose to carry out a coup over democracy and legitimacy, although their calculations may have been different. They monopolized power and imposed their approach and vision without the internal accountability, flexibility and concessions required by democracy, and without having to comply with the peaceful transfer of power through the ballot box if voters wanted a change in the faces, methods or ideas. The Sudanese Brotherhood and Hamas both resorted to the excuse of “being forced” [to seize power] in order to justify their inability to adapt to democracy, just as “pressure” has become the peg to hang any failure upon.
It is noteworthy that while Hamas leaders have sought to portray the rule of the Islamists in Gaza as a “special case” that cannot be copied or considered an example after the Arab Spring, the current leaders in Sudan have said that their rule is “exemplary” and even tried to delude themselves that they inspired the Arab Spring in the first place. The reality is that neither experience can be regarded as an example but they both pose a problem for the Islamists who are trying to convince the people of the Arab Spring states that they are democrats, whilst their opponents view them with much doubt an suspicion, and others warn that they are not committed to the peaceful and democratic transfer of power, nor do they respect the views of others or accept differences of opinion.
Anyone observing the situation in the Arab Spring states, particularly Egypt, would sense the gravity of the concerns felt by many in light of the ongoing power struggle and the state of division and fragmentation, and how important it is for the people to benefit from the experiences of the Brotherhood in Sudan and Hamas in Gaza, in order to take lessons and learn from their mistakes. Yet the Brotherhood in Egypt and their allies from other Islamic movements have behaved as if they learned nothing from their own experience and the experience of others, and therefore in a matter of a few months they lost their electoral credit and sympathy that enabled them to win the legislative and presidential elections, showing their true face and justifying the many who fear them. They did not keep the promises they made to the people that they would not seek to monopolize power. Furthermore, they maneuvered in order to pass their vision of the constitution, showed extremely low tolerance by launching sharp attacks on the media and the judiciary, intimidated protestors and dissidents, and resorted to the excuses of pressure and conspiracies to justify their actions. In all that the impression was cemented that the Islamists – perhaps by virtue of their organizational upbringing based on the concept of blind obedience – cannot live with the rules of democracy and the concepts of pluralism and respect for the opinions of others.
Islamists in power cannot use the excuses of pressure or being forced to do something. Hamas would be able to end the state of division, accept reconciliation and return to the legitimacy of the ballot box and peaceful, democratic governance if it was so inclined, and the Islamists of the “salvation” regime in Sudan would be able to stop their repression and tyranny and return the country to democratic rule if they so wanted. As for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, they need to reflect on Mishal’s words about governance being more complicated than originally imagined.
It seems the more lessons there are, the less they are taken into account. Yet if we would only heed the lessons of others then we would not suffer the crises and problems that many countries in the region are witnessing today, with all this blood being spilled purely so certain groups can cling onto power.