Mahmoud Abu Rahma, international director of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip, was attacked outside his home in Tel el-Hawa in southern Gaza on January 13 by thugs almost certainly sent by the Hamas authorities. As they stabbed him, the attackers taunted Abu Rahma, calling him an “atheist” and a “collaborator.” In the Gaza Strip, “collaboration” is a crime punishable by death according to the law code used by Hamas.
This was the second time in the last month that Abu Rahma has been the victim of an assault. On January 3, he was attacked outside his apartment building. He has now been released from hospital — the stab wounds he received in his back, shoulder, and leg will take many months to heal.
This incident cast light on a disturbing picture. Hamas-controlled Gaza is a brutal, cruelly governed place. The authorities are in the process of introducing a draconian Islamic legal code, which will further codify the repression.
Gaza offers a sobering real-world lesson regarding the tendencies of the Muslim Brotherhood in government at a time when that movement is moving closer to power in a number of important Middle Eastern states.
The assault on Abu Rahma took place a few days after he published a document attacking many of the practices of the Hamas rulers of Gaza. While supporting “resistance,” he criticized the locating by Hamas of training sites and rocket firing facilities close to areas of civilian population.
Abu Rahma noted the deaths of a number of Gaza residents, including children, as a result of this. The use of civilians as human shields, of course, is one of the central accusations made by Israel and the West against Hamas.
Since seizing power in the summer of 2007, Hamas has placed draconian restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Just this month, movement activists broke up attempts by Palestinian converts to Shia Islam from celebrating one of the holiest days in their calendar.
The media — both Palestinian and foreign — is the subject of harassment and persecution at the hands of the authorities. Hamas has placed restrictions on the distribution of the most popular Palestinian newspapers, al Quds and al Ayyam. The Gaza authorities also insist that the papers refrain from sharp criticism of their regime.
As the Arab world was roiled last year by strikes and demonstrations calling for the downfall of dictatorial regimes, Gaza remained silent. This was not by chance. An attempt by Fatah to hold demonstrations in the Strip calling for an end to the schism in Palestinian politics was met with extreme brutality. The demonstration on March 15, 2011, was attacked by members of Hamas’ security apparatus using fists, clubs and tear gas. Thirty people were injured. The PA’s official newspaper later reported that Ahmed Ja’abari, commander of Hamas’ armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, had ordered the release of a number of violent criminals from jail. These men then took part in the assault on the demonstration.
These are just a few of the many incidents of harassment by the authorities in Gaza of civil society organizations, media, and political organizations.
Alongside this erosion of the public space, Hamas has been pursuing a policy of gradual Islamization in Gaza. In 2008, the Gaza authorities voted to approve an Islamic penal code. The new code includes punishments such as flogging and chopping off hands for various offenses. The Gaza Public Prosecution office has been replaced by a body based on Shari’a law.
An officially supported “public modesty” campaign has been under way since 2009. This has included the harassment of unaccompanied women, or women not dressed according to Islamic standards of modesty. The Hamas authorities also routinely fail to investigate “honor killings” of females by their relatives in Gaza, which are thought to have increased sharply since the Hamas coup.
All this is of more than local significance. The Hamas regime in Gaza may well be a harbinger of future regional developments. Hamas rule in Gaza, after all, is the only real-world example to date of the Muslim Brotherhood in government. And the Muslim Brotherhood is emerging as the main beneficiary of the eclipse of military-nationalist regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and perhaps soon in Syria. The indicators are not encouraging. Hamas achieved its oppressive Gaza fiefdom through the judicious combination of victory in elections and subsequent violent repression.
Nearly six years after its 2006 election victory, Hamas rules in Gaza by fear, the suppression of opposition, and the unilateral imposition of a draconian Islamic legal code. Rather than theorizing about whether power will moderate the Brotherhood, Western policymakers would do better to observe closely the only existing example of the organization in power which currently exists. The Hamas regime in Gaza is a portent of the likely Middle East future unless a rational policy to hold back the advance of the Muslim Brotherhood is achieved.