Monday, January 17, 2011

How Hamas And Fatah Respond To Tunisia: A Study In Contrasts

Gazan terrorist groups were positively glowing in their praise of Tunisia, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad congratulated Tunisia:
Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Saturday expressed their respect for the Tunisian people, whose uprising led to the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ban Ali.

...Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri applauded the Tunisian people's expression of their right to choose their leadership democratically without foreign intervention.

Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad congratulated the Tunisians on gaining their freedom "through blood, sacrifices and the expression of free will."
But if Hamas thinks that the revolution in Tunisia is going to the creation of another Islamist state, they are likely to be disappointed. Michale Koplow writes that Why Tunisia’s Revolution Is Islamist-Free:
The nature of the opposition and the willingness of the Tunisian government to back down are not coincidental. If it had been clear that Islamist opposition figures were playing a large role in the current unrest, the government would likely have doubled down on repressive measures. The Tunisian government is rooted in secular Arab nationalist ideology and has long taken its secularism and its nationalism more seriously than its neighbors. Habib Bourguiba, Ben Ali’s predecessor and the father of the post-colonial Tunisian state, took over lands belonging to Islamic institutions, folded religious courts into the secular state judicial system, and enacted a secular personal status code upon coming to power.

Bourguiba, like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, viewed Islamists as an existential threat to the very nature of the Tunisian state. He viewed the promotion of secularism as linked to the mission and nature of the state, and because Islamists differed with him on this fundamental political principle, they were not allowed into the political system at all. Bourguiba displayed no desire for compromise on this question, calling for large-scale executions of Islamists following bombings at tourist resorts. He was also often hostile toward Muslim religious traditions, repeatedly referring to the veil in the early years of Tunisian independence as an “odious rag.”
More likely, that was their way of hedging their bets, figuring that showing solidarity with the Tunisian people would somehow mollify Gazans and make it less likely that they would think of trying the same thing.

Meanwhile, back in the West Bank, the PLO backtracked on its original statement in favor of events in Tunisia:
The Palestinian president's advisor to the PLO said Saturday that the body's leadership had not taken an official stance on the situation in Tunisia, contradicting a prior statement expressing solidarity.

PLO advisor Ahmed Abdel Rahman said the Executive Committee had not met and therefore had not issued an official statement. Still, he extended condolences to the families of Tunisian victims, the official Palestinian Authority news agency WAFA reported.

Rahman's remarks came hours after an Executive Committee statement praised the "unprecedented courage of the Tunisian people and their heroic sacrifices for their just rights."

...Tunisia hosted the PLO from 1982-1992 after the Palestinian leadership was forced to leave Beirut at the height of the Lebanese civil war.
So why are they being more cautious? Possibly because they feel more susceptible to potential Arab outrage than Hamas does. In fact, Prime Minister Fayyad went so far as to give his personal assurance about the West Bank economy:
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad spent more than two hours on Sunday talking to 40 Palestinian journalists at his Ramallah office about the economic situation and living conditions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 
The message he wanted to send to 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was that economic conditions were good in spite of reports on the rise in consumer prices and relatively high unemployment and poverty figures.
Fayyad was able to give the people some good news:
  • Although the consumer price index for 2010 increased by 3.75% compared with the previous year, per-capita income also has increased.
  • The cumulative cost-of-living increase between 2001 and 2010 was more than 40%, while at the same time, cumulative average income also increased by 55%.
But on the other hand
  • After few good years in the late 1990s, the Palestinian economy declined sharply after the second intifada in 2000.
  • There are still 106,000 unemployed people in the West Bank and 112,000 unemployed in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority employs more than 150,000 people, but about a million work in the private sector or in civil society organizations.
  • The number of people on welfare has increased from 65,000 to 95,000.
In any case, it is unlikely that there will be any real change in either government in the near future--especially with elections being postponed.

Hat tip: The Propagandist

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NormanF said...

Arab dictatorships have proven remarkably durable. Saddam Hussein was the exception to the rule but only because he was adventurist and impulsive. The surviving Arab dictators are more interested in the dynastic survival of their family regimes than they are interested in radical change. That is why I expect to them to prevail easily in the face of was was really a coup d'etat in Tunisia rather than a change of regime in that country.

Daled Amos said...

But isn't that a fine distinction you are making between a coup d'etat and regime change?

Bottom line, we will have to see if the people in the street are prepared to run with the ball.