In a rare moment of self-criticism, Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal admitted this week that his movement has committed serious mistakes in ruling Gaza which should not be duplicated by other countries.

At a conference in the Qatari capital Doha on Islamism and democratic rule Monday, Mashaal said that Hamas had tried “to combine resistance [against Israel] and governance” but its experience has largely failed and “should not be taken as a model unless for learning a lesson,” Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported.

Mashaal announced on September 30 that he would soon step down from his movement’s leadership. Last week Iran and Syria derided Mashaal as a “Zionist agent” following Hamas’s abandonment of Damascus and the regime of Bashar Assad.

‘One cannot judge Hamas’s experience, because it is a national liberation movement and not just an Islamic movement’

“One cannot judge Hamas’s experience, because it is a national liberation movement and not just an Islamic movement,” Mashaal told an audience of Islamic movement leaders from across the Arab world.

He said that Hamas decided to participate in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections in order to mitigate the damage of the Oslo peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. (A year later, Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s PA.)

“The movement tried to combine resistance and governance and this is difficult, but Hamas remains a resistance movement and supports resistance,” he said, adding that Hamas’s experience cannot serve as a model to be studied. “We may have failed in some things and succeeded in others. I say this in honesty, not as an excuse.”

He did not make clear whether he thought Hamas would have been better off choosing to focus solely on resistance, or solely on governance. Under Mashaal, Hamas refused to meet international demands to recognize Israel, respect previous accords, and renounce terrorism.

Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report blasting Hamas for human rights abuses, calling on the Islamic movement which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 to reform its criminal justice system.

Mashaal argued that Islamist movements must develop a contemporary model for democracy.

Mashaal argued that Islamist movements must develop a contemporary model for democracy

“There is a difference between the position of opposition and governance; between imagining and theorizing and actually surviving and suffering. There is a difference between the critic and the implementer. Islamists must admit that ruling is more difficult than they had imagined.”

Mashaal called on new Islamist “Arab Spring” regimes, particularly that of Egypt, to engage more forcefully in regional issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.