Hamas and its rivals claim credit for Gaza quiet

Unprecedented Hamas deployment on Gaza’s streets ahead of Tamarod rally demonstrates extent of movement’s fear, professor says

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh gives a speech during Friday prayers in the Bureij refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, on July 5, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Adel Hana)
Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh gives a speech during Friday prayers in the Bureij refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, on July 5, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Adel Hana)

November 11, the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death, was meant to serve as a show of force for Tamarod, a grassroots opposition group in Gaza modeled after the Egyptian movement that brought about the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi in early July.

But Monday went by quietly after a mass rally planned by Tamarod was canceled. The movement’s spokesman, Iyad Abu Ruk, told the Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm that Tamarod decided to postpone the rally to an unspecified date, after fearing that Hamas would use violence to disperse the demonstration and disseminate provocateurs in the crowd.

“Tamarod enjoys widespread popular support, especially among oppressed youth who suffer from unemployment,” Abu Ruk told al-Masry al-Youm.

Meanwhile, the movement’s Facebook page, which boasts over 75,000 fans, claimed that Gaza’s empty streets were actually a triumph for the protest movement. “Tamarod has imposed its control over Gaza,” read the group’s statement.

Tamarod emerged for the first time in late August, when four masked men posted a video on YouTube bemoaning mistreatment by the “Hamas gang.”

Hamas, for its part, considered the quiet in Gaza a victory for its own ideology, dubbing Tamarod a “suspicious” group created by the Palestinian Authority’s intelligence agencies.

“Tamarod’s failure to instigate chaos in Gaza despite its threats proves the failure of this circumspect project and our people’s pride in the power of resistance,” wrote Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri on his Facebook page Monday evening. “This failure is a powerful slap in the face to all the suspicious movements in the region acting against the Islamic trend.”

But Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, said that the citizens’ fear of a Hamas crackdown was a much more decisive factor in the rally’s cancellation than their conviction in Hamas’s ways.

“People in Gaza were extremely afraid that any revolt against Hamas could result in a violent crackdown by Hamas,” Abusada told The Times of Israel in a phone conversation from Gaza.

“Hamas has no red lines. It can kill, arrest, torture, and we have seen such things over the past six years. In Egypt, the army protected the Egyptian Tamarod, but who will protect the people of Gaza?”

Abusada added that he has never witnessed such intensive police deployment on Gaza’s streets as he did over the past three days.

“When I was returning home at 9 p.m. last night, for the first time in six years [since Hamas took control of Gaza], my car was stopped and my name and license plate number were taken down by a security checkpoint. Police deployment was unreal.” 

Not that Gazans were enthusiastic about Tamarod. The movement’s leaders all live outside the Strip, and are viewed as detached from the public and its woes.

“People in Gaza were saying that a revolt in Gaza cannot be activated by remote control from Arab capitals like Cairo or Tunis [where Tamarod’s leaders reside],” he said. “The leaders would have to stand at the front of the crowd.”

Moreover, the only realistic alternative to the Hamas regime would be Fatah, a movement residents are less than excited about.

“Fatah, particularly in Gaza, is fragmented and divided between supporters of [Fatah security official] Mohammad Dahlan and supporters of [President] Mahmoud Abbas,” Abusada concluded. “Many people still blame Fatah for the siege imposed on Gaza.”

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