OPINION – Despite risks, Hamas keeps date with democracy

Palestinian resistance movement Hamas’ commitment to hold internal polls despite risks sets an example in region

Dr. Basem Naim   | 26.02.2021
OPINION – Despite risks, Hamas keeps date with democracy

*The writer is a member of the International Relations Office of Palestine resistance movement Hamas

GAZA CITY, Palestine

The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement -- Hamas, is currently conducting internal elections to choose its leadership at the consultative, political, and organizational levels.

Certainly, this update might seem normal for an organization or group that enjoys freedom, independence, and stability. However, as these elections concern a Palestinian resistance movement and more specifically that considers Islam as its ideological reference, they are considered exceptional by many. This article examines the relationship between Hamas and democracy, outlining its internal democratic system and the significance of the upcoming elections.

Hamas has developed a sophisticated internal electoral system that has been successfully institutionalized. The process guarantees a high rate of transparency and promises integrity. The movement’s elections are held across three regions -- the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and amongst the diaspora. This also includes imprisoned leaders of the movement, who will vote in complete secrecy, from inside the Israeli prisons. It should be noted that this complex electoral process includes men and women on an equal footing that allows female leadership to occupy positions at all levels and fields.

The voting process begins with the electoral base, before progressing up to the top levels of the organization and the political and consultative leadership. This exercise forms the movement's leadership inside and outside Palestine and chooses the political bureau and the General Shura (Consultative) Council. This process usually takes several months to complete, before the results are announced and the elected leadership assumes their positions.

As a national liberation movement that operates under a fierce occupation, which impacts the safety of its supporters in Palestine and abroad, Hamas is proud of having this well-established system, which democratically elects its leadership for the next four years.

Never missed election schedule

As such, conducting the election with the full participation of the organization’s members is a challenge. Indeed, this challenge is exacerbated by the movement's emphasis on a transparent and fair process operating within strict regulatory controls. However, despite these constraints, Hamas has never missed an election with new leadership continuously getting elected after every four years.

The organization aims to consolidate and protect democratic practice in the Palestinian public space by working towards the establishment of a free and democratic state. This leads us to where the article began and the question of what makes Hamas exceptional?

Hamas’ emphasis on transparency needs to be considered in the context of the electoral standards and practices across the Arab world, whereby tense security conditions are often exploited as a means of imposing a state of emergency, restricting democracy, and violating human rights. In this context, Hamas' insistence on conducting a fair election, despite many risks, sets an example within the region that these circumstances should in no way be used as a justification for the abolition of democratic practice and the curtailing of freedoms.

Regular elections and commitment to democracy have brought a lot of benefits -- the most important of which perhaps is the elimination of the reverence of individuals. Importantly, when compared to other Palestinian organizations, Hamas enjoys an unprecedented rate of change of leadership. This directly contrasts with other organizations, which have not changed their leadership for decades, even when many of their leaders have reached the ages of 70s or 80s. Regular internal elections allow the generation of fresh ideas and correction
whenever there are errors or regressions in the movement’s direction and leadership.

Hamas is a national resistance movement, but its ideological base is Islamic. In many cases, Islamic movements in the region and around the world are accused of not being committed to democracy. When they win elections, Islamic movements are accused of manipulating the democratic process to monopolize power and to create religious dictatorships. However, many Islamists have highlighted the compatibility of democracy with Islam. Democracy means the rule by the people, giving supremacy to their will and making them a source of power. Most political Islamist movements have resolved this issue decades ago, understanding that there is no fundamental contradiction between democracy and the Shura system (consultation), which Islam considers to be a binding principle in its system of governance.

Democracy inbuilt in Islamic system

Democracy is therefore sophisticated and flexible, allowing Muslims to exercise their inherent right to Shura and preventing the exclusivity of governance. Exclusive governance has, throughout history, brought Muslims backwardness, destruction, fragmentation, and abuse by their enemies. The Islamic system grants a civil state to its citizens. There is neither a religious state in Islam nor the Western concept of a theocratic system ruled by clerics.

Unlike the religious state's experience in the West during the Middle Ages, which robbed people of their freedom to choose and brought tragedies Muslims did not suffer such calamity.

In the West, religion was positioned as a contrast to science and reason, and rulers were sanctified. In contrast, most of the Islamic movements in the Middle East actively participated in elections across the region at the various political, trade union, and municipal levels.

Hamas did not start practicing democracy only after it was named as a resistance force, but before this, as the Islamic movement in Palestine, it took every opportunity to participate in any democratic practice, including student union elections, universities, trade unions, municipalities, and civil associations. Therefore, before it was even named Hamas, it provided an example of a positive initiative by respecting other opinions.

In its history of existence, Hamas has never been an organization that has rejected or turned against the results of any election in which it participated, even if it viewed the results as unjust. Hamas has prioritized democracy over its partisan beliefs, demonstrating strong flexibility across various national dialogues to achieve unity and end divisions.

It is motivated to use democracy to represent the Palestinian people and address their individual and regional concerns. It should therefore be observed that Hamas’ internal elections are a national achievement par excellence, especially for a movement of its size and influence. Ultimately, the movement’s convictions and practices will be reflected positively and negatively on the Palestinian homeland and its citizens, both current and future.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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