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Hamas: An Islamist party tries to regain its luster

Living conditions in Gaza have deteriorated under Hamas rule, potentially leaving the Islamist militant group on the hook for rampant unemployment and other societal problems.

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Palestinian women look at members of Hamas security forces as they patrol in a street in Gaza City on Sept. 1.

Suhaib Salem/Reuters

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Hamas has refashioned its government in an apparent bid to adapt to the sweeping changes in the Arab world and bolster its support among Gazans who, six years after bringing Hamas to power, are largely disillusioned and desperate for better lives.

Over the weekend, the Islamist rulers of Gaza replaced seven of their 14 government ministers, including those in charge of housing, justice, and finance, in what officials and analysts say was a move to put more popular, competent officials in power.

“I believe the reshuffle is fully related to the results of recent elections of Hamas political bureau that brought new faces to the Islamic movement's leadership,” says Naji Shurrab, political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. “So they are now exchanging roles of those who have spent long years in the leadership of the movement and the government with those who now enjoy a big support in the movement.”

A United Nations report released last week warns that Gaza’s numerous longstanding challenges could reach a crisis point within less than a decade, as its bulging youth population matures. Already, at least 90 percent of Gaza’s water supply is unsafe to drink, according to World Health Organization guidelines; 85 percent of schools are running double shifts; unemployment is nearly 30 percent; and the territory’s population is set to grow from 1.6 million to 2.1 million people by 2020. 

“My seven kids don't receive proper health education and services. Electricity is always cut off and we can barely get clean water at home. I spend 50 shekels per month [about $12] on buying drinking water. I'm very worried about the future of my kids who live in very poor conditions,” says taxi driver Mohammed al-Gharabli from Gaza City, who says he makes 30 to 40 shekels a day. “These kids must be cared of by the government. They should have clean water, electricity, and good health and education systems. Poverty cannot make brilliant future for the new generations."

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