March 13, 2013 GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been hit by the worst economic crisis since seizing the territory seven years ago and face growing discontent, even among core supporters, because there’s no sign of relief from a blockade enforced not only by Israel but also by a suddenly hostile Egypt.
Hamas government employees have complained publicly about getting only partial salaries for the past four months. Bus drivers have staged a strike over soaring fuel prices. Laborers have lost jobs as construction has dried up. Hamas’ own surveys show its popularity plummeting.
‘I never experienced a situation worse than this one,’ said Ahmed Zeitouniya, 32, who has been walking to his job in the Culture Ministry because he can no longer afford $1 in bus fares and is in debt to the neighborhood grocery and his oldest son’s kindergarten.
Gaza’s isolation is unlikely to ease soon. Instead, Israel and Egypt have tightened their border closures.
Israel sealed its only cargo crossing with Gaza on Wednesday after the Islamic Jihad group fired dozens of rockets from the territory at Israel. Hamas seems to tolerate occasional Islamic Jihad attacks on Israel as a release valve for the public’s discontent. However, Hamas has largely observed a truce with Israel since heavy fighting 2012 and does not seem interested in further escalation.
The game changer for Hamas was the Egyptian military’s ouster last July of then-President Mohammed Morsi. The military-backed government in Cairo has since banned Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood — the region-wide movement that also spawned Hamas — and has shut down most of the smuggling tunnels along the Gaza border, which were an economic lifeline for the strip.
The Hamas government lost nearly two-thirds of its revenue as a result, said Omar Shaban, a Gaza economist. With the tunnels, Hamas earned about $500 million a year — of an annual budget of just under $900 million — in taxes on the Egyptian imports, said Shaban. Cheap fuel, cement and other supplies from Egypt also powered Gaza’s economy, particularly the local construction industry which employed several tens of thousands.
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US media reported in January that Hamas was under what was described as severe economic strain as a result of losing income from the shuttered Gaza smuggling tunnels. The GMBDW also reported in January on what was described the “rapprochement” between Hamas and Iran following a three year breach as well as on the continuing decline of relations between Hamas and Egypt.
The Hamas charter says that it is “one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine” and soon after Hamas took over the Gaza strip, Muslim Brotherhood representatives traveled to Gaza from Egypt through the newly-opened border to review Hamas military formations. A Hamas journalist has acknowledged the role that the “international Muslim Brotherhood” has played in providing funds for the purchase of weapons and Hamas is known to be supported financially and politically by the global Muslim Brotherhood. A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman revealed that a coalition of London-based Muslim groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, were behind the mass demonstrations staged to protest Israeli actions in the 2008 Gaza war and the Global Muslim Brotherhood and its Turkish affiliates were also intimately involved, along with the Turkish government, in the June 2010 Gaza flotilla that was involved in a violent altercation with Israeli naval forces. Following a period of seeming ascension related to the period of Egyptian rule by the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization was forced to scramble to try and find other state sponsors after Mohamed Morsi was deposed as President. In September 2013, it appeared that Hamas had succeeded in re-establishing close ties with Iran. In January 2013, Israeli intelligence sources claimed that Turkey has replaced Iran as the chief source of Hamas financing.