World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


PALESTINIAN POLITICAL SCENE - 2/2: Electoral Strategies, the Case of Hamas (096) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE, 11.30 am - 1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:

Chair: Ignacio Alvarez-Ossorio (Lecturer, University of Alicante, Spain)

Discussant: Natasha Kubíková (Ph. Candidate, Institute of Near Eastern and African Studies, Charles University, Czech Republic and Association for International Affairs, Middle East Program, Czech Republic)

Paper presenter: Frode Løvlie (PhD-candidate, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway), “Party Change in Palestine: Explaining Hamas’s Electoral Strategy, 1996-2006”
This paper aims to explain Hamas’s changing electoral strategy from 1996 to 2006. Whereas they boycotted the first election to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in 1996, Hamas completed a strategic turnaround in the decade leading up to the next election in 2006; in which they not only participated but also won. The extant literature offers sound explanations as to why and how Hamas won the 2006 election, but their reasons to replace boycott with participation remains largely unexplained. It is this lacuna in the literature this paper aims to fill. By analyzing Hamas through frameworks offered by party behavior and party change theories, the analysis benefits from previously established causal relationships explaining radical party change. The relevant theories stipulate that Hamas changed their strategy in order to cope with and adapt to environmental challenges such as the dramatic de-development of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in the latter half of the 1990s. Initially, Hamas relied on armed resistance, absolutist territorial claims, and a categorical rejection of the peace process as their sources of legitimacy, prompting them to boycott the 1996 election. The deteriorating situation in the OPT in the aftermath of the elections, however, forced Hamas to adapt and change their strategy and behavior for two distinct reasons. First, the deteriorating situation for Palestinians not only undermined the Oslo Process, but also worked to de-legitimize the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its ruling party, PLO/Fatah. This provided Hamas with ample opportunity to make use of their extensive welfare network to demonstrate responsibility and prowess by providing social services for the Palestinians where the PA failed. As a result, Hamas surged in the polls. Second, the intensifying security measures enforced by the combined efforts of Israel and the PA reduced the military capacity of Hamas, forcing them to revaluate both their militant strategy and absolutist goals. In combination, these two environmental challenges provoked radical change inside Hamas. The dominant position of the militant hard-liners, responsible for the 1996 boycott, weakened, and they were eventually replaced by a more moderate leadership. Advocating ideological flexibility and political compromise, it was this new dominant faction that was responsible for Hamas’s change of electoral strategy and decision to run in the 2006 elections. The analysis is based on a number of interviews of Hamas members conducted in the OPT in 2007, as well as relevant journal articles and monographs.

Paper presenter:Vivienne Boon (Lecturer, University of Surrey, UK), “Recognising Hamas? On the Limits of Recognition Theory”
This paper will address some serious lacunas in recognition theory as proposed by Axel Honneth, and outline its limitations for Middle Eastern Studies. My argument is that Honneth’s proposal to bring critical theory ‘down to earth’ and apply it to social movements is admirable, but is ultimately limited in its applicability. This theoretical framework is limited due to its rooting in liberal notions of autonomy and individuality which are not shared by all. But more importantly, it is also restricted in its applicability due to its insistence on notions of evolution or directionality (initially developed by Jurgen Habermas) which herald an ever wider inclusion in the political domain. The problem here is that Honneth already presumes that social movements and resistance group seek inclusion (rather than rejection of) the established political order, and that they in fact implicitly share liberal notions of deliberation, individual autonomy and public reason. All of these assumptions are open to contestation. I will outline these difficulties through a detailed examination of Hamas in Palestine, which illustrates that within such movements there is a complex entanglement of resistance, violence and divergence. In these cases, the problematic issue of recognition comes starkly to the forefront, as parties engage in a Hegelian master and slave dialectical struggle. My argument is not that recognition theory is irrelevant when it comes to analyzing such movements, but rather that if it wants to be relevant to Middle Eastern studies will have to provide a much more complicated and more nuanced picture of deliberation, conflict, violence and the conditions of recognition. In doing so, critical theory could potentially provide a crucial tool as it seeks to advance not merely an explanation of political processes but also its transformation. Yet, it will first have to face its own limitations and theoretical biases.

Paper presenter: Manal A. Jamal (Assistant Professor, James Madison University, USA), “Beyond Islamist Strategies and Responses: Hamas and the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Elections”
In recent years, few topics have consumed scholars of the Middle East as the rise of Islamists and their success at the polls. Among many pivotal developments, the unanticipated victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections was a defining moment in the study of Islamist politics. The results were a startling surprise to all parties, not least Hamas. Although, opinion polls, the public and political analysts expected Hamas to make a significant showing in these elections, few, if any, anticipated their landslide victory. Similarly, the theoretical literature, especially the ‘inclusion-moderation’ hypothesis which suggests that extremist parties are less likely to succeed over time, could not have predicted Hamas’ impressive electoral performance. The results were especially significant because ‘religion’ was not the decisive factor in Hamas’ electoral success. A vast literature has attempted to explain the electoral triumph of Islamists in general. These factors have cantered on Islamist mobilization and electoral strategies including alliance building, mass discontent, and the unanticipated consequences of regime repression and electoral engineering. A growing body of literature maps out the geographic and demographic characteristics of Islamist bases of support. In the specific Palestinian case, most analysis thus far has focused on the failure of Fateh, its corruption, incompetent leadership, and the breakdown of the Oslo process. These explanations, both in the broader Middle East and in the Palestinian territories, have focused almost exclusively on the Islamists themselves, or to a lesser extent on the incumbents. For the exception of Ellen Lust’s Structuring Opposition (2006), few works have systematically examined the comprehensive interplay between opposition groups’ mobilization strategies. Although, the electorate’s disappointment with Fateh’s performance is an important explanatory variable, it is by no means adequate. Given that religion was not a determining factor in Hamas’ electoral victory, the natural question to follow is: Why did voters not vote for the non-Fateh, secular groups which encompass the Palestinian Leftist and ‘liberal-democratic’ organizations’. This paper delves into less explored dimensions of Islamist electoral success’ specifically organizational strategies and last minute electoral organizing of opposition groups. Drawing on primary interviews I conducted with Leftist political leaders in the Palestinian territories during the fall of 2006, this paper examines factors contributing to the less than flattering performance of the Leftist and ‘liberal democratic’ parties, in contrast to Hamas’ highly organized electoral campaign.