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Middle East

Sinai attack derails Hamas public relations campaign

A Palestinian man in Gaza City walks past billboards trumpeting Hamas’ achievements.

GAZA CITY: “We have carried out 800 open-heart surgeries, regulated traffic, and built 44 schools,” billboards boldly proclaim in white letters on a vibrant magenta background.

Not the boast of a Scandinavian country, but a publicity campaign by the Gaza Strip’s Hamas government, which has plastered news of its achievements at road junctions, in newspapers, on the Internet and even on the radio.

Under the slogan “We are building the nation,” the PR campaign combines the concept of environmental responsibility with that of opposition to Israel, which maintains a partial blockade on the territory.

“A clean environment for the people of the resistance,” proclaims one poster which shows a worker cleaning a beach.

“We continued to build, despite the siege,” says another which shows Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya wearing a construction worker’s helmet, poring over plans with architects.

“The Hamas government was targeted by media attacks and faced a series of crises,” said government spokesman Hasan Abu Hashish, pointing to Israel’s 22-day offensive over New Year 2009, the ongoing Israeli blockade, and the salary crisis caused by an international boycott of Hamas.

Summer, he said, was a good time to run such a media campaign because of the greater number of people visiting Gaza.

“In summer, there are tens of thousands of Palestinians returning from abroad as well as international solidarity caravans coming to the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Omar Shaaban, an analyst with the Gaza-based think tank Palthink says Hamas wants to burnish its image which has been tarnished by a severe power crisis and by sharp price increases.

“Their performance as a government has not been good through the past year and a half,” he said. “They want to rehabilitate their reputation.”

“People have a general idea but we want to give them accurate information and figures,” Abu Hashish says.

“It is our right to make comparisons because we have had media attacks aimed at us, starting with those by our brothers in the West Bank,” he charged, referring to the rival Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The [Gaza] government has problems but they are due to external factors such as [shortage of] fuel or the border terminal” with Egypt, he insisted.

Since the start of the three-month publicity campaign on June 20, Hamas has been beset by more problems, particularly after a deadly Aug. 5 attack on Egyptian troops in northern Sinai, with Cairo suspecting Gazan involvement.

Within hours of the raid, the Rafah border terminal – Gaza’s only gateway to the world which is not controlled by Israel – was closed down, putting an end to an easing of visa requirements put in place weeks earlier by Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammad Mursi.

Egypt has also shut down the smuggling tunnels under the Gaza border and curbed the delivery of fuel from Qatar which had briefly enabled the coastal enclave’s lone power station to operate all four of its turbines for the first time since 2006.

“Egypt’s priority is to ensure stability and security in Sinai,” said Mukhaimer Abu Saada, professor of political science at Gaza City’s Al-Azhar University.

“Lifting the siege and improving the situation in Gaza has now become a secondary issue, despite the hopes placed in Mursi,” he said.

Before Qatari fuel deliveries began last month, Gaza had been in the grip of the worst power crisis in living memory with the electricity plant forced to shut down repeatedly, causing power cuts of up to 18 hours a day.

Now the rumble of private generators, which provided a steady soundtrack through Gaza’s winter and spring, looks set to return this summer.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 17, 2012, on page 9.

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