When I was in Gaza in mid 2009, life was difficult for the residents due to the Israeli and Egyptian imposed siege. Outright hatred for Hamas was rare.
A budding middle class in the impoverished Gaza Strip is flaunting its wealth, sipping coffee at gleaming new cafes, shopping for shoes at the new tiny shopping malls, and fueling perhaps the most acrimonious grass roots resentment yet toward the ruling Hamas movement.
This middle class, which has become visible at the same time as a mini-construction boom in this blockaded territory, is celebrating its weddings in opulent halls and vacationing in newly built beach bungalows. That level of consumption may be modest by Western standards, but it’s in startling contrast to the grinding poverty of most Gazans, who rely on UN food handouts to get by.
Some of the well-off are Hamas loyalists. That rankles many Gaza residents because the conservative Islamic movement gained popularity by tending to the poor, through charitable aid, education and medical care – along with its armed struggle against Israel.
“Hamas has become rich at the expense of the people,” fumed a 22-year-old seamstress, Nisrine, as she stitched decorative applique onto a dress. She wouldn’t disclose her family name, not wanting to be seen criticizing the militant group.
Gaza’s Hamas government denies its loyalists have gotten wealthy since the group came to power. Corruption “doesn’t touch us,” said Hamas official Yusef Rizka.
But others – even those close to Hamas – say the militant group must pay attention. “There is a nouveau riche that has followed the rise of the government,” said Alaa Araj, a former Gaza economic minister and businessman considered close to Hamas. “We must sound the alarm,” he said. “(Resentment) is growing in Gaza.”