Sinwar is considered a hardliner by many, but only time will tell if his election represents a general trend across the movement’s bodies.
Internal Hamas elections take place every four years. The election process spans a number of months and involves the movement’s various local politburos, representing Hamas members in Gaza, the West Bank, the Diaspora as well as Israeli prisons. During the last elections in late 2012/early 2013, Khaled Meshal renewed his leadership of the movement, naming Ismail Haniyeh and Mousa Abu Marzouk as his deputies. Due to internal regulations, Meshal is not able to stand again for election as head of Hamas. Indeed, Meshal himself announced last September that he won’t compete for the movement’s top spot in the coming elections. Most observers presume the elections will continue until April at which point the members of Hamas’ important central politburo and the movement’s new leader will be known, determining the future course of Hamas in the months and years to come.
The election process is difficult for outsiders to follow and little is known of the exact electoral procedures. However, some details are clear. Besides electing politburos in the four above-mentioned districts, local members also choose their own Shura councils – functioning as advisory committees – which in turn elect a general Shura council. The leadership of Hamas, the central politburo – currently headed by Khaled Meshal – is then in turn elected by the general Shura council.
Some important decisions have already been made. The Gaza politburo and Gaza Shura council have been chosen, with Yahya Sinwar nominated as head of the Gaza politburo. According to some media reports, the prison elections also took place two weeks ago. Less is known about the elections in the West Bank, which are most likely taking place with great secrecy out of fear of repression at the hands of the authorities.
Thus far, it seems that mainly candidates with connections to the military wing of the movement have been successful, possibly weakening the political wing of the party. There are some concerns that this trend will continue in the central politburo. Regarding the new leader of the central governing body, two prominent figures are reported to be competing for the top spot: Ismail Haniya and Mousa Abu Marsouq. Having been born in Gaza’s Al-Shati refugee camp – otherwise known as Beach Camp – and with close connection to local members and the movement’s commanders, Haniya is the favourite of many analysts. Considered a more pragmatic voice inside the movement, he is valued for his good connections to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority as well as influential international actors. Abu Marsouq on the other hand, spent much of his career outside Gaza, in Egypt, enabling him to develop close relationships with exiled members of the Hamas leadership. Also Abu Marsouq is viewed as a man of pragmatism.
As details of the elections continue to come to light, many local and international onlookers are watching events closely. The make-up of the post-elections Hamas may look significantly different from the past. With a new leadership and a new focus, the fate of the besieged Strip may well be determined in the coming months.