It may seem extraordinary, but Hamas used to be seen as gentle and enlightened by many in the Arab world. But as the reality of its brutal rule in Gaza is revealed, minds are changing, as this personal testimony illustrates
How Hamas deals with opponents
As an Arab, when I heard about the Fatah-Hamas unity government, I was happy and saw this as positive. In fact, like many in the Arab world, I had always thought that Hamas was a force for good and represents a majority of the Palestinian people.
However, my eyes were opened via a chance meeting I had recently with a Palestinian from Khan Yonis who related some horrible stories that disclosed to me a dark side of Hamas that had not been visible to me. Before telling any of these stories, I should say that the young man at first asked me not to write anything about our meeting.
"Please don't write about what I told you; please don't write anything; Hamas reads everything in the news, and has a very strong intelligence body; they even spy on us; it is not difficult at all for them to know what they want to know; if they know me, they will kill not only me but also my whole family; they're real criminals."
After a long series of attempts, I convinced him that I would keep his identity anonymous and that everything wouldl be okay.
The young man was genuinely frightened. He said that Hamas had killed four people (a physician, a judge, an engineer, and a lawyer) from his family, who were semi-opponents of the group. "Hamas broke into our houses using heavy weapons; Hamas militants invaded us like tartars and we were like orphans with no power at all to resist; they killed many of us,'' he stated.
I was shocked to hear this and became even more shocked to learn how Hamas won the parliamentary elections in 2006. According to my interlocutor, before the elections, Hamas got rid of all opposing heads of families, and imposed its full control on the people. ''If someone just thinks of protesting, Hamas gets them killed,'' he added.
When the Arab Spring happened, some Palestinians saw some hope of change and wanted to protest against Hamas and its dictatorial rule. "Once one young man from our district agreed to whistle from inside his house in a sign of protest against Hamas; but the group knew about him; they brought him to one of their headquarters and began torturing and humiliating him, '' the young man said.
"Hamas is not that easy and kind as you think; oh, really you have no idea what Hamas is,'' he added.
If this is to denote something, it is that the real problem is not just between Hamas and Fatah. Rather, it is between Hamas and the people. Importantly, if the people really don't want Hamas, any Palestinian unity government will be meaningless.
This disconnect between the people and the regime that rules over them applies all across the Arab world, regardless of the ideological basis of the regime in question.
It perfectly applies, for example, to the situation in both Egypt and Syria. In both countries, two dictators strongly claim that they won ''presidential elections'' and that the large majority of their peoples support them, while in fact those two dictatorships kill their own people and keep using force to stabilize their fragile thrones.
This will never work. The people might keep silent for some time; but they will in the end move like a volcano against the dictatorship. This is the most important lesson from Egypt's January 25 Revolution. Put another way, power is the people, and the people is power.
Finally, as an Arab, I call upon Hamas to listen to the people and to leave those who want to protest to express their voices. This is the only way a Palestinian unity government can succeed. This is the only way democracy can be achieved.
The writer is an Egyptian poet, actor, and political intellectual. He is also pursuing doctoral research in cognitive science