Monday, January 30, 2006

# Posted 6:20 PM by Patrick Belton  

LISTENING TO THE ARAB STREET: In Ramallah tonight, in the coffee shops and falafel stands of the city, its people are talking over politics, attempting to make sense of a political reality where certitude lies only in that all is changed utterly. Tonight, as in previous nights it had been Fateh's, it was now the turn of Hamas's supporters to parade through the streets after dinner, under green flags and to shouts of Allahu Akbar.

Today, the stock market declined by five per cent as it has each day since the results, its maximum it is allowed to fall before trading is halted. Dr Hassan Yassin, its head, speaks now of a one-week trading holiday.

And what of the word on the Arab street? Munib Masri of Nablus, the richest man in a city known for its business acumen, is it's said being courted by Hamas as a technocratic prime minister. Hassan Khurayshi, who had been in the PLC as Fateh, and in these polls ran on the Hamas list from Tulkarem, is being tipped as head of parliament.

Zuhair Khalaf, a Christian and erstwhile Fateh member who in running as an independent in Ramallah attracted 8,000 votes, had his house shot up by Fateh sympathisers.

None of this is in the news.

I was surprised when many Ramallah Christians today told me that they, like those of Taibeh, voted Hamas because it was historically Fateh loyalists who attacked their businesses, agitated against the sale of alcohol, and engaged in communal reprisals against the Christian community, as when a Christian butcher stabbed a man in Qalqilya. In the latter instance, it was Hamas members who stopped the Fateh crowd from attacking the Catholic church in Ramallah. And this debt of loyalty was remembered on election day.

Fateh is not down for the count - 2 seats moved to the Fateh column in today's final vote tally, and these were significant votes, as they denied Hamas a two-thirds majority. Lacking it, the other parties will in concert be able to block constitutional changes and deny Hamas the ability to override legislative vetoes by the president.

More undoubtedly going on in the streets even now, but I'm to bed. I just recorded an interview for the BBC, in which I appeared jointly with the lovely Laila el-Haddad. Rhod and Chris from the BBC were gracious in the extreme, and I'm deeply honoured by the opportunity; I'll link to the segment once it's up online.
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