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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 16:07 GMT
Palestinians consider life under Hamas
By Martin Patience
BBC News website, Ramallah

Hamas poster in Ramallah
Hamas is known for espousing conservative Islamic values
One morning in November 2004, Basim Khouri turned up at his Pronto restaurant in Ramallah and found the premises riddled with bullets and all the windows smashed.

The 45-year-old restaurateur insists that he does not know who the attackers were or what their motive was. He says there has been no repeat of the incident.

But the fact that he served alcohol could have had something to do with the attack.

Since the shock victory of the militant group Hamas in legislative elections on 25 January, many Palestinians have been taking stock of the influence that the Islamist movement's landslide victory could have on the social fabric of Palestinian life.

Conservative values

In Gaza, Hamas is known for espousing conservative Islamic values, such as avoiding alcohol, women wearing the hijab and the separation of males and females out of work.

[Hamas] have to respect other people and give them the freedom to choose Islam
Ziyad Dayyih, Hamas spokesman

But for now, the group are keen to emphasis that they are not interested in radical change in Palestinian society, which is religiously conservative for the most part.

Ziyad Dayyih, Hamas election campaign co-ordinator, told the BBC that the movement has "to respect other people and give them the freedom to choose Islam".

"If they chose Islam we will be very happy, but if they don't we will not punish them," he said.

Wait and see

The West Bank city of Ramallah is a relative secular exception in Palestinian society.

The seat of the Palestinian government, many young Palestinians, male and female, can be seen mixing openly in the city's coffee shops and bars.
Basim Khouri
If somebody wants to have a beer then they should be allowed to
Basim Khouri

Ramallah, in comparison with other cities in the West Bank, has a thriving cultural scene.

But Mr Khouri, like many Palestinians, is adopting a wait-and-see approach with Hamas.

"Maybe it will happen but maybe it will not," he says, in reference to the question whether Hamas will ban alcohol.

"We don't know anything; we can't get inside their heads."

A Greek Orthodox Christian, Mr Khouri says he is very respectful of the Islamic nature of Palestinian society.

But he insists that people must have social freedoms.

"If somebody wants to have a beer then they should be allowed to, just as if someone wants to go the mosque and pray."

Freedom of expression

Up the steep hill from the Pronto restaurant, Fatin Farhat, director of the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre, says she is concerned about the Hamas victory.

International funding to the centre, which showcases Palestinian and international artwork, music and films, could be threatened, says Ms Farhat.

Nahid Awwad
The next elections will be what really defines many things in society
Nahid Awwad

But she is also worried, in the long-term, that the Hamas victory could jeopardize her artists' freedom of expression.

"I fight through this centre to allow artists to say what they want," says the 31-year-old, who studied in the US and UK.

Ms Farhat is also concerned that a Hamas figure takes the top job at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture and Arts.

Her sentiment is echoed by documentary film maker Nahid Awwad, 33, who also lives in Ramallah.

"I have mixed feelings about Hamas coming to power," she says.

"I do think in the long run they want to establish an Islamic state."

For Ms Awwad, the watershed was not last month's legislative elections but the elections scheduled in four years.

She says she expects Hamas to be relatively moderate for now, but if they secure an overwhelming mandate at the next elections there could be a radical shift.

"The next elections will be what really defines many things in society," she says.


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