Much has been made this week of Egypt’s role in the Israeli peace negotiations, and the clout that the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt wields with their fellow Islamists in Hamas, Gaza’s ruling party. But the Hamas-Brotherhood connection runs even deeper: as Ideas foreign-affairs columnist Thanassis Cambanis reported in 2010, the best university in Gaza -- the college that trains the top engineers, clerics, and leaders of Gaza’s civil society, and in a sense serves as Hamas’s intellectual engine room -- was founded by Muslim Brothers in 1978. (Hamas itself was established later, in 1987.)
Cambanis crossed into Gaza and spent time at the university, and returned with not only a portrait of a unique and little-understood school, but an insight to how the Brotherhood’s groundwork paid off in Gaza, as it did last year in the Egyptian elections:
With no local competition, the Islamic University had the market on higher education all to itself, a monopoly that took on greater importance as Israel made it harder and harder for Gazans to leave their territory to study in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brothers running the university turned their efforts to community and political organizing, leading within a decade to the establishment of Hamas, whose name in Arabic is an acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement.”
The university today has some unusual features, and embodies the intensity that characterizes daily life in Gaza, even in what might otherwise be a cloistered environment:
Twenty thousand students take classes in a 20-acre grid that could fit snugly into Harvard Yard. The mosque holds pride of place at the center of campus. Not far away, a yawning crater cuts through the campus, where the engineering and chemistry labs once stood. Israel bombed them on December 28, 2008, the second day of the most recent Gaza War, believing that Hamas was using the academic laboratories to build rockets and explosives, a charge Islamic University officials have denied. In keeping with university rules, men congregate on one side of the bomb crater and women on the other.
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