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Profile of a Moderate Man

November 22, 2006 by  


By Khaled Amayreh

It is nearly certain that the former Gaza Islamic University rector, Professor Mohamed Eid Shabir, will be the chief candidate for the post of prime minister of the Palestinian “national unity government.”

Fatah and Hamas last week agreed to form a government of “experts” or “technocrats” to replace the current Hamas-led government, in the hope that it will help extricate the PA and the Palestinian people from the present multifaceted crisis, resulting from harsh and sweeping western sanctions, aimed at forcing Hamas to recognise Israel and give up historical Palestinian rights.

Sources within both Hamas and Fatah intimated to Al-Ahram Weekly that the latest Israeli massacre in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza was a very “pressing factor” in getting the two sides to find a compromise. “It left us no choice, but to solve our differences. We simply couldn’t keep bickering while our children and babies and women were being slaughtered as sheep,” said one Fatah official.

Shabir was born in Khan Younis in Southern Gaza in 1946, two years before the creation of Israel and the occurrence of the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe. Born into a religious Islamic family (his father was a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood society), the young Mohamed observed a religious lifestyle from his early childhood.

In 1990, Shabir received a PhD in microbiology from West Virginia University. His advisor, Dr Bryan Larsen, was quoted as describing him as “diligent, serious and talented.”

He added, “It was very clear that he held to his beliefs very diligently and in doing so, there were certain things he was not participating in because of his religious beliefs, like mixers, and social events because of the mixing of genders and the alcohol.”

Upon returning to Gaza, Shabir joined the Islamic University of Gaza, founded by Hamas founder and spiritual leader, the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

In 1993, Shabir was appointed rector of the Islamic University. He remained in his position until he retired in August, 2005.

According to his friends, Shabir ran the Islamic University “wisely, tactfully and with a lot of balancing acts” during one of the most tumultuous episodes of recent Palestinian history.

“He wouldn’t seek to alienate people, he would maintain friendly relations even with those with whom he differed,” said a former colleague.

While Arafat was alive, Shabir met with him frequently, assuring him that the university was a Palestinian national institution and not a fanatical Islamist stronghold as the Israelis sought to portray.

Shabir also maintained good relations with Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, who reportedly supported his candidacy for the post of prime minister. According to Gaza sources, “good recommendations” from Fatah leaders in Gaza contributed to Abbas’s decision to back Shabir.

A calm, modest and non-confrontational figure, Shabir is known for his Islamic religiosity, but not for fanaticism. Shabir is not formally a member of Hamas, unlike 95% of the Islamic movement’s followers and supporters.

It is very likely though, that as prime minister, Shabir would reiterate and reassert the same old Palestinian constants, including at least a de facto willingness to recognise Israel, in return for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, as well as a settlement of the Palestinian refugee question pursuant to UN Resolution 194.

There is a nearly total Palestinian consensus on these constants. In fact, even Hamas is likely to accede to such a settlement the moment Israel shows assent.

The Shabir government is unlikely to last for more than a year or a year and a half at the very most, given the fact that it is first and foremost a compromise government whose raison d’être is to bring about stability to the domestic Palestinian arena and help lift crippling Western sanctions.

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