Geopolitics

Why Hamas Will Never Surrender

Military defeat can still be a strategic victory for the Islamist militants of Gaza.

Gaza on July 29
Gaza on July 29
Tomas Avenarius

-Analysis-

How far will Hamas go? Twenty-six days of war, more than 1,400 dead, bombed homes, streets, fields — the Palestinian Islamist organization appears to want to run its people and its territory into the ground. The Israeli military machine has been attacking the tiny Palestinian area of Gaza relentlessly on land, by sea, from the air. Every hour that this war continues seems like a government-forced sacrifice of a people and the harakiri of a militia: Hamas cannot win this conflict militarily.

But that’s not the decisive issue for the Islamists. Hamas wants to — indeed must — win this war politically. Since 2011, the Arab world has changed so much that in 2014 the Palestinians now find themselves virtually alone in their political fight for a country for their people. Earlier, Hamas could hope for crocodile tears from Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Jordan, but also bonafide diplomatic support and real help. Today both Cairo and Riyadh are fighting their own Islamists linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, which lost power in Egypt in 2013, is a parent organization of Hamas. If Hamas and the suffering people of Gaza lose out now because of the war, more than one Arab government is likely to think it’s all for the better.

Egypt, which has unresolved issues with Hamas left over from the Arab Spring in 2011, contributes in no small part to that attitude. The new government run by Islamist-hostile Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has destroyed the tunnel at its Gaza border. Since the fall of 2013 hardly any weapons have gotten through to the Palestinians — and neither have many affordable food products, medicines, and durable goods.

When all seems lost

The Israeli blockade imposed on the other borders in 2007 is watertight. Despite international pressure the Israelis never made any significant concessions. So Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants remain politically and economically isolated, facing a gloomy hand-to-mouth future. The Gaza Strip has become a 360-square-kilometer prison guarded by the Israelis and the Egyptians.

If Hamas wants to continue to rule and later perhaps oust Fatah competition from the West Bank, it has to achieve something concrete, beyond the anti-Israel slogans. The Islamists have to force the Israelis and the Egyptians to lift the double blockade and link Gaza with the world.

Hamas masterminds have thought through where the group’s future chances lie. They know that Israel wants to destroy the organization and continually comes up with internationally accepted grounds to attack it under the pretext of its own security.

The political landscape in the Arab world is not going to change so quickly in favor of the Palestinians. So Hamas knows it risks losing clout with each passing day, particularly as it is cut off from the Egyptian tunnel financial support that Qatar has provided, and military help from Iran is unable to reach Gaza; meanwhile the anti-Netanyahu rhetoric out of Turkey in any case serves little.

So it’s all or nothing. A ceasefire dictated by Israel that keeps Gaza’s borders closed would for the people living in Gaza represent a return to the status quo after the death of 1,500. The people would hardly forgive Hamas for that.

Which means the Islamists can’t give in. As more children and civilians die, as United Nations schools are shot at, as Israel ignores all proportionality, and images of the horror make their way around the world in real time — Israel and Egypt both are going to start to feel international pressure. And at some point they have to yield. That is the moment when the military defeat of Hamas becomes their great political victory.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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