Hamid Lellou: Hamas – black sheep or blackballed?
Khaled Meshaal (left) embraces Mohamed Morsi during a meeting in Cairo last year. © Mohammed al-Hams - AFP/Hamas/File
Hamid Lellou: Hamas – black sheep or blackballed?
Last updated: October 25, 2013
Hamid Lellou: Hamas – black sheep or blackballed?

“Hamas has total control over its military wing, unlike the Muslim Brothers government in Egypt who had no control over the Egyptian military”

Now that the Muslim Brothers Organization is out of the political game in Egypt, will Hamas be next on the list?

Although the Muslim Brothers organizations in Egypt and Gaza have a lot in common, they are not monolithic. Indeed, their respective journeys and the particular circumstances in which these countries evolved made each of them unique in their own way; in short Egypt is not Gaza.

The Muslim Brothers in Egypt evolved as a social and then political movement, while Hamas in Gaza is considered the political wing of a liberation movement. This article will briefly analyze the political situations in Egypt and the Gaza strip, and then demonstrate why it is unlikely that the Muslim Brothers in Gaza will have a fate similar to that of their Egyptian counterparts.

The situation in Egypt

For fifty years prior to the Arab spring, the regime in Egypt failed to create economic and social structures that could provide for their growing urbanized population in a globalized world. This has lead to widespread poverty, homelessness, unemployment, low literacy rates, and a severe lack of health care.

The Muslim Brothers stepped in to fill the gap left by the government and provided social services to those in need. The organization also appealed to the educated population in Egypt at this time by providing a platform where they could debate their ideas and express their frustrations. Thus, the Muslim Brothers were organizing, winning the admiration and support from a diverse Egyptian population, and waiting for an opportunity to enter the political arena.

Prior to his forced evictionEgypt’s former presidentHosni Mubarak, planned to have his son Gamal Mubarak succeed him. In the eyes of Mubarak and his son’s supporters, he seemed to be the most legitimate successor. By making his son the president of the ruling party, (National Democratic Party) Mubarak was getting closer and closer to ensuring his son’s supreme consecration.

However, he failed to consider military opposition to his son as a successor. President Mubarak was let down, because the military became the population’s ally. Armed with organizational skills, the Muslim Brothers were ready and able to take advantage of the popular uprising, which was everything but Islamic in its orientation.

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According to Ziad Munson, a noted Egyptian sociologist, ”the specific relationships that tied the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas to its organizational structure, group activities, and the beliefs and practices of ordinary Egyptians offer the key to understanding its tremendous popular support. The relationship ultimately allowed the group simultaneously to appeal to a broad segment of the Egyptian population and to negotiate the difficult political landscape dominated by an authoritarian state.”

However, this alliance was short lived once the military and Muslim Brothers were no longer in agreement; it took less than two years of chaotic rule by the MB before they and their president, Mohamed Morsi, were unceremoniously run out of office.

So was it taking office that was a calamity for Muslim Brothers or was it their inability to adapt and transition from social movement to political rulers? A lot has been written about Morsi’s incompetence and his inability to govern Egypt. In Egypt, the MB had two years of “reprieve” and then the dice were tricked, some of his supporters say.

“The army planned for this from last year” said Mohamad Ali. Because the military controls 30 to 40% of the national economy, many believe that the secularist military officers acted quickly to prevent the Muslim Brothers from taking over their institution and therefore revoking their privileges. While others insist that it was geopolitically motivated. Jeffrey Fleishman and Manar Mohsen of the Los Angeles Times noted that “the entire aim is to bring down political Islam because it is against the security of Israel and the U.S. does not want that.”

On the other hand, Morsi’s opponents, like Syrian President Assad, argue that the Muslim Brothers have shown their hidden face. In a partially reprinted interview by Zeina Karam of huffingtonpost.com, Assad said that “the ruling experience of the Muslim Brotherhood failed before it even started because it goes against the nature of people,” charging that the Brotherhood “aimed to spread strife in the Arab world.”

So, with the help of the Egyptian military, the Tamarod (civil disobedience) movement was able to dismantle the MB government and it now seems that the political game is over for the Brotherhood and the interim government is in the process of declaring the Muslim Brothers movement party “non-grata”.

Hamas’ hegemony in the Gaza Strip

In 1987, the first popular intifada in the occupied Palestinian territories led by the secularist Fatah movement gave birth to Hamas. Hamas is an Islamic resistance movement in Palestine that considers itself part of the Muslim Brothers organization.

A fragile truce between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) held up until Hamas came into power through elections in 2006-2007 and ousted Fatah, the dominant group in the PNA which is still in control of some parts of the West Bank. Since then Hamas has enjoyed the full support of outside states like Qatar, Iran and Syria.

After the election of President Morsi in Egypt, Hamas euphorically threw all its eggs into Egypt’s political basket. Mr. Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas representative overseas, moved from Syria to Doha to show Hamas’s full support for the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. However, by doing so, Hamas jeopardized its relationship not only with Syria but with Iran as well.

Now that the Muslim Brothers have failed in Egypt, Hamas has its back to the wall and must take action to avoid the same fate as their Egyptian counterparts. Recently, opposition to Hamas called for Tamarod in Gaza to be held on November 11. Hamas quickly responded with a tactical move to eliminate or reduce any internal pressure.

“The call by Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ prime minister in Gaza, for different factions and personalities in the territories it controls to join Hamas in sharing the administration and the management of the Gaza Strip came as a great surprise. Hamas, more or less, like Fatah, controls the West Bank via the Palestinian National Authority, and holds part of the blame for the lack of any progress toward a Palestinian reconciliation, an issue that has been on the table for years,” noted Ambassador Nassif Hitti, a senior Arab League official in an article in Al-Monitor.

Will Hamas’s tactical move prevent the Gaza strip from living through its own Tamarod movement? Will this tactic be enough to politically survive now that their political and monetary resources have declined?  When we look at what may be the next Middle Eastern geopolitical map, Hamas will have only Qatar, and to a certain extent Turkey, supporting them.

Why Tamarod in the Gaza strip won’t prevail

Unlike the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, who had a long history as a social movement (since 1928) but a very short experience as a ruling party (two years), Hamas has been in office since 2007.

For the former, two years was not enough to implement controls and checks and balances on national institutions, including the military. This may explain, in part, the success of the Egyptian Tamarod. On the other hand, Hamas was viewed as a liberation movement by many Palestinians, long before they were considered a social or political movement.

The two organizations have a lot in common, the same Islamic ideology and similar social and welfare missions. But because Hamas is seen as a liberation movement it has been given total control over its military wing (Qassam Brigades), unlike the Muslim Brothers government in Egypt who had no control over the Egyptian military, thus making the two situations quite different.

What is the best course of action?

Twenty-six years have passed since the birth of Hamas and six years since they democratically took office in the Gaza strip. Hamas has survived many Israeli blockades. They have dealt effectively with the Mubarak regime’s revolving policies and later on, Morsi’s timid support. They have become the Black Sheep among Muslim Brothers rulers in the Middle East.

Therefore it appears that this organization is ineradicable, unless Israel decides to invade the Gaza strip. But let’s be reasonable and not play the war drum in a region where blood has already been spilled so many times in vain.

The only other democratic path for ousting Hamas is through elections. According to Ahramonline, Hamas’ Prime Minister said “the formation of the committee to supervise elections in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank was stipulated in the deal signed by Fatah and Hamas in Cairo in April, 2011.”

Two years have passed since that agreement. Pressure from their only two supporters, the strong US ally Qatar and NATO partner Turkey may force Hamas to call for general elections. Needless to say, Hamas is likely to win by a landslide. The question is if the West and its allies will work with the black sheep or find a way to blackball them?

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