The Atlantic: How the Arab Spring Has Hurt Hamas
by Zach Pontz
The Arab Spring has not been kind to regimes in the Middle East, and Hamas, despite its continued stranglehold on Gaza, can be counted among those licking its wounds.
Jonathan Schanzer, the vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think-tank, writes in The Atlantic that not only has the terror group’s decision to back the Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar al-Assad, in the country’s civil war, frayed ties with Iran but also “The Islamist group has failed to benefit from the rise of other Islamist governments across the region. Instead, the faction finds itself at a strange inflection point, with more ideological allies but few true alliances.”
Schanzer points to the “sectarian tug of war between its Shi’ite financiers (Iran is Shi’ite and Syria is a client state of Iran) and the new Sunni order (the Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni)” as being a major factor in Hamas’s struggles.
He writes: “Hoping to realign with the new Sunni regional order, the movement dispatched senior figures to manage relationships with three powers strongly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar. Over time, this triumvirate has filled the void left by Iran.”
Yet these new relationships have eliminated the old “resistance” formula and brought with them new complications.
Qatar has increased pressure on the movement to keep Khaled Meshaal as its leader, “But it is entirely unclear how this appeals to a majority of Hamas’ stakeholders,” Schanzer writes. “Joining hands with the PLO is antithetical to the movement’s platform of resistance. After all, the PLO remains open to negotiations with Israel – something Hamas steadfastly rejects.”
Turkey has been a more reliable friend, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently hosting officials from the terror organization. But Egypt has proved most unpredictable, Schanzer writes.
“Most of the friction stems from violence in the Sinai Peninsula attributed to Gaza-based Salafi jihadist groups, not to mention Hamas’ network of subterranean tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, which allow Hamas to smuggle fuel and to potentially even carry out operations in Egypt.”
Egypt has begun to stifle Hamas’s attempts to rearm, seizing weapons “and explosives in the Sinai believed to be destined for the Gaza Strip, including short-range rockets and antitank missiles. Egypt shuttered 23 smuggling tunnels in May alone,” Schanzer writes.
Schanzer continues: “But as the tensions with Egypt increased over the Hamas tunnel network, the movement’s leaders began to float an idea that appealed to nearly all of Gaza. Why not bring Gaza’s economy above ground, with the help of Egypt?”
The terror organization has begun to do so, but Schanzer doesn’t believe it will sit well with Meshaal.
“…Such a move would force Hamas to relinquish its weapons smuggling. By accepting such an arrangement, Hamas would be forced to renounce violence in deed, if not in word.
“Such a decision would not rest with Meshal or any other of scattered members of the politburo in exile. Rather, it would rest entirely with the Gaza-based leadership, which is still the center of gravity for the movement. And it would likely be met with significant pushback.”
Hamas has become more militant as a result, Schanzer writes, yet paradoxically “seems to have lost its appetite for conflict, indicating that the movement is in flux.”
As Mkhaimar Abusada, a Gaza-based political science professor, says, “Hamas is in the process of transformation. ‘Moderation’ is not the right word here. But something is happening.”