Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hamas in the New Middle East

    Saturday, November 24, 2012   No comments

“I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.” Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya issued this declaration before a crowd at the Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo on February 24, 2012.

In 2011, Hamas withdrew its political headquarters from Syria and declined Bashar Al-Assad’s request to stage rallies in support of the Syrian regime at Palestinian refugee camps in Syria. Haniya's statement simply confirmed that Hamas had officially broken ties with its longtime state sponsor in Damascus. The Arab Awakening ended the alliance that Hamas had formed with the Assad regime in the aftermath of the Palestinian group’s expulsion from Jordan in 1999.

The Syrian uprising placed Hamas in between a rock and a hard place. Even as Hamas sought to remain loyal to a regime that had provided economic aid and weapons during times of isolation, the group could not maintain an alliance with a regime that was brutally oppressing a Sunni-led opposition movement. Hamas' final calculation that severing ties with Assad would best further its long-term objectives was driven by an assessment of the Syrian crisis, particularly with respect to Palestinian refugees in Syria and Palestinian public opinion. However, the rising wave of democratic and moderate Sunni Islamism throughout the region was perhaps Hamas’ greatest incentive to break ties with Syria and pursue alliances with Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar.

Hamas is betting that new geopolitical realities in the region may offer it an opportunity to escape isolation, gain recognition as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians in Gaza, spread its ideology, and cultivate ties with neighbors. Nonetheless, by breaking ties with Assad and cultivating ties with Tehran’s strategic competitors, Hamas is jeopardizing its relations with Iran as well.


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