By: Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The difficult situation that Hamas has found itself in since it left Syria, and then following the military coup in Egypt, has prompted critics and gloaters to proclaim that Hamas had pursued mistaken policies leading to its isolation and weakness. These voices called on the “straying son,” as some of them have come to describe Hamas, to either return to the fold of the Refusal Front represented by Iran and Syria, or return to the fold of “Palestinian legitimacy” led by President Mahmud ‘Abbas (Abu Mazen).
Ironically, although the Refusal Front and the Moderation Axis are two contradictory paths, we find that voices affiliated to both sides are simultaneously reproaching the “straying son” for its choices. In other words, they are practically acknowledging Hamas’s independence from them, and the fact that Hamas belongs to a third path that neither side wants to tread.
The prevalent culture in the Arab region tends towards oversimplification, and builds its understanding of the other on the basis of “either with us or against us.” Another culture sees the positions of countries, parties, and movements on the basis of interest and gain alone, without regard to values, ethics, and principles. Perhaps these two cultures are partly right, because of the observed prevalence of a political behavior, based on opportunism and expediency; however, not everyone should be lumped in the same basket of standards and generalizations.
Those who have dealt with Hamas on this basis, have dealt with it as a lackey of Iran, Syria, or Qatar, according to which best served its interests, rather than dealing with it as a national liberation movement, or as an Islamist movement with its own set of principles, ethics, and governing frame of reference.
Those who oversimplify things and distort the truth overlook the ideology governing Hamas, its broad popular base, its national and resistance role, and its martyrs and prisoners. They see the intersection in relations or interests an evidence of dishonesty or subordination, and cannot differentiate between two parallel paths that agree in direction, and two non-parallel paths that intersect at one point before each proceeding in its set direction.
When the uprisings and changes unfolded across the Arab world, Hamas did not quite move from one lap to another, and was not that straying son who miscalculated and angered his father! However, Hamas was consistent with itself and its Islamic, national, popular, and liberation-focused worldview. Hamas sided with the people, their right to freedom, and their right to craft their own decisions and choose their political systems. Hamas did not differentiate between the will of the people in Egypt, Syria, or any other country.
Perhaps this was its “first sin,” because the Refusal Front required Hamas to support the popular will in Egypt and Tunisia, but not in Syria. Meanwhile, the Moderation Axis wanted Hamas to stand alongside popular will in Syria, but not in Egypt and Tunisia. Yet neither the Refusal Front nor the Moderation Axis wanted the popular will to triumph in Yemen, so that the regime of ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh would not collapse and weaken the Moderation Axis, and so that the gains of the Houthis are not squandered as far as Refusal Front was concerned!
The “second sin” was Hamas’s affiliation to “political Islam,” which emerged as a major engine of the uprisings (in the Sunni Arab environment), and as the primary choice of the masses and the antithesis of the corrupt and tyrannical regimes. This prompted the rest of the regimes to scramble and deploy huge sums of money and formidable media assets to demonize “political Islam,” including Hamas in their systematic smear campaign—since Hamas belongs to a school affiliated to the Muslim Brothers (MB) movement. Logically, this was welcomed by Western powers and Israel.
Those who talk about Hamas’s “expediency and opportunism” overlook the fact that by the time the last of Hamas’s leaders left Syria in early 2012, the MB movement had not yet won the elections in Egypt, and the uprisings had not yet reached critical mass in Syria. The siege of Gaza Strip (GS) had not been lifted, and the program of Palestinian reconciliation had not been implemented on the ground.
In other words, Hamas paid the price for its attitudes and support for the choices of the Arab peoples before getting any “spoils.” The material cost as a result of Hamas’s exit from Syria was great, as its leaders were scattered to Qatar, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere. The possibility for Hamas managing and continuing its work became more complicated, and Hamas lost the bulk of the support it received from Iran, while suffering anger and chilled relations with Gulf countries.
Therefore, the talk about opportunism and expediency is misplaced. When Hamas left Syria, it paid a price for refusing to remain and give cover to the regime’s heavy-handed crackdown against its people. Yet Hamas did not leave Damascus ungratefully; in the first few months, its leadership worked tirelessly to reach an internal peaceful solution, to spare the country a civil war and foreign intervention. Furthermore, the support Hamas received in Syria did not come only from the regime, which allowed Hamas to operate and move freely in Syria, but also from the people, who embraced, loved, and supported Hamas. In addition, Hamas insisted on not interfering in the internal affairs of Syria.
Moreover, those who back the Palestinian issue and the national and Islamic forces working for it are only doing their duty, and should not expect to buy loyalties in favor of positions and policies that these forces oppose.
The essence of the Palestinian issue is “freedom and liberation,” fulfilling the will of the Palestinian people to regain their land, and breaking it free from the occupation. No one should expect that Palestinian forces side with factions that contradict the will of their peoples. In general, the true strategic ally of Palestine is the Arab peoples and not their regimes, and people remain but regimes go. Those who want to liberate the land must first liberate people.
As for why Hamas remained silent over the actions of the regimes that hosted it, this was in line with its principle of non-interference in internal affairs, and the fact that there had been no popular uprising against them to begin with. But when the uprisings erupted and it was possible that Hamas would be used as a cover to legitimize the regime and its crackdown, Hamas was forced to make a decision, siding with the will of the people, yet without interfering in internal affairs.
Hamas would not have been able to work for Palestine from outer space. Realism and the priorities-based approach required dealing with the complex and intertwining Arab environment surrounding Palestine, by searching for points of intersection and agreement in a way that serves the Palestinian issue. Hamas preserved its independence, did not conceal its identity or feel burdened by its Islamic-national project at any moment, and did not hesitate to offer advice to regimes and various stakeholders whenever it had the chance or ability to do so.
On the other hand, there were attempts to discredit and demonize Hamas, in which many major Egyptian, Gulf-based, and Palestinian Authority-affiliated media outlets took part, i.e., from the Moderation Axis. It sought to portray Hamas as a power-hungry entity that meddles in the internal affairs and security of Egypt, forestalls reconciliation, oppresses people in GS, and even protects Israel’s borders by cracking down on resistance operations. Therefore, this “straying son” had to be “disciplined,” returned to the “fold of obedience” led by Abu Mazen, and forced to walk the path chosen by the Arab “moderate” regimes.
This is how the military in Egypt justified the Arab blockade on GS, the destruction of tunnels and systematic strangulation of GS, and full identification with the Israeli blockade of GS and consistency with the Israeli agenda to topple the Hamas-led government, portraying this as an act of patriotism to protect the security of Egypt. This is how the enormous suffering they have caused to 1.7 million Palestinians was justified, while denying GS its most basic needs and restricting the movement of its residents, under the pretext that these are just precautionary measures.
Those who incessantly put forward accusations against Hamas have so far failed to produce a single shred of serious evidence of Hamas’s “subversion” in Egypt, yet they have continued to manufacture charge after charge, rumor after rumor, and lie after lie, without any verification or proof. Indeed, what they wanted was not evidence, but to manipulate Arab public opinion to develop negative attitudes on Hamas and the MB movement, to justify the harsh and severe campaigns conducted by the regimes and their security-military apparatuses against the Islamists.
In this context, the ruling of the Emergency Court banning Hamas’s activities in Egypt and seizing its assets was a dismal and miserable example that damaged the image of the Egyptian justice system and the coup leaders in Egypt, especially when we learn that the court was not competent to consider the case, and that the evidence presented was nothing more than fabricated incitements by the media.
Those who preach Hamas about patriotism, do not tell the public opinion that the purpose of the pressure on Hamas is to force it to accept the conditions of the international Quartet for peace; firstly to recognize Israel, secondly to stop resistance or “renounce terrorism,” and thirdly to abide by the Oslo Accords and ensuing obligations to Israel. In other words, they are busy dragging Hamas to the peace process and to forfeit inalienable Palestinian rights, without themselves addressing the fact about their quagmire with the Oslo Accords and its negative consequences on the Palestinian issue.
Those who claim that Hamas has “violated” Palestinian legitimacy, and the need for the “straying son” to return to it, are trying to turn their eyes and the public opinion’s eyes blind to their selective approach in defining legitimacy.
How can Hamas have violated legitimacy when it was the party that won the overwhelming majority of votes in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections? Why has Abu Mazen and his supporters in Fatah blocked the work of the PLC for nearly seven years till now?
Why has Fatah not returned to the PLC to seek legitimacy for its governments in Ramallah since 2007 and to date?
Why does the same party continue to monopolize the PLO, and disrupt or undermine its representative, popular, and executive institutions? If Hamas is leading the government, and has the majority of seats in the PLC, then why would it need to carry out a “coup” against itself?
Some who tout the idea of the “straying son” equate the Palestinian Authority’s persecution of resistance forces and its security coordination with Israel to Hamas’s prevention of some Palestinian factions from firing their rockets on Israel and claim that Hamas “protects Israel’s borders.”
They are deliberately conflating between an organization based in essence on committing to the peace process and repressing resistance forces, and another based in essence on resistance, caring for resistance’s infrastructure, developing weapons for resistance, and allowing resistance factions to operate freely, with a proven ability to defend GS and strike the Israeli hinterland.
What Hamas is doing is nothing more than trying to coordinate resistance activities, shore up GS’s resilience, and provide better conditions for the development process under the blockade. Indeed, why would Israel reward Hamas for “protecting” its borders with a crippling blockade, military offensives, the assassination of its leaders, and the destruction of infrastructure, crops, and homes?
The secret behind the campaign against Hamas is that the latter has refused to be under the wing of any party or an instrument in its hands. Meanwhile, determining the party that has strayed must be on the following bases:
• The extent of its commitment to its principles and values, and not forfeiting its core tenets.
• The extent of its proximity to the masses, their concerns, and their aspirations.
• Its performance on the ground in the service of Palestine.
Certainly, Hamas, as a man made grouping, has mistakes, flaws, and weaknesses, but there is a huge difference between making a mistake and floundering on the correct path, or getting some things right when you are proceeding along the wrong path.
When one treads a realistic (not nihilistic) path in a hostile and complex environment, one may be forced to choose the lesser of two evils. One could expand its search within the circle of what is allowable, and one could search for the best environment to operate yet without finding an ideal one. What matters ultimately is for the compass to point in the right direction.
The Arabic version of this article appeared on Al Jazeera.net on 14/3/2014.