Hamas heartened by apparent Mursi victory
Palestinians and Israelis react to the possible victory of Islamists in Egypt's presidential race, with Fatah and Tel Aviv left worried, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
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Palestinians carry trays of sweets and an Egyptian flag in front of a placard depicting Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Mursi in Gaza City
Palestinian Islamists, who closely followed this week's Egyptian presidential elections run-off, reacted with deep satisfaction to the apparent victory of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi over his secular opponent Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under ex-president Hosni Mubarak.
Prior to the elections, Hamas leaders commented tersely and diplomatically on political developments in Egypt, saying they were standing at the same distance from all political players in the Egyptian arena. However, it was clear beneath such words what party and candidate Hamas and other Islamist groups were favouring.
Hamas is the daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood and has always had umbilical bonds with the mother organisation. Some of Hamas's prominent leaders, such as Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, have been granted Egyptian citizenship, his mother being Egyptian.
The mother of the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Duweik, now imprisoned in Israel without charge or trial for his political activities, is also Egyptian, which qualifies him to obtain Egyptian citizenship according to recently amended laws.
Many Palestinian Islamist leaders also received their college and postgraduate education in Egypt.
In the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinian youths took to the streets to celebrate Mursi's apparent victory shortly after the Brotherhood's candidate appeared on television to claim victory in the presidential elections.
Others distributed sweets and exchanged calls of congratulation.
"This is a victory for Palestine as much as it is for Egypt. We hope that with an Islamist president at the helm of power in the biggest and most powerful Arab state, Israel will learn how to be humble a little bit," said Mohamed Amr, a Hamas activist in Hebron in the southern West Bank.
"This is really a political earthquake of historical proportions. This is the first time an Islamist president reaches power in an Arab country. The psychological and political effects and repercussions of this event will be tremendous and far-reaching," Amr added.
Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Moussa Abu Marzouk were the first Palestinians to congratulate the Muslim Brotherhood on their victory. The two leaders voiced hope that Egypt under Mursi would display a tougher stance towards Israel.
Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, hailed the elections as a "democratic wedding", saying he hoped Egypt would enjoy political stability and economic prosperity. He added that the Palestinian people were pinning a lot of hopes on the triumph of the Egyptian revolution.
Hamas has plausible reasons to be optimistic about the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood to the highest authority in the most important Arab country.
First, Hamas is certain that Egypt under Mursi would not bully or coerce the Islamist group, and the Palestinians in general, to accept deals with Israel against their will and convictions as was the case during Mubarak's reign when the Egyptian regime was consistently used -- by the United States -- as a hammer to pressure the PA leadership to give concessions to Israel. In fact, most Palestinians think that the Mubarak regime was a liability, not an asset, for the Palestinian cause. This fact was manifested during the genocidal Israeli campaign against Gaza more than three years ago (Operation Cast Lead).
Second, Hamas, which suffered immensely thanks to the Mubarak regime's efforts to strangle the Gaza Strip economically, even by building a deep concrete and steel wall along the Gaza-Sinai border, hopes that with Mursi as president, augmenting the Israeli blockade to Gaza by sealing the border crossings will be a thing of the past.
Third, Hamas hopes that Egypt will from now on link its commitment to the Camp David Peace Treaty to Israeli behaviour towards the Palestinians. Some Brotherhood leaders have made statements favouring such a linkage.
Fourth, Hamas hopes and possibly calculates that with an Islamist president, Egypt will show more understanding to Hamas's stance vis-³-vis its rival, Fatah.
In the past, it was generally thought that the Mubarak regime was biased in Fatah's favour in reconciliation talks under Egyptian sponsorship.
FATAH'S REACTIONS: The Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership has not officially commented on the outcome of the presidential elections in Egypt, perhaps because the results have not been announced formally by the proper authorities in Cairo.
PA officials in Ramallah said President Mahmoud Abbas would congratulate whoever becomes the president of Egypt.
However, the general feeling among low and mid-ranking Fatah leaders was one of consternation, even indignation, at Mursi's apparent victory.
A comment appearing on a Fatah Information and Culture Department's website claimed that the "Muslim Brotherhood's real face has been unmasked."
"We hope that the Egyptian people will elect the right leader, now that the depravity of the Muslim Brotherhood has been exposed, and that people are now frightened by the Brotherhood's hysterical desire to take control over all political institutions in Egypt, all at the expense of stability and societal peace."
The writer, Yehia Rabah, obviously ignored the fact that the Brotherhood earned, not arrogated, their electoral victories.
"The military institution is the only qualified party to which Egypt can be entrusted. It is the only guarantor of peace and security," Rabah added.
An anti-Islamist secularist, Rabah said Egypt would be in "safe hands" as long as the army kept its grip on the country, regardless of popular political forces.
"We must thank God for blessing Egypt with people [the military] who will uphold the trust, maintain security, protect Egypt's sovereignty and its vital role in the region."
Other Fatah leaders have expressed worries that the new Egyptian leadership will be more supportive of Hamas, which would enable the Islamist movement to enhance its overall status and position in the Palestinian arena.
Finally, the Israeli reaction to the apparent election of Mursi was quite grim and sombre, with one Israel lawmaker arguing that the "advent of the Islamists to the centres of power in Egypt is more dangerous to Israel than Iran's nuclear weapons."
Knesset member Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, a veteran Israeli politician and close friend to ousted president Mubarak, was quoted as saying that Israel has no choice but to talk to the Muslim Brothers.
Alex Fishman, a prominent Israeli political analyst wrote in the mass circulation daily Yedith Aharonot that Israel should now get accustomed to the disturbing reality of a hostile Egypt ruled by Islamists.
"An Egyptian regime under Islamic leadership will not be able to accept Israeli strikes in Gaza. The day when Mursi is in power and the [Israeli] air force strikes the Strip, possibly killing innocents, will also be the day marking the end of formal relations between Israel and Egypt."