Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Hamas: What next?

When an Egyptian court ruled that the Qassam Brigades were a terrorist group, Hamas leaders lashed back. But what can they really say, asks Mohamed Gomaa

Al-Ahram Weekly

The 31 January ruling by the Cairo Court for Emergency Cases designating the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, as a terrorist organisation, did not come as a surprise. The ruling exemplifies the crisis between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas being part of the latter’s international network.

Before the decision, Hamas officials had expressed concern that Egypt was using its media to defame the Palestinian group. Now it is clear: Egypt is not throwing a tantrum but using all the force of the law to confront what it considers an assault on its security and sovereignty.

The court based its decision on evidence that included intelligence documents and the testimony of army officers. Courts designated to examine urgent matters preside over cases with the most immediate consequences, including those that threaten national security.

Hamas has been cited in other Egyptian cases, involving espionage and attacks on prisons to release detainees. Following the latest ruling, the indictment of specific Hamas members cannot be ruled out.

Hamas has dismissed the ongoing trials as a politically motivated legal circus designed to tarnish its reputation.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahhar told Al-Arabiya TV that the Egyptian court ruling “conforms with the Zionist-American designation, a result of the movement’s dedication to valiant resistance of which we are proud.”

Yehia Moussa, a Hamas member in the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Al-Qods Al-Arabi that the court ruling hade made Egypt “unfit to continue sponsoring the file of Palestinian reconciliation.”

Comments such as these reflect the growing isolation of Hamas. It is one thing to pick fights with the Israelis, or even with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, but alienating Egypt while attempting to hold onto power in Gaza is a tall order even for Hamas.

Hamas is in denial and refuses to recognise the validity of Egypt’s charges. Al-Zahhar, for example, claims that troubles across the Egyptian border were caused by “Fatah members” who “had dealings with Israel” and were “on the run.”

To understand the current dilemma several points must be kept in mind. Hamas is not immune to infiltration. The sons of several of its leaders have cooperated with the Israelis. The assassination of Yehia Ayyash and Said Siyam are cases in point. Hamas’s habit of blaming everything on “Fatah agents” is now a totally discredited ploy.

Smuggling via tunnels into Gaza continued unabated for seven years. Initially goods and people were involved but it soon mutated into the smuggling of arms. This informal economy, which led to connections with terrorist groups in Sinai, cannot be tolerated by Egypt and the resulting lawlessness had to be dealt with.

Jihadists will fill any vacuum left by governments. Hamas, which had a stake in building and operating the tunnels all these years, cannot be free from blame. The Egyptian government, too, is at fault for letting the situation fester.

Hamas knows perfectly well that the current situation in Gaza creates opportunities for extremism among its own members. It is no secret that many members of the Qassam Brigades have declared their hostility to Egypt and its new regime. Many Gaza men have joined the ranks of either Islamic State (IS) or Al-Nasrah Front.

As Cairo continues to single out Hamas as a group with a disruptive agenda, the balance of power in Gaza is likely to shift. Hamas may have to reconsider much of its policy, not only towards Egypt but also Ramallah.

It is unlikely that Hamas will dismantle the intelligence services it uses to keep control of Gaza. It is equally unlikely the Qassam Brigades will lay down their weapons or place them under the supervision of the PA.

Another war with Israel is one way out for the beleaguered Hamas. The only other alternative is to allow the PA a key role in Gaza by ceding control of crossing points to Ramallah officials.

If the current reconciliation deal with the PA goes through Gaza may find itself living under dual authority. Similar situations have happened before — in Jordan up to 1970 and in Lebanon up to 1982. The consequences were regrettable.

At some point Hamas leaders will have to make up their minds. Are they going to opt for endless revolution or are they willing to turn into statesmen?

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