Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1236, (5 - 11 March 2015)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1236, (5 - 11 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Beyond mediation

Ahmed Eleiba examines the ramifications of Hamas being classified as a terrorist organisation

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On Saturday 28 February, the Cairo Court of Urgent Affairs ruled to designate the Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — as a terrorist organisation. On the basis of documents submitted, the court judged the movement responsible for bomb attacks in support of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood organisation that claimed the lives of both civilians and members of the security forces.

Hamas, said the court, engaged in such activities during the January 2011 Revolution and in Sinai, including involvement in the Karm Al-Qawadis attack.

A month ago a similar ruling branded Hamas’s paramilitary wing, the Ezz Al-Din Qassam brigades, a terrorist organisation. A year ago the same court classified the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, opening the way for the Administrative Court, in August 2014, to ban the Freedom and Justice Party (JFP), the Brotherhood’s political wing.

Commentators agree the verdict was the logical outcome of rulings issued against the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas, after all, is the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood. While organisationally independent from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas has a strong presence in the international Muslim Brotherhood.

It was extremely close to the Muslim Brotherhood when the latter took power in Egypt. A senior Hamas leader admitted his movement “benefited greatly” during the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule.

“Hamas realised that Brotherhood rule would not last but while the Brotherhood held sway in Egypt it greatly facilitated the process of obtaining arms from Syria,” he said.

In 2012 Hamas held two important elections in Cairo under the supervision of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau. The first saw Khaled Mashaal re-elected as head of the movement’s political bureau; the second involved the election of the group’s Shura Council.

At the time Hamas was suspected of involvement in the two Rafah attacks that occurred before the June 30 revolution. The movement was also thought to have been responsible for engineering the breakout of Muslim Brotherhood members from Wadi Al-Natroun prison and the escape of Hamas security official Aymen Nofel.

Samir Sabri, the lawyer who filed the suit against Hamas, told the press that the State Litigation Authority, which represents the Egyptian government, backed his petition to have the public prosecutor’s office list Hamas as a terrorist group. Sabri added that was now necessary to speak with the Foreign Ministry about how to follow up on the verdict abroad.

Hamas leaders criticised the ruling. The group’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zahri, described the ruling as “shocking and dangerous.” He said that it would serve only to remove the Egyptian regime from intervening in the Palestinian question.

“The court ruling renders Egypt unsuitable as a mediator in Palestinian affairs, especially the affairs of Gaza,” he said.

Taher Al-Nunu, advisor to the vice president of the Hamas political bureau, said the group would “not be dragged into Egypt’s judicial and political maze.”

The main channel for dealing with Hamas has long been the General Intelligence Agency (GI). A GI source who has been working on the Hamas file for decades told Al-Ahram Weekly that the security apparatus had long been troubled by Hamas’s policies, and its failure to abide by its commitments and broken promises. Hamas, he said, has long sheltered Egyptian fugitives from justice.

According to the source, Hamas repeatedly reneged on pledges to cooperate with Egyptian authorities. Following the 25 January revolution Hamas not only refused to hand over suspects to the Egyptian authorities but gave help to extremist groups in Gaza and Sinai.

“It knew every detail of the operations undertaken by the extremist groups and offered their members safe refuge after they had launched attacks. Egypt repeatedly handed lists of suspects to Hamas officials only for them to be ignored,” the source said.

According to another intelligence source, Egypt eventually stopped dealing with Hamas directly, preferring to work with Islamic Jihad, which showed more flexibility in cooperating with Egypt.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the day after the court issued its verdict against Hamas, Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Shalah arrived in Cairo. Deep mistrust of Hamas is one reason Egypt insists that PA officials must be present as a condition for reopening the Rafah border crossing.

According to a Palestinian source from Ramallah, Shalah is now working on an initiative that aims to alleviate the tension between Cairo and Hamas. The source said that Hamas should respond to the initiative, especially as the Egyptian government does not consider the ruling passed against Hamas a final one, even though it requires the Foreign Ministry to list Hamas as a terrorist group.

Professor of International Law Ayman Salama points out that, under UN resolution 1373 of September 2001, the Egyptian government is obliged to submit evidence of the involvement in acts of terrorism of any state or non-state entity to the antiterrorism committee created by the Security Council.

When this happens the committee brings the matter to the attention of the Security Council, which then determines what measures should be taken against the suspect state or entity.

Salama expressed certain reservations with regard to the performance of the Egyptian government on this matter. Although the Security Council anti-terrrorism committee had been in existence since 2001, the Egyptian government has not appealed to it, despite the fact that the Security Council has issued numerous condemnations of the terrorism in Egypt. The most recent was a condemnation of the slaughter of Egyptian citizens by the Islamic State (IS) group in Libya.

The international law expert also argued that the question of classifying an entity as a terrorist organisation falls within the realm of the executive authority rather than the judiciary. From this standpoint, the Egyptian government’s decision to ban the Muslim Brotherhood can be considered valid.

According to Salama, courts have no authority to discuss a matter that is subject more to political circumstances than to legal ones.

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