Hamas responds to Egyptian hostility with dissimulation

Hamas responds to Egyptian hostility with dissimulation
In-depth: Hamas is reacting to Egyptian accusations and hostility with remarkable deference and apologies to the regime, to the point of dissociating themselves from their founding ideologies.
7 min read
23 March, 2016
Is this poster in Gaza an attempt to placate Egypt? [Twitter]
On Tuesday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Gaza is ruled based upon the "Palestinian perspective without any link to any other country or organisation."

In an interview with the Saudi al-Arabiya network, Abu Zuhri said that Hamas does not intervene in the internal affairs of neighbouring countries that it only operates for the benefit of the "Palestinian homeland".

He added that Hamas' political bureau acts in the interests of the Palestinian people who are "fighting for the return of their occupied land and their legitimate rights."

Abu Zuhri further claimed that while Hamas is ideologically affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, politically and organisationally it works only for the Palestinian people and not for anyone else.

"Resistance to Israel is our mission, it's the legacy that we inherited from Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. We will continue along the path of resistance in all its aspects, including the armed struggle," Ismail Haniyeh, said on the anniversary of Hamas founder's death, emphasising that that the organisation had no interests elsewhere. 

Sheikh Ahmad Yassin was deeply influenced by Muslim Brotherhood ideas while studying at al-Azhar university in Egypt.  He underwent a spell of solitary confinement because of his affilation with the group, an experience that he said "rooted the hate of injustice" in his soul.  Upon his return to Gaza, he set up the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood which later evolved into Hamas as we know it today. 
Hamas only operates for the benefit of the Palestinian homeland
- Abu Zuhri

Pragmatism or an about-face?

Yehya Mousa, Palestinian MP for Hamas in the Legislative Council told The New Arab that: "Cairo could play a major role in alleviating the reality of the siege imposed on the sector."

"Contacts between Hamas and the Egyptian regime have not been interrupted recently," but demanded that the Egyptian authorities work to open Rafah crossing.

Hamas political leaders have begun to sound like a broken record recently, continually repeating that the movement does not interfere in other Arab countries' affairs and are focused only on Egypt, and are now doing much to emphasise the successes of the talks in Cairo, despite reports from pro-government Egyptian media that reconciliation had failed.

Their emphasis on this message has even extended to removing images of the Muslim Brotherhood from posters in Gaza.

According to al-Shaq al-Awsat, a banner that showed the current and previous Emirs of Qatar, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, head of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh and the previous political chief Khaled Meshaal was removed. 

A new poster depicts a fighter with words reading "Hamas does not fight outside of Palestine, our aim is to liberate it."

Social media users have even speculated that the colour of the new poster are in keeping with the Egyptian flag and the dividing line in the poster being Rafah crossing. 

Signs and slogans relating to the Muslim Brotherhood, including the commandments of the spiritual founder of the group, Hassan al-Banna were also reportedly removed.

Yet while Hamas goes out of their way to attempt to rip away their ideological foundation, Egyptian media have remained largely unimpressed, reporting that the talks had failed, and repeating accusations that the movement was arming militant groups in Sinai.

Resistance to Israel is our mission, it's the legacy that we inherited from Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
Ismail Haniyeh

More than spilt milk

Despite Hamas' self-proclaimed disattachment from "big sister" Egypt, in fact political developments in Cairo have deeply impacted the Gaza Strip and the Hamas movement; the movement of people and goods across the Rafah crossing have dramatically decreased following the military coup after a massive improvement during Morsi's short tenure.

The Egyptian regime under Sisi has accused the movement of being behind just about everything in Egypt, from the assassination of Hisham Barakat, the Egyptian prosecutor, to supplying the Islamic State group with arms in Sinai to helping Brotherhood prisoners escape from prison to attacks on Egypt's Christian population.

Recently, Egypt systematically destroyed the tunnels that were providing a lifeline to Gaza, reportedly at the request of Israel – although President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas also tried to claim credit. In an attempt to appease Egypt, Hamas fired the body responsible for administrating the tunnels.

Egypt is also involved internally with Palestinian politics, clearly siding with Fatah in the conflict, especially the faction associated with former security chief Mohammad Dahlan, the former head of preventative security in the Gaza strip.

As Egyptian rhetoric against Hamas and Gaza ramped up, with Egyptian officials telling media outlets that they would like to bomb the strip, Fatah looked on admiringly; one official Ahmad al-Azzam said that he would like to ride into Gaza on the back of an Egyptian tank.

Such was the attitude shown by Egypt to Gaza, videos showed Bedouin communities from the strip improvising songs over the theme "Sisi is a zionist". 

Social media pushes back

"Give back our sons"...but who is it addressed to? [Facebook]
Following the abduction of four young Hamas members right outside Rafah crossing, in what many said was an action blatantly carried out by Egyptian security forces, this was also an issue of prominent discussion in the meeting, prominent Hamas leader Ahmad Youssef confirmed to The New Arab.

Also following the Egypt talks, large posters of the four kidnapped youths emerged in Gaza, using the Twitter hashtag "Bring back the kidnapped", which has been used to bring attention to young people.

Above the hashtag was "We want our sons to come home" possibly referencing Sheikh Ahmed Yasin's address to Israel in reference to Palestinian prisoners.

Were the posters an attempt to obscure Egypt's alleged involvement in the kidnapping – that Hamas were previously so adamant about – while placating Gaza's population with the message that the case is still one of priority for the movement?
Along with Saudi, the UAE holds great influence in Egypt, especially within the intelligence circles through Mohammad Dahlan
Schizophrenic rhetoric

Hamas leader Ahmad Yousef told The New Arab that Saudi Arabia was involved in facilitating the talks in Cairo. 

Yet Following a Saudi proposal last year for Hamas to meet Riyadh, pro-regime Egyptian newspaper al-Bawaba reported that: "Egypt told Saudi Arabia that it does not think of discussing any project that the Muslim Brotherhood is part of, and it will not accept even the proposal of such issue."

The report added that Egypt and the UAE insist on not allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to take part in any government of the Arab states and to impose heavy sanctions and surveillance on the movement.

Along with Saudi, the UAE holds great influence in Egypt, especially within the intelligence circles through Mohammad Dahlan, who was in Cairo at the same time as the Hamas delegation to help set up a new Syrian opposition party.

Thus, the meeting could be a desperate attempt by an increasingly desperate Hamas to improve relations with a hostile neighbour, or it could reflect wider regional realignments, or may be that the whole meeting is over-stated.

It is the first stop on Hamas' tour of multiple states during which they will likely attempt to drum up support and aid as they become increasingly desperate.  Despite their weak position, Khaled Meshaal is a diplomatic leader who has managed to sustain relations with rival powers, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.  

The attempt to appease them all may have lead to slightly schizophrenic rhetoric - Egypt and Iran being prominent examples - therefore we should possibly take their words and symbolic actions bearing this in mind. 

However, the attitude of Hamas leaders who are currently appealing in a rather odd way to a neighbouring dictator who is hostile towards Gaza is not reflected among many ordinary Hamas members and supporters.

In reaction to the increasingly apologetic tone adopted by Hamas, many of whom are changing Facebook profile pictures to the Rabaa sign, in reference to the massacre carried out by the Egyptian army which killed over 1,000 Morsi supporters.

If the Hamas political bureau continues on this level then this could also further widen the split between their military wing of the al-Qassam brigades who have a far less compromising attitude.  

It will remain to be seen if Hamas political leaders' increasing pragmatism and deference to the Egyptian military-backed regime will pay off by alleviating the disastrous siege on the Gaza strip.