It is no secret that Hamas was happy for Dr. Mohammad Morsi to win the Egyptian presidential elections. The source of most of its regional strength lies in Cairo, allowing the Islamic Resistance Movement to live through a “honeymoon” period after the fall of the Mubarak regime, which was hostile towards it.
Hamas believed that it had found the perfect alternative after losing its refuge in Syria due to its support of the revolution against the Assad regime. Having a base in Damascus for 10 years was due to mutual interests with the regime in terms of their hostility towards Israel, despite religious differences. Hamas’s gradual movement to a number of Arab capitals, including Cairo, was based on a combination of interests with intellectual and ideological compatibility, especially since Hamas considers itself to be the legitimate offspring of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Perhaps the best evidence of the shift in Egypt towards support for Hamas came with President Morsi’s historic meeting with the movement’s leadership in the presidential palace very soon after his election. This would have been unheard of during the previous regime, when Hamas officials were even prevented from entering Egypt.
It was after this that many in Hamas realised with certainty that Egypt became the Gaza Strip’s backyard, not the other way round. The Rafah Crossing is now busy with hundreds of its members able to wander around Egyptian cities, while Gaza has welcomed dozens of Muslim Brotherhood delegations. This has provided Hamas with the brief opportunity to believe that its “Golden Age” in Damascus has been replaced by a “Diamond Age” in Cairo.
However, that has been short-lived as Egypt’s president has faced a growing counter-revolution. He has been accused internally of imposing Brotherhood ideals on the state, so-called “Ikhwanifying the country”, and from abroad of “embracing Hamas”. Suddenly the Islamic Resistance Movement has become a bit of a liability for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. A number of Brotherhood members have hinted to Hamas that it should make itself scarce on the Egyptian political scene.
Hamas is now in a position of trying to build links with other sections of the revolutionary movement in Egypt, including the secularists, left-wingers and nationalists. The Palestinian group was embarrassed last August when 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed in an attack the blame for which was laid at Hamas’s door, despite the movement’s denials and condemnation, and offer to support Egypt’s security forces investigating the incident.
Paradoxically, when Hamas was sidelined by the former regime its stock was high with the Egyptian people; now that the Muslim Brotherhood is running the government, Hamas can sense that its previously strong support on the street is falling.
Nevertheless, Cairo’s open embrace of the Hamas political leadership by holding the movement’s internal election in Egypt last week has reassured it that decision-makers in the country are not going to disown it completely. This is not necessarily due to any love for the movement but because Morsi’s Egypt is not so naive that it will allow any other regional power to hold the Hamas card close to its chest.
In addition, it is clear from media statements that Hamas supports Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and any threat to the leadership in Cairo is a threat to the Islamic Resistance Movement. This is very provocative as far as the other political groups are concerned so, naturally, they drag Hamas into political disputes in Egypt.
Hamas needs to understand that as the elected de facto government in the Gaza Strip it needs to develop and maintain cordial relations with the government in Cairo, regardless of its political make-up, and be ready for any political changes in the future. That’s how governments work and Hamas needs to engage with the Muslim Brotherhood’s opponents if it is to prepare for any political eventuality. The big question is: can it, and will it, do this?