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Hamas: Opportunities and risks in a volatile region

April 1, 2015 at 11:40 am

Since the beginning of March of this year, Hamas has conducted a series of political phone calls in various diplomatic directions. Head of the Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal met up with the Iranian Parliamentary Chairman Ali Larijani where the two men discussed the Palestinian issue and the siege on Gaza. Meshaal then gave his condolences to both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, for the loss of his mother, and Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei, for the death of his sister.

However, the relationship between Hamas and Iran has yet to return to normal; Iran has yet to ssure Hamas that it will provide it with the financial and military support it needs to improve the quality of life in the Gaza Strip. The main reason for this is that Iran is still placing certain preconditions on Hamas despite the fact that Hamas has made many concessions in Iran’s favour in recent months. Hamas has publically praised Iran in many national ceremonies and has even sent letters of condolences to the country expressing their regret for the deaths of Iranian leaders in Syria. Yet, Hamas’ attempts have done very little in terms of giving the group what it wants by means of financial and military support.

Although the current relationship between Hamas and Egypt is not at in its best state, the Egyptian government filed an appeal on a verdict issued by the Cairo Criminal Court, which designated Hamas as a “terrorist group”. The decision to go forward with this verdict has had several negative consequences on Egypt, primarily when it comes to its regional role. Therefore, the appeal is an essential step which is needed to repeal this historical sin made by Egypt.

It appears as though the Egyptian government’s decision to repeal its classification of Hamas as a terrorist group was a political decision and this is due to Egypt’s desire to keep the Palestinian card in its hands because it affords Egypt the chance to play a strategic role within the region. Perhaps the Egyptian government has realised that it would not be in its best interests to antagonize Hamas should it want to maintain its claim over its prized position in the region. Hamas has expressed its belief that the Egyptian government has made a mistake that needs to be amended and that it seeks to repair the bilateral relationship between both parties. Moreover, Hamas also emphasised that it does not and will not interfere in the internal affairs of any other Arab country, especially Egypt.

A paradigm shift in Hamas position toward Egypt occurred when a statement was made by one of Hamas’ prominent leaders whereby he announced that the organisation was looking to build a good and stable relationship with the Egyptian regime regardless of its political orientation. These changes in Hamas’ attitudes toward Egypt imply that the organisation has turned the page and moved on from the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood’s return to rule. Hamas has yet to implement any of these sentiments on the practical level simply because the Egyptian government is intent on controlling the entire country. In fact, the Egyptian government has asked Hamas to take a firm and rational political stance, which would be embodied by its cooperation with al-Sisi, rather than an emotional and ideological one.

One of the factors that can be attributed to easing the tensions between Hamas and Egypt is said to be Saudi Arabia’s decision to pressure Cairo following Al-Sisi’s visit to Riyadh. During his visit, Al-Sisi listened to Saudi Arabia’s demands to ease Egyptian restrictions on Hamas mainly because Saudi Arabia has entered a new political era and no longer considers Hamas a terrorist group. Saudi Arabia’s re-classification of Hamas as a Palestinian resistance faction has encouraged the organisation’s leadership to announce that there seems to be a Saudi shift on the horizon.

Saudi Arabian circles have yet to deny or confirm reports speculating that there is coordination between Hamas and Riyadh because Saudi politics like to work away from the media. Yet, Hamas sees Riyadh’s approach as a satisfactory development and the two parties are not in a hurry to issue press statements, which may sour the relations that are currently being conducted on the backburner, especially since Saudi Arabia feels the dangers of Iran approaching its borders after the Houthi takeover in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has been committed to the formation of a “Sunni Axis” that would be strong enough to confront the “Shiite Tide”. All of these factors will more than likely reshape the dynamics in the Middle East in a way that would work against Iran.

If Saudi Arabia succeeds in making Hamas a cornerstone in its axis, they will then pull the trump card from under Iran because of how Hamas is viewed in pan-Arab public opinion. Hamas, as a movement, has confirmed that it is not in anyone’s pocket and that it does not establish relations with any single party at the expense of another therefore confirming that it seeks to establish balanced relations with all countries.

Finally, the obstacle that may stand in the face of Hamas and its struggle to return to normal relations with Iran is not only Tehran’s regional expansion and presence in Syria, Iraq and finally Yemen but also Saudi Arabia’s decision to carry out a series of air strikes against Houthi hotspots in Yemen. Therefore, Hamas finds itself torn between the many intersections of regional polarisation in the region: Should it go to Tehran while it continues to hug Turkey and Qatar and converge with Saudi Arabia? This would not be acceptable in the language of alliances and Hamas may risk losing the support of one camp as it seeks to gain the favour of another.

Translated from Felesteen newspaper, 30 March, 2015

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.