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Hamas and Morsi’s death

June 19, 2019 at 6:16 pm

People hold a portrait of the late former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in Istanbul, Turkey on 17 June 2019 [Onur Çoban/Anadolu Agency]

Hamas is fated to suffer every now and then from the dictatorship of geography that links it to its southern neighbour, Egypt. This forces means it pays the price dearly for every event or incident occurring in Egypt, good or bad.

Hamas expressed its joy at the victory of President Mohamed Morsi in the presidential elections in June 2012. The Hamas leaders in Gaza hung up his pictures, members handed out sweets, and its writers wrote articles praising and welcoming him, describing his election as a major victory for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamas’ welcome of Morsi’s victory did not stop at statements and congratulations. It was followed by Hamas officials visiting the presidential palace in Cairo and continuing to deal with the president as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood only, not as the president of the entire Egyptian nation. This put heavy burdens on the president and his government and ministerial staff.

Within less than a year, Hamas was dealt a harsh blow in the form of the coup against Morsi and his overthrow in June 2013. This was followed by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s rise to power. The movement had an emotional and impulsive reaction to this given its association with the Muslim Brotherhood, and it attacked the Egyptian military, held up Morsi’s pictures, condemned the coup, and considered it a stab in the back of the democratic path that began with the January 25th Revolution in 2011.

READ: The regime has prolonged President Morsi’s life with his death

Hamas paid the price for this position and its tax was expensive. The new leadership in Cairo closed the Rafah crossing, banned Palestinians from leaving the Gaza Strip, declared Hamas a terrorist movement, and issued various accusations and allegations without evidence against its leaders in every court.

Now, in June 2019, six years after Hamas’ tense relationship with Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi passed away while in custody, which has weighed heavily on the movement regarding how it should deal with such a major event. This is especially given the fact that it is still paying the price for past positions regarding Egypt. Today, it does not have much luxury in regional relationships, which is what caused it to issue a statement expressing its condolences hours after Morsi’s death, for logical reasons.

One can view Hamas’ position on the death of President Morsi on two levels: the official and popular levels. Hamas cannot absolve itself in the eyes of Cairo from the consequences of any unofficial positions that come from it. This expresses a maturity in the movement’s reading of political events and its ability to conclude lessons from past positions that have burdened the movement with their consequences and results.

The official position of Hamas was expressed in a meticulously drafted statement and through consultations between its various leaders inside and outside of Palestine. Hamas expressed its loyalty to the late president and mentioned his humanitarian and political positions towards the Palestinian cause in general and the besieged Gaza Strip in particular, without condemning the ruling government in order to spare it from paying political and security prices it can do without.

Obituary: Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first, democratic president

One of the important parts in Hamas’ statement issued after the death of Morsi is the part about his death occurring after a long career of struggle in the service of Egypt, its people and the nation’s issues, beginning with the Palestinian cause, on the regional and international levels, in the context of the long conflict with the Israeli enemy. The movement also noted that he gave so much in defence of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa since he was a member in the Egyptian parliament, and that Gaza will forever remember his eternal and courageous positions towards it, as well as his efforts to lift the siege imposed on it and confront the Israeli attack on it in 2012.

In continuing Hamas’ official position, the head of its political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, spoke with President Morsi’s wife and offered his warmest condolences following the death of her husband and recalled his positions towards the Palestinian cause, Jerusalem and Gaza at various points in his career. He also mentioned the daily phone calls between them during the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2012, and his constant action to stop the attack.

Other Hamas officials also made statements on this sad occasion. Head of the movement abroad, Maher Salah, said: “Morsi presented a unique example of steadfastness and courage in the support and advocacy for Palestine and its people. Jerusalem, Palestine and Gaza had a place in his heart and mind.”

Mousa Abu Marzouq, head of Hamas’ international relations office, said that “the future generations will remember Morsi for his defence of Palestine and that he befriended Hamas and opposed Israel.  We will never forget his positions in the Gaza war in 2012, nor his stance with Jerusalem and the resistance.”

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Mahmoud Al-Zahar, head of the political department in Hamas, said: “Morsi loved Egypt and Palestine and saw the Arab and Muslim nations united. He wished to pray in Al-Aqsa Mosque and felt great responsibility towards the Palestinian cause.”

As for the popular Hamas position, represented by its organisations, writers and unions, we can talk about wider spaces, including the publications flooding social media sites expressing condolences to Morsi, praising the Muslim Brotherhood, and attacking the Egyptian military. They also praised Turkey and Qatar for being the only two states that officially offered condolences to Morsi, and condemned Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are considered the main instigators of Morsi’s overthrow and the coup against him.

One of the most prominent Palestinian popular positions towards Morsi’s death was the fact that hundred performed absentee prayers for him at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the Association of Palestinian Scholars (APS) in Gaza, the religious body closely tied to Hamas, expressed its condolences to Morsi as the first democratically elected civilian president in Egypt.

People perform funeral prayer in absentia over the demise of Egypt's first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on 17 June 2019 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

People perform funeral prayer in absentia over the demise of Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on 17 June 2019 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

The Palestinians, especially the Hamas cadres, members and supporters, circulated the news of Morsi’s death on social media on a large scale, along with videos of him expressing his positions on Jerusalem and Gaza.

It has become clear that Hamas social media activists, bloggers and writers have not complied with the political considerations imposed on their leadership, which are understandable. This allowed the activists to let loose and flood the internet with words of praise and condolences, while hashtags such as #they_killed_him, #Mohamed_Morsi, and #Morsi_is_a_martyr.

It is worth noting that Hamas’ reactions, both official and popular, remained within the context of statements, interactive publications, and the performance of absentee funeral prayers in some mosques in Gaza, without these positions becoming actions on the ground, such as holding official wakes or solidarity marches. Moreover, the Hamas media outlets did not discuss the late president, instead reported news circulated by news agencies.

It is strange that the PA security forces banned wakes being held for Morsi in the West Bank, claiming that the situation of the Palestinian cause is fragile at the moment and it would not allow the compass to be pointed at national targets or getting carried away by secondary conflict.

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This is despite the fact that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had good relations with President Morsi when he was in the presidential palace, but as soon as he was forced out of the palace and into prison, he was subjected to harsh baseless accusations. This led Abbas to suffer a major attack from Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood members, who accused him of losing his sense of camaraderie towards Morsi.

Finally, the reading of these official positions of Hamas and its leaders on the death of President Morsi indicates that they walked in a minefield, which has made the movement very cautious in formulating its positions and issuing its statements. This is in an effort to act in a balanced manner, between appearing loyal to those who stood by them and went against Israel for their sake, and, at the same time, not antagonising the current ruling government in Egypt, which is waiting for Hamas to slip up at any moment, given the unstable relationship between them for years.

These are the same calculations that force it to closely monitor the events in the region silently, because it knows that voicing any position will force it to make apologies later and it can do without that.

In this situation, we can talk about what can be described as Hamas’ distribution of roles when dealing with this major event, i.e. Morsi’s death. The politicians have very narrow margins to manoeuvre within and are responsible for every word, position and statement. Meanwhile, the popular bases have wider margins, without censorship or limitations, and the Hamas leadership does not appear to be responsible for any publication or picture in the eyes of the current Egyptian government, as it is only held accountable for anything issued in its name and with its signature and nothing else.

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