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Hichem Karoui: Hamas, Hizbollah & others…
June 11, 2011
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Could Hamas influence Arab uprisings? On March 10, 2011, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed concern that Iran is using its relationship with Hamas to influence the uprisings in the Middle East. She stated, “We know from our intelligence reporting, from anecdotal reporting, our embassies, our political officers that everywhere Iran can take advantage, they’re going to, either directly or indirectly through proxies like Hizbollah and Hamas… You’ve got Hamas right on the border of Egypt. You have absolutely every reason to believe that with Iran now supporting Hamas that they’re going to be in there trying to figure out what they can do to influence the outcome.”

Some days before (March 2), Hillary Clinton testified in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing that Iran is using its relationship with Hamas to influence the uprisings in the Middle East. She stated, “[the Iranians] are using Hizbollah, which is a political party with an armed wing, to communicate with counterparts in Egypt, in Hamas, who then in turn communicate with counterparts in Egypt. We know that they are reaching out to the opposition in Bahrain.”

It is not clear what Clinton means by “influencing the uprisings in the Middle East.”  The connection between Hizbollah and Iran is acknowledged as based on confessional solidarity (i.e. between Shiites). But the connection between both of them and Hamas is of a different kind, since Hamas is a Sunnite Islamist organisation.

So far, unlike Iran and Hizbollah, Hamas has not interfered in Arab and Muslim countries, nor did it lead military operations outside Israel and the occupied territories. Therefore, why should this basic stance change today? Will Hamas act as a “proxy” for Iran in Egypt, whereas the new Egyptian regime is trying to make a different approach of the relations with Iran, with the risk of undermining these efforts to the disappointment of Iran? It does not make sense. Nor Hamas is known to maintain a solid connection with the Shiite Bahraini opposition that may induce the assumption that it is able to intervene on behalf of Iran and influence the events out there.

As for Libya, the situation does not need more meddling either from Hamas or other parties to be tragically chaotic. In Tunisia, Hamas has never had the least influence. This country has always been popularly and politically acquired to the PLO. The only people that may today be tempted to support Hamas are the Islamists of Rashid Ghannoushi’s Nahdha. Still, Hamas is more in need of external support than the Islamists of Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere. And one just cannot see what kind of “influence” Hamas could exert on them “on behalf of Iran!” The only country that was open to Hamas is Syria, since its political bureau was officially based there. Here too, it seems absurd to assert, without the least evidence, that Hamas could — with the help and support from Iran — try to “influence the outcome” of the uprising. For which side?

Historically speaking, it is quite the opposite that has always happened, insofar as it concerned the Palestinian national resistance movement. All the Palestinian organisations that have been, at one moment or another, hosted by an Arab state, have been actually under its influence. This fact may be deduced and evidenced from a simple comparison between the stances of any given Palestinian organisation and the official stances of the hosting state over a determined period of time.

For instance, if we recall the policy led by Ahmed Shuqayri under the regime of Abdel-Nasser in the fifties of the previous century, we would easily understand why Fatah emerged in Kuwait in the sixties and why it opposed Shuqayri-Nasser’s policy concerning the Palestinians and claimed a new autonomous representation. If we compare the stances of Fatah (Arafat) with those of the PFLP (George Habash) and the DFLP (Nayef Hawatmeh), and Fatah (Abu Nidal), we would find evidence that much of their controversy was caused and nurtured by the controversy between the Arab capitals that support each of them. Just look at what happened since the ousting of the PLO from Beirut in 1982.

Arafat and his lieutenants were hosted in Tunis, where the regime has always claimed never to interfere into their affairs. Maybe it did not; yet, why did Arafat wait until he was in Tunis to start peace talks with the USA (helped then by the US ambassador to Tunis, RH Pelletreau Jr.) and subsequently with Israel? Why was he “unable” to do so during decades in Beirut? Pay attention: I do not say, the Tunisians have pushed him, just as I don’t say the Iraqis “pushed” Abu Nidal, or the Syrians “Hamas” and others. However, it seems odd enough and too big a coincidence that each time, a Palestinian organisation had to fall under the “spell” of its host and behaves exactly as he wishes. No, they don’t receive orders. But they receive friendly support whenever they act as theirs hosts wish them to act.

So, in my view, Hamas cannot influence ongoing uprisings and current politics in the concerned Arab countries, and much less if it tried to do so “on behalf of Iran.”

Actually, why Iran? On what grounds Secretary of State Clinton has founded its declaration?

Maybe because on January 4, Tehran Times reported  a statement by the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament Ali Larijani saying, “it is Iran’s policy to fight against the global arrogance and support the oppressed, so we say openly that we back Hizbollah and Hamas.”

Some days later, on January 24, Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) reported that Iran’s acting foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi met with Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal, Head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command Ahmad Jibril and Deputy Secretary General of the Islamic Jihad Movement Ziyad Nahala. Salehi said, “Resistance is rooted in the region.”

Yet, even if these news reports were accurate, it is really hard to imply that Hamas is henceforth acting on the orders of Tehran to influence events in the Arab world the way Iran wishes them. To do this, Hamas should have, first, an acknowledged weight in the domestic politics of these countries, which is far from being proved, so far.
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The author, an expert on US-Middle EAst relations, is based in Paris
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