Hamas and the ‘Arab Spring’
The Gaza leadership has also benefited from the so-called Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt. Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, were great PA supporters, Hamas detractors, and enablers of the Gaza Strip siege. The Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in Egypt’s legislative and presidential elections and the opening of the Gaza-Sinai crossing at Rafah were all good news for the Gaza leadership.
Following Mubarak’s overthrow, the tunnel business exploded, creating an “economic boom” for the Strip. According to a September 2011 World Bank report, GDP growth within the Gaza Strip reached 28% in the first six months of 2011. This financial boon has primarily benefited Hamas, while the Palestinians of Gaza remain dependent on foreign aid.
In late 2011 and early 2012, Ismail Haniyeh left Gaza for the first time since 2007 and embarked on two regional tours that included stops in Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, Tunisia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.
Not all aspects of the Arab Spring have, however, been good for Hamas. For more than a decade, Hamas’ political bureau was based in Syria. As a result, the Syrian uprising has been a particular thorn in the movement’s side. Hamas would like to maintain its relationship with the Syrian regime, which has supported and welcomed the group when almost all other Arab regimes closed their doors. Hamas also does not want to lose Iran’s backing, its largest patron and supplier of money, weapons, and training.
While some senior Hamas officials have supported the Syrian revolution. Hamas has officially taken a neutral position. The movement has supported the rights of the Syrian people while neither condemning nor directly opposing the Syrian regime. The group has even attempted to mediate the crisis on several occasions, and has encouraged Syrian President Bashar al Assad to undertake immediate reforms.
Popular backing for the Syrian revolution among Palestinians in the OPT and diaspora has stopped the Hamas leadership from clearly advocating for a ‘political solution’ to the conflict, as has been done by Hezbollah and requested by the Syrian regime.
Because of the ongoing conflict, the Hamas leadership in Damascus did leave the country. Its members are now scattered between several locations, including Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar. Hamas ties with Syria and Iran have not, however, been broken.
Senior Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, visited Iran in March 2012 followed by a visit from Hamas foreign minister, Mohammed Awad. Visits by Hamas officials to Iran suggest that both sides have reaffirmed their strong times and overcome any differences they may have over Syria.
Hamas: Radical Changes?
Along with its withdrawal from Syria, Hamas’ current rapprochement with the Gulf States has been viewed as a further step toward political moderation. The Islamic movement has long had a long record of relatively warm relations with the countries of the Gulf. This relationship has entered a new period of consolidation and closer rapprochement linked to the revolutionary processes in Egypt and Tunisia and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood desires recognition from the international community, especially the United States, and views Western imperialist governments as potential partners in consolidating its power. This has created a new situation in the region that presents Hamas with a novel set of political options.
The group is banking on improved relations with the Brotherhood-controlled Egypt, which could potentially bring the movement more international support. As such, there are risks that Hamas may put the demands of the international community over those of the Palestinian people, following Fatah’s path.
At the moment, Hamas is adjusting to new regional realities and recalibrating its internal political structure. Any changes within the group are not likely to be radical. The movement does, nevertheless, face a number of challenges. Its main challenge comes from the shift away from resistance for the sake of political power. In order to survive, Hamas must rethink its priorities before it suffers the same fate as Fatah. This can only be achieved by listening to and empowering the Palestinian people. The group must also reconnect the Palestinian national movement with the ongoing popular protests in the Arab world to reinforce the Palestinian struggle against Israeli and Western imperialism. Without taking these measures, the future of Hamas and the Palestinian cause face substantial risks.
* Joseph Daher holds a Master’s of Science degree in Middle Eastern Politics and is currently writing his PhD thesis and working as an assistant teacher in Lausanne University in Switzerland. He is an activist and has contributed articles and writings to several newspapers and websites. He is also the co-author of the book “The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions”, and the co-founder of the blog Cafe Thawra and Syria Freedom Forever.
 Voting for the political bureau takes places only after elections for the majlis el shura in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as among Hamas members in the Diaspora and those within Israeli prisons.
 The idea is similar to the two-state solution, despite the difference in wording.
 Hamas agreed on use of the term ‘popular resistance’ in the 2006 National Conciliation document. Article 3 of the document upholds “the right of the Palestinian people to resist and to uphold the option of resistance of occupation by various means and focusing resistance in territories occupied in 1967 in tandem with political action, negotiations and diplomacy whereby there is broad participation from all sectors in the popular resistance”. “National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners[Wathiqat al-Asra],” Jerusalem Media and Communications Center, 28 June 2006.
 Khaled Meshaal has moved to Qatar.