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Who will inherit the soul of Hamas?
Saeed Naqvi
01 December 2012

In the recent Israel-Hamas spat, who won?

If the outcome inflates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support base for the January 22 elections, the mini war would have been well worth it for him. But that is not what the pundits are saying.

If the balance of power between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, shifts in favour of Hamas, because of the war, surely the Israeli Premier is not going to be overjoyed. Indeed, moderate pressure, even in the US, was clearly behind UN member states voting in favour of the resolution which upgrades Palestine’s status from "Observer entity" to "Non-Member Observer State". This is something Netanyahu does not like in the pit of his stomach.

Militarily too, Israel has not covered itself with glory killing 160 Gazans, mostly civilians, as compared with only half a dozen Israelis.

The mood in Gaza, battered though it is, remains positive. During the 2006 war with Hezbullah the Israelis were surprised that the supposedly invincible Merkawah (Chariot of God) tank had its own Achilles heel. Iranian technology exposed it during that war.

On this occasion too, Israeli anti missile technology, some of which was on sale to New Delhi too, failed to neutralize the Fajr missile Iranians enabled them to assemble. And these missiles did reach Tel Aviv. Neither side can bet on a secure future in these circumstances.

It is undeniable that, once again, the unintended consequence of the recent war has been an upgradation of Hamas’s resistance capabilities in popular Arab perception. That this has been possible because of Iranian military help is also a truth well recognized in the Arab street.

None of this detracts from the new found agility of the Emir of Qatar to have turned up in Gaza to douse the war flames. Such an effort has never been mounted from Gaza for a simple reason: travelling to Gaza requires Israeli coordination, something not easy to arrange.

For Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, this is a defining moment. He has leveraged his political, moral and logistical control on Hamas by persuading it to go along with the chorus to end the fighting. He has done so at a time when the secular opposition to him has stoked nationwide protest because it fears Morsi may be consolidating Muslim Brotherhood stranglehold outside constitutional provisions.

Morsi’s basic problem must be understood. His Party, the Muslim Brotherhood is, paradoxically, in conflict with Egypt’s cosmopolitan culture. Egypt’s culture is shaped by its own sense of antiquity, proximity to Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa. But its Islamic ideology has been shaped in opposition to oppressive authoritarianism.

Iran may offer an apt analogy. During the Shah’s autocratic rule, either the Communists in the form of Tudeh and Mujahideen e Khalq organized themselves underground or the Ayatullahs set up base in the only centres where some ventilation was available - the mosque.

Likewise, after almost half a century of authoritarianism, Egypt’s politics, reared in the mosques, cannot but be influenced by Islamic ideologues. But the cadre based organization of the Muslim Brotherhood must not be mistaken for the unorganized majority of whom the Coptic Christians constitute 20%.

What is going on in Egypt is something of three-legged walk: Morsi’s leg is tied to that of the liberal establishment. As soon as Morsi attempts to charge in the ultra Islamic direction, he is pulled back. The behavior of crowds at Tahrir square gives an idea how delicately Egypt’s quest for popular rule is poised.

Egypt is likely to remain in this phase of inconclusiveness until the Constitutional issues are out of the way. When the anti Mubarak protests erupted two years ago, there was a debate on whether a new constitution should precede Presidential elections. The Brotherhood pushed for early elections. For them, it made sense. Being the only cadre based party, they knew they had an advantage.

Even so, Ahmad Shafiq, interim Prime Minister when Mubarak was being wheeled out of the stage, upset all calculations by coming close to victory. If the group had organization, what might the result have been? It would therefore, be premature to conclude that there is a certain inevitability about the Brothers being at the helm for good.

While credit must be given to Morsi’s diplomacy in dousing the flames in Gaza, it must not be forgotten that a dozen Foreign Ministers visited Gaza in quest for a ceasefire. Ofcourse, the decisive visit was by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The game now is as follows: so far Iran, Syria, Hezbullah and Hamas were the "axis", forged at a time when Shia-Sunni differences did not matter. But with the emergence of the Brothers in Egypt, a section of the Hamas is drifting back to its origins - Muslim Brotherhood. Recently, Syrian intelligence expelled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal who was found helping the opposition to Bashar al Assad.

This leaves Hamas in a state of schizophrenia. If it is to be a resistance movement, it needs military help from Iran. But this route distances it, for the time being atleast, from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood whose ideological child Hamas essentially is.

Who will inherit the soul of Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood or the Palestinian Resistance? That question will answer itself as events unfold.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)