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  • Hamas and the Contagion of Democracy
    Mon, 23 January 2012
    Elias Harfoush

    It would be easy to place Khaled Mashal’s desire to step down from the leadership of the Hamas movement within the framework of the contagion of democracy that is currently infecting the Arab World, and particularly Islamists movements in it, of which the Hamas movement is considered the most cherished child. Indeed, this contagion, which has infected Hamas’s political stances since the beginning of the season of political spring in the Arab World, making what was forbidden yesterday praiseworthy today, is apparently the same one that is driving Abu Walid (Mashal) to choose to return to the movement’s institutions, i.e. to the democratic choice which has been ruling Hamas for 16 years without anyone asking or being asked about such a choice. The least that can be assumed is that this is a call for the movement’s institutions to head towards a public internal referendum on renewing his mandate, with the aim of reaching consensus, as opposed to the mechanical secret renewal that used to take place previously.

    Yet what Hamas is going through is more than a discussion about the personality of a new leader. It is a discussion about the direction to be taken in the future and the options available under the pressure of the changes taking place on the Arab scene, of which the Palestinian scene represents a reflection. Indeed, what was available to Hamas in the past, during the period that characterized Khaled Mashal’s leadership of the movement, is no longer available today. Neither is Damascus today the Damascus of 1996, when Mashal assumed the post of Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, nor is Gaza the same as it had been, after Israel imposed a ceasefire in the wake of the 2009 offensive, one which breaching today would come a massive cost. In fact, the language of the conflict is no longer the one that prevailed in the days when the Islamic Resistance boasted of defiance and resistance as the sole path to liberation.

    The language today is one of heading towards reconciliation with the Fatah movement, after all the pretexts for past disagreements over strategic orientation have fallen. Indeed, Hamas under current circumstances is no longer able to gauge Abu Mazen’s stances as “surrender”, while its leadership in Gaza disassociates itself from any rocket fired against the occupation, even if it merely scratches the surface of the sand at the border.

    In light of this, one can understand the recent stances taken by Khaled Mashal, in which he calls for supporting “peaceful popular resistance” and preparing to “give a chance” to negotiations with Israel – stances about which the least that can be said is that they represent a radical reversal of the approach taken by the movement, which used to consider the talk of Fatah leaders about negotiation opportunities to be tantamount to national treason.

    Furthermore, Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip report about the discussions that have recently taken place within Hamas that Mashal was among those who praised the pragmatism of Islamist political parties in the way they have been dealing with the changes in the region, particularly in the case of Tunisia and Egypt. He was also one of those who called for more serious steps being taken towards achieving reconciliation with Fatah and with Abu Mazen – reconciliation which it seems the keenness of Hamas leaders in Gaza to preserve the gains the current state of division had brought them was responsible for obstructing, nothing more and nothing less.

    Yet one cannot speak of Abu Walid’s desire to step down without pointing to the news that has been circulating about recent disagreements between him and Syria’s leadership, under the impact of the events there. There are also reports of attempts and recommendations made on his part to this leadership which have fallen on deaf ears. There are even those who speak of leadership doors being closed to the Syrian capital. And if one adds to all of this Mashal’s praise of the success of the revolutions in other capitals, it becomes logical to conclude that his desire to step down at this point in time means more than a sudden tendency to adopt the democratic approach within Hamas.

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