One feature of the massive political pressure on Hamas, the leading Islamic movement and the most popular political force in Palestine, since it was elected to power earlier this year, has been the increasingly open enmity of both secular Palestinian forces, particularly the Fatah movement led by Palestinian “president” Mahmud Abbas, and of Arab rulers. Hamas has long hada exceptional position among Arab Islamic movements; while movements in Arab countries have been routinely suppressed, Hamas has been allowed a degree of publicity and credibility because of its position in the vanguard of the struggle against the zionist state, and because of the popularity of the Palestinian cause among Muslims.
There have, however, always been signs of disquiet in the Arab world that Hamas might be setting what they would regard as a bad example of militancy and steadfastness to people in their own countries, struggling not against zionist occupation and oppression, but against the repression and exploitation of Arab leaders. Palestinian movements have regularly had their activities curtailed in other Arab countries, for example when the Hamas offices in Amman were closed by the Jordanian government in 1999. Several Hamas leaders and activists were arrested and jailed on accusations of “terrorist” activities in Jordan, and Khalid Meshaal only escaped arrest because he happened to be in Iran at the time. (Or possibly because the Jordanians decided to act while he was abroad in order to avoid the reaction if they had arrested Hamas’s highest-profile and most popular political figure.) It was after this that Hamas’s offices moved toDamascus.
It is little surprise, therefore, that Arab governments should be as worried by the election of Hamas as Israel and the US, not least because the sight of an Arab people democratically electing leaders of their own choosing, and Islamic ones at that, is their most frightening nightmare. This is why we have suddenly seen accusations of links between Hamas and al-Qa‘ida, and the governments of both Jordan and Egypt accusing Hamas of involvement in terrorism in their countries, something that Hamas has denied and that no detached observer credits. The idea that Hamas, confronting the zionist state alone, with precious little support, would then open up new fronts with Arab states is ridiculous.
The Arab regimes have long been the West’s key allies against the rise of the Islamic movement in the region. It is not surprising to see them now joining in the West’s campaign to defeat Hamas, arguably the most successful and credible Islamic movement in the Arab world. It confirms yet again the belief that the first step in the liberation of Palestine must be the liberation of the Arab countries surrounding Palestine from the pro-Western regimes that rule them.