June 1, 2016

Hamas Seeks a New Patron

The emergent winner of the Arab upheavals of 2011 is Sunni Islamism. This is reflected most centrally in the election results in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood and the more extreme Salafi trend have won a landslide victory. Arab Sunni Islamist regimes are set to emerge in the period ahead as factors in the regional contest for power.

The emergence of regimes of this type is bad news for the West, but it also represents a setback for the main enemies of the West in the Mideast — namely, Iran and its allies. The rise of Sunni Islamism has implications in the Palestinian arena.

Hamas is currently seeking to exit the Shia, Iran-led bloc in the direction of Sunni Islamist power. Meanwhile, Iran is focusing on its solid link with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement as an alternative to the dying alliance with Hamas.

Over the previous decade, Tehran had hoped to unite Islamist and anti-Western forces in the region behind its banner, and thus to emerge as the main challenger to the U.S. This ambition contained a fairly obvious flaw: the Iranians are Shia Muslims and non-Arabs. They were hoping to lead an area consisting overwhelmingly of Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims. The rise of Arab Sunni Islamism to prominence and dominance in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and perhaps soon Syria casts a spotlight on this contradiction.

This has placed Hamas in a decidedly uncomfortable position from which it is now trying to extricate itself. Hamas is an outgrowth of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. Yet over the last decade, it had also become a card-carrying member of the Iran-led regional bloc. The movement’s leadership was domiciled in Syria, the long-term Arab ally of Iran. Iran provided money, weaponry, and training for Hamas’ sovereign Gaza enclave.

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About Jonathan Spyer

Dr. Jonathan Spyer is Director of the Rubin Center (formerly the GLORIA Center), IDC Herzliya, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2010) and a columnist at the Jerusalem Post newspaper. Spyer holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master’s Degree in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. His reporting on the war in Syria and Iraq has been published in a number of major news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Times, Weekly Standard and many others. His blog can be followed at: http://jonathanspyer.com/.