Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L, top) speaks to Muslim worshippers following Friday noon prayer at Al Azhar mosque, in Cairo.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L, top) speaks to Muslim worshippers following Friday noon prayer at Al Azhar mosque, in Cairo.

Cairo speech a symbol of Hamas's split with Syria

Gaza rulers moving closer to Egypt.

Hamas's Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, symbolically chose Cairo's Al Azhar Mosque, a spiritual and intellectual centre for global Islam, to declare Hamas had formally split with Syria, a former ally and once home to the Palestinian group's headquarters in exile.

Friday's declaration by Mr Haniyeh to thousands of Islamist supporters in the Egyptian capital, condemning Syria's bloody bid to quash an uprising against President Bashar Al Assad is perhaps the strongest indication of the group's realignment in a revolutionary Middle East.

"This is absolutely historic," said Walid Al Mudallal, professor of political science at the Islamic University of Gaza. "I think yesterday we witnessed the definitive split between the two."

Mr Al Mudallal and other analysts said Mr Haniyeh's comments not only confirm Hamas's rift with Syria and its revolutionary-Islamist allies - Iran and Hizbollah - it may also have cemented its repositioning in a Sunni Arab world of Islamist allies in Tunisia and Egypt empowered by the Arab Spring revolutions.

"I think it is only a matter of time before Hamas falls completely in the orbit of Egypt," said Mr Mudallal.

But until Friday, Hamas leaders had held back from venting their rage at the killing of thousands of pro-reform demonstrators by the regime of their sponsor, Bashar Al Assad, Syria's president.

They instead quietly dismantled their Damascus offices and sent staff packing for Cairo and the Gaza Strip, which the group controls.

Political observers attributed the silence to fear of angering Damascus, which gave Hamas over more than a decade lots of money, training facilities and shelter from Israeli warplanes.

That will be hard to replace.

But Mr Haniyeh tellingly praised Syria's opponents during Friday's speech as "the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform".

No Hamas official would dare be so outspoken unless the group had alternative allies and financiers, said Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian writer and analyst who lives in Amman and Jerusalem.

"Hamas has basically agreed to abandon its ties with Syria and Iran, and even the money they gave," he said.

"The money from Iran was already drying up, and Friday's declaration basically sealed that."

Iran gave Hamas hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Hamas is asking Gulf states, especially Qatar - one of the world's richest countries - for money.

Doha helped Hamas and Jordan rebuild relations after Jordan's King Abdullah II expelled the group in 1999.

There also is some speculation that Hamas may rebase its headquarters in Egypt.

It has taken a far more active stance on the Palestinian issue than the former president, Hosni Mubarak, who was criticised for aiding Israel's blockade on Gaza.

Egypty has given Hamas more support

In May, Egypt's ruling generals loosened travel restrictions at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

That also was when they helped broker a reconciliation between Hamas and its rival in the West Bank, Fatah.

But such a move could be costly for a cash-strapped Egyptian government relying heavily on US aid.

Washington, which is generous to Egypt for its peace treaty with Israel, considers Hamas a terrorist organisation.

Not until after Egypt's recently elected parliament takes power could it consider embracing Hamas, said Abdel-Monem Aly, director of the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

Although Hamas's outgoing leader, Khaled Meshaal, has toned down the group's stance towards Israel, it is still far from certain if Hamas would be accepted by Washington and the West.

This would probably require Hamas to recognise Israel's right to exist.

Mark A Heller, the principal research associate at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said Israeli leaders saw Hamas's changes as promising.

"We can try to clarify a bit more, but ultimately the same test that's been there and which Hamas has failed [up] to now is still valid," he said, referring to formal recognition of Israel.

hnaylor@thenational.ae
bhope@thenational.ae

Follow The National on @TheNationalUAE Hugh Naylor on @HughNaylor & Bradley Hope on @bradleyhope

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National