The Failed Gamble of Khaled Meshaal

AbuKhalil’s recent post on al-Akhbar is concise and worth reading in full:

It would be fair to say that Khaled Meshaal is one of the biggest casualties of the Arab uprisings. Early on, Meshaal appeared more arrogant and more self-confident than usual. He had his reasons: the sponsoring Qatari regime was on the offensive and it seemed to be leading the entire Arab League and the Arab counter-revolution. Saudi Arabia was absent from the scene for much of 2011 and 2012, or so it appeared. Secondly, the Muslim Brotherhood reached power in Egypt and Tunisia and he received a hero’s welcome in both countries. Thirdly, the statement that was attributed to him in al-Quds al-Arabi in 2012 to the effect that he was willing to switch sides against Iran, contingent on finding an alternative financial sponsor, seemed to have sent the right signals that he and his organization were for sale to the highest bidder. Fourthly, the Syrian regime which had provided shelter to Hamas appeared to be in its last days; statements about the ultimate demise of Bashar were being made on a weekly basis. Fifthly, the Turkish regime was in ascendancy and some argued that Turkey was destined to lead the Arab world again, for the first time since the end of the Ottoman Empire. Sixthly, Saudi Arabia expressed willingness to forgive Hamas for its anti-Israeli sins provided it forswears its relationship with the Iranian regime.

For that reason, Meshaal led Hamas in its most major political shift since its founding. The man who said that he was relinquishing power in the leadership of the movement suddenly changed his mind. He started his dance by signaling his break with the Syrian regime and by publicly expressing disagreements with the Iranian government over Syria. Suddenly, the man who never uttered a word of sympathy in favor of the Egyptian people during the long years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule (when his movement dealt directly with the head of the secret police, Omar Suleiman, who was assigned to deal with Hamas, presumably on the behalf of Israel), started to express sympathy for the Syrian people. But Meshaal never spoke on behalf of the oppressed Syrian people during his long years of alliance with the Syrian regime. Worse, his foreign policy dances on Syria were far from being principled or categorical: He never came out clearly and specifically against the Syrian regime, while he (and others in the movement) only spoke in vague and convoluted terms about “supporting the Syrian people.”

When Ismail Haniyeh visited Egypt and spoke in a language that was interpreted as supporting the Syrian armed opposition, his formulations never went beyond the vague language of Meshaal. Yet, what was most significant about the euphoria that characterized Meshaal’s performance, was the official and unprecedented subordination of the movement within the larger body of the mother organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. That was the miscalculation of Hamas because Meshaal and his comrades calculated that the rule of the Ikhwan was here to stay, and that the region has just entered the era of the Ikhwan. That was not meant to be, and the change in Egypt and the rising opposition in Tunisia shifted the grounds under the Ikhwan from the Maghrib to the Gulf, where the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (with the exception of the retreating rulers of Qatar) led an official campaign against the Ikhwan movement and its supporters in all GCC countries.

Nevertheless, the stance of Meshaal did not receive a consensus within the leadership of Hamas. The military wing of the movement, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and their political allies, like Mahmoud Zahar, did not approve of the policies and steps that were taken by Meshaal. They continued to make it clear that their alliance with Iran and the “resistance camp” supersedes the new alliances of Hamas. That wing never severed its ties with the former allies, but Iran was compelled to end its generous aid program to Hamas. (The Iranian regime looked for new Palestinian allies, and (what is left of) the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine started to receive Iranian military and financial support despite the declared (past?) Marxist-Leninist ideology.)

The political dreams and the satisfaction by Meshaal from his Walid Jumblatt-like shifts all came crashing once the Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi regime removed the Ikhwan regime by force. To make things worse, Qatar had a change of emir and retreated into a role that is more subordinate to the Saudi regime. The Syrian regime (for a variety of reasons and not only – as simplistically indicated by John Kerry and Western media – due to the Hezbollah and Iran’s support) strengthened its position on the ground and Syrian armed opposition fragmented further. Hamas became more isolated.

In the last few weeks, various pro-Syrian regime media have reported that Hamas has been eagerly begging its way back to the “resistance camp.” It will be a humiliating reversal (or reversal of the reversal). Will this reversal cost Meshaal his job? Will Haniyeh be seen yet again kissing the hand of the chief clerical producer of sectarian language in the Middle East? Or will Iran and Hezbollah forgive Meshaal’s “sins” in return for a new role in the Middle East – a role that is not confined to the Arab-Israeli front?

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