Is Hamas on the verge of bankruptcy?

Published December 16th, 2013 - 03:55 GMT
Two key historical allies of Hamas have also possibly fallen by the wayside. The relationships with both Iran and Qatar’s look uncertain in the future.
Two key historical allies of Hamas have also possibly fallen by the wayside. The relationships with both Iran and Qatar’s look uncertain in the future.
Making friends when you are an isolated Islamist government is hard at the best of times, and at times like these, it's even harder. The Arab Spring has shifted the priorities of Middle East nations and pushed Gaza to the back of the political agenda, writes Sam Morris.

Isolated and alone, the Hamas government in Gaza has lost nearly all of their external support, and internally they are attempting to keep a lid on any disquiet. The wave of optimism felt in the tiny enclave after Muhammad Morsi rode into power in Egypt must now feel like a distant memory. Morsi never fulfilled the promise that was expected from Hamas' Muslim Brotherhood cousins. Now with the once ruling party being hounded out of Egypt, Hamas has to look elsewhere for support.

Two key historical allies of Hamas have also possibly fallen by the wayside. The relationships with both Iran and Qatar’s look uncertain in the future.

The breakdown in the Iranian-Hamas relationship is due to the stance taken by Hamas over the conflict in Syria. Iran has been supporting the Syrian government and is now backing Bashar Al-Assad to the hilt. Hamas, however, have taken a stance against the Syrian government, who once viewed themselves as defenders of the Palestinian cause. While their external headquarters were based in Damascus, Hamas received significant funding from Iran but Khaled Meshaal, the external leader of Hamas, effectively severed Hamas and Iranian ties when he decided to leave Damascus and bring an end to their relationship with the Syrian regime.

In this matter, certain voices seem unrepentant. In a recent speech, Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of Hamas, was quoted as saying, “(Hamas) does not regret nor does it apologize for honourable positions, just to placate others,” quite obviously alluding to Hamas’ position on the Syrian issue. This shows a failure of simple diplomacy. When you have few friends, don't look a gift horse in the mouth.  

The fact that Gaza is now far down the list of priorities for Iran further complicates the issue for Hamas. Both Syria and the nuclear negotiations are more of a priority to Tehran; it is up to Hamas to push themselves back up Iran's agenda. Khaled Meshaal planned to visit Iran on October 14, to rebuild their relationship, but the response has been rescheduling. Iran is obviously not willing to rebuild their relationship just yet. Especially since President Hassan Rouhani appears to want to push his image as a pragmatist and a partner that the West can work with, meaning more reason for Hamas to feel isolated.

Financial pressure is now on Hamas. It is claimed that due to Egypt's crackdown on Gaza's now famous tunnels the economy is losing $230 million per month. Since Hamas monitors what is brought in through the tunnels and takes its cut in taxes, this would have hit the organisation hard. If you had visited some of the tunnels that pop up on the Gazan side of the border you could have seen groups of Hamas policemen waiting for supplies to arrive. These days it seems the arrival of goods are few and far between.

In October Meshaal made his third visit to Turkey since September 2012. No doubt to gain financial support from Erdogan, as Hamas is struggling with its finances but also since it is rumoured that he is out of favour in Qatar.  

Since Meshaal left the Syrian capital he has been spending most of his time in residence in Qatar, which has proven to be a supporter of Hamas. They have pledged hundreds of millions towards infrastructure projects and the then Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, even visited the Gaza strip. However, the Qatari leadership has changed. The way that Mishaal has been attempting to visit other countries may suggest that Hamas is out of favour with the new Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and he is looking to relocate. This would be reminiscent of Hamas’ previous experience in Jordan, where the death of King Abdullah II’s father resulted in the relocation of Hamas to Damascus.

However, last year when Sheikh Tamim was still crown prince, he and Meshaal made an official visit to Jordan. Meshaal’s first since he left Jordan, undoubtedly aided by Qatari mediation. Maybe the relationship between Sheikh Tamin and Khaled Meshaal will hold for these reasons.

While Hamas are feeling the pressure abroad, they also have to keep an eye on the situation at home. The birth of The Tamarod Gaza movement, which has taken inspiration from the Egyptian namesake that ultimately toppled Morsi, must be of concern to the Hamas leadership. Tamarod have called for mass demonstrations on November 11, the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death. The popularity of Hamas in the Gaza strip has steadily declined since 2007. There is visible anger at their heavy-handed tactics. Young Hamas recruits are even called “Zenana”, the Arabic word for the Israeli drones that fly overhead daily, outlining their view of them as all but mindless lookouts. As Gaza’s infrastructure continues to crack, dissent will continue to grow. The UN’s report on Gaza claimed that if the situation stayed the same, the strip would be unlivable by 2020. Something has to change.

Ultimately, the Tamarod movement in Gaza will fail. If there is one skill the Hamas have honed since coming to power, it is ruling with an iron fist. However, the Tamarod and the noticeable attention it is getting from Hamas proves more cracks are beginning to appear for Hamas as the Gazan economy feels the strain of the relentless Israeli blockade and step up in Egyptian tunnel closures.  

Hamas have been playing the waiting game over the past few years. At first this strategy seemed strong. Wait it out, watch the popularity of Fatah wane in the West Bank and hope that theirs increased. Even if this sacrificed their popularity at home. However, like almost all Middle East analysts, Hamas could not have predicted the so called "Arab Spring.” Now stripped of support, unpopular on the ground in Gaza and financially weakened, Hamas look to be in trouble.

 By: Sam Morris
Sam Morris is Project Director of The Next Century Foundation and has recently spent time in Gaza.  

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