How and why Hamas lost popular support in Egypt
Two writers from Al Monitor and a close analysis from Al Ahram on how the (actual or perceived) actions of Hamas in Egypt and Sinai have caused a step decline in Egyptian support for the Islamic Resistance Movement.
A delighted Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas PM of Gaza, meets President Morsi on his visit to Egypt in July last year. Back in Gaza he said he was convinced Morsi would open the border between Gaza and Egypt. He was mistaken. Photo by AP
By Daoud Kuttab, Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse
July 03, 2013
Hamas stands to be the major loser in the latest popular revolt in Egypt, which pits millions of Egyptians against now deposed President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Islamic Resistance Movement, known for its Arabic acronym Hamas, a year ago welcomed Morsi’s election. Both Hamas and Morsi ideologically belong to the same Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, although there is no organizational link between the two groups. In fact, contrary to conventional thinking, Hamas and the Morsi administration have had a rocky relationship despite their ideological closeness. Many Egyptians accuse Hamas of responsibility for the killing of 16 of its soldiers in August 2012 near the Gaza-Egypt border. Egypt’s government-controlled al-Ahram observed as late as April that Egyptian support for Hamas was declining.
Reports that some 7,000 Hamas militants were in Egypt to support the Brotherhood circulated in the media despite persistent denials by Egyptian as well as Hamas spokesmen. Like Hezbollah, Hamas is accused in Egyptian courts of engineering the jailbreak of several senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Morsi, in 2011.
Egyptians also believe that Hamas members have been the key source of instability in Sinai. In April, Egyptian soldiers and officers were abducted there, and Hamas was accused of involvement. Although Hamas denies the allegations, they persist, putting Hamas officials on the defensive.
When opponents of the Morsi regime announced mass protests demanding Morsi’s resignation, anti-Hamas sentiment escalated with rumors that Hamas militants would be infiltrating from Gaza to help keep Morsi in power. The rumors caused the Egyptian government to ratchet-up its efforts to close the Rafah tunnels between Gaza and Egypt to control the movement of people and to put the rumors to rest.
Despite these efforts, the rumors implicating Hamas in propping up the Morsi regime continued to circulate, prompting additional Egyptian attempts to close the tunnels and restrict movement, a process that is causing severe shortages in the blockaded Gaza Strip.
Whatever the truth regarding Hamas’ involvement or lack thereof, perceptions in the streets and squares of Egypt put the Hamas movement in the same corner with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Because of this, now that Morsi has fallen, one of the first groups to pay the price will be Hamas.
This comes at the worse possible time for the Islamist movement, which recently lost its base in Syria and financial support from Iran as a result of its decision to oppose former ally and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and join the rebels in trying to bring him down.
Even friendly Qatar might discontinue its political and financial support of Hamas. The change in leadership in Doha, with the transfer of power to Prince Tamim, is said to be the result of a yet undeclared policy to moderate Qatar’s foreign policy. When the pro-Qatari Islamist ideologue Yusuf al-Qaradawi traveled to Egypt this week, he went out of his way to point out that he had not been deported from Qatar.
The fate of Morsi and Hamas have been linked, and the coming days will determine the fate, for years to come, of the Palestinian Islamist organization that has held the Gaza Strip under its sole control since 2007, refusing every opportunity for reconciliation or elections.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab
By Mohannad Sabry, Al-Monitor
July 02, 2013
CAIRO — As millions of protesters converged on the streets of Egypt on June 30 to peacefully yet boisterously demand the downfall of Egypt’s first elected president, Mohammed Morsi, deadly clashes broke out in several spots across the volatile nation. Around midnight, the Muslim Brotherhood’s international headquarters, located in Cairo’s upscale Moqattam district, was in flames.
The six-story building declared as the Muslim Brotherhood General Center in 2011 — after decades of underground operations and being hunted down by Hosni Mubarak, Anwar Sadat, and Gamal Abdel Nasser’s security — was attacked by dozens of rock- and Molotov cocktail-hurling protesters. The attacks ensued despite the obvious security precautions taken by the Brotherhood youth over the past week: they covered the building’s windows with street-war like sandbags, chain-locked the gates, wielded their weapons and bunkered inside.
As massive clouds of smoke blew out of the iconic Guidance Bureau of the worldwide organization, the movement’s disciplined, listen-and-obey youth continued to fire live ammunition at the assaulters. No more Brotherhood reinforcements arrived at the burning headquarters, and armored vehicles of the Interior Ministry stood watching from a distance, a clear message that the police would no longer protect the ruling clique.
Eight anti-Morsi protesters were killed by live bullets, mostly to the head and neck, and more than 35 were wounded by live rounds and birdshot. Calls for blood donations to the battle-neighboring hospital continued to circulate social media websites for hours. How the Muslim Brotherhood fighters evacuated their positions remains unknown, but one of them was caught by protesters trying to escape and was brutally stripped naked and stabbed before reaching the police station in critical condition.
Certain that the office-turned-barracks had been abandoned after hours of deadly fighting, opposition attackers and random angry passersby raided the building, and looted everything they came across. Stacks of confidential Muslim Brotherhood documents were photographed and set free to virally circulate the Internet. One document listed millions of dollars of financial gifts and grants made by Qatar’s Prime Minster, Emir Hamad Bin Jassim Al-Thani, to top Brotherhood and Morsi administration officers.
The authenticity of the document was never confirmed but the incident was definitely reminiscent of raiding the clandestine fortress of Hosni Mubarak’s State Security in March 2011; the freshly obtained Muslim Brotherhood leaks will virally spread for weeks.
Surprisingly, thousands of devoted Brotherhood members holding their sit-in a few miles away didn’t mobilize to protect their sabotaged minaret. Top officials like Khairat El-Shater, the organization’s most influential financier and deputy chairman, did not order their subservient youth to march in defense of either Islamic Sharia or political legitimacy, as they once did in December 2012 when they attacked an opposition sit-in at the east Cairo presidential palace, leaving a dozen protesters dead.
“They are in a state of shock, serious and unprecedented shock,” a sacked Muslim Brotherhood official who worked with both Morsi and El-Shater told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.
“They underestimated June 30, but it turned out to be a surprising blow that paralyzed their plans,” said the source who insisted on hiding his identity fearing Brotherhood retaliation amid the ongoing instability. “After months of undermining the opposition and people, no one could imagine the numbers and momentum of protests, and accordingly no one had a backup plan.”
The former Brotherhood official says the movement fears a disastrous post-Morsi future. “They will be hunted down and sent back to prison, by law for crimes committed during Morsi’s year in power, or in a state of lawlessness that the country will turn a blind eye on because of widespread and apparent hatred. They are coming to realize that they will reap what they sowed.”
“The developments were too fast, so that they didn’t have a chance to flee the country, like Mubarak’s officials who jumped ship early in January 2011,” the source said. “The military and police apparently locked Egypt up and Islamists are now on a turf that definitely doesn’t belong to them anymore, despite Morsi, who is now in a palace that doesn’t obey him, more of a temporary lock-up.”
Such anti-Morsi developments are not only limited to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
The powerfully strategized, multibillion-dollar organization with its deep-rooted divisions in almost every country in the Arab and Islamic world and its worldwide businesses, either official or clandestine, is not fighting for Egypt’s presidential seat: It is fighting for an eight-decade global legacy that will imminently suffer the aftershocks of the popular quake jolting its murshid’s [supreme guide’s] historical fortress in Cairo.
“This is a major element in the Brotherhood’s calculation and this is their greater battle,” retired Col. Khaled Okasha, a security analyst and former head of North Sinai’s Civil Defense Department of the Interior Ministry, told Al-Monitor.
“The Egypt command, which is the only global command, has always been the source of power to all sub-divisions in other countries,” added Okasha. “If the Supreme Guide and his Cairo bureau are hit hard by Morsi’s downfall and all of the current situation’s political and social consequences, they will become nothing but a counselor to the international divisions that will then start working independently according to their pure domestic circumstances.”
“Egypt’s presidency, the biggest win in the Brotherhood’s history and the recently yet internationally recognized political umbrella for the Brotherhood worldwide, will be gone with Morsi leaving office.”
Okasha disputed that Morsi and his Islamist cronies will suffer exceptional oppressive measures after their much anticipated ouster. “Such exceptional oppression requires a decades-strong dictatorship like Mubarak’s, which you cannot build in a few weeks. That dictatorship was brought down in January 2011.”
“This orchestrated fear is mostly Morsi’s last card to maintain his supporters’ morale. The Brotherhood is leading a smear campaign against every scenario involving Morsi’s downfall.”
Legally, Okasha believes, the Muslim Brotherhood officers including Morsi, in case of his resignation, will stand dozens of trials that could extend for years, a scene very similar to Hosni Mubarak, his sons and regime members.
Over the past week, unconfirmed reports of Egypt’s Islamist figures on travel ban lists and Qatar demanding the departure of Youssef Al-Qaradawi, the influential Muslim Brotherhood cleric, have shed some light on repercussions that might possibly hunt the Muslim Brotherhood wherever they are. The Gaza Strip’s Hamas Movement, the closest of the Middle East offshoots to the command in Egypt, stands first in the line after Morsi and the Guidance Bureau, and is desperately trying to avoid the looming domino effect.
“Hamas’s popularity in Gaza and Egypt continues to sink because of their shameless interference in defense of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi and creating animosities with almost every non-Islamist power in Egypt. In addition to politics, the relations between the peoples of Egypt and Gaza were negatively impacted,” said Ahmed Ban, a researcher of Islamist movements who heads the Political and Social Movements Unit at the independent Nile Center for Strategic Studies.
“Hamas should hastily apologize to the Egyptian people and attempt fixing what it broke by interference in Egypt, if that’s possible, and if the situation worsens, it could be a start to the gradual end of Hamas’ rule over Gaza,” Ban told Al-Monitor.
“Moreover, the 80-year cartel imposed by Egyptians on the global Supreme Guidance in Cairo and the Guidance Council will be ended, possibly moved to another country, and accordingly limiting the majority of direct supply, political endorsement and the post-January 2011 refuge for Hamas.”
Signs of Hamas’ worsening situation have also surfaced in the past week. On June 30, Egypt’s military deployed tanks at the Gaza border; the first appearance of Egyptian tank divisions in Sinai’s military-free Zone C since the Israeli withdrawal in 1982.
The exceptional deployment was ordered by the military shutting down the underground Rafah tunnels feeding Hamas’ armed militias with weapons and other logistics, and it coincided with the arrest of three different groups of Hamas armed members in different locations around Cairo on the same day, one the detained groups occupied an apartment close to the destroyed Brotherhood Cairo headquarters.
“They are in the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood’s battle to defend what remains of their temple, a battle viewed by Hamas as their own,” said Okasha, the retired colonel. “Morsi and the Brotherhood’s rule was a special, unprecedented win for Hamas, I don’t think they will rethink their position and withdraw from the scene at such a critical moment.”
As soon as the Egyptian military stepped in and declared a 48-hour ultimatum for Morsi to satisfy national demands, the sacked Muslim Brotherhood member reached out to Al-Monitor.
“The military just opened a less disastrous exit for Morsi, but he won’t take it,” the source said. “The Muslim Brotherhood is too blind to realize how weak its cards have become.”
Hours later, a presidential statement rebuffed the military’s clear warning.
Mohannad Sabry is an Egyptian journalist based in Cairo. He has written for McClatchy Newspapers and The Washington Times, served as managing editor of Global Post’s reporting fellowship Covering the Revolution, in Cairo, and contributed to its special reports “Tahrir Square” and “Egypt: The Military, the People.” On Twitter: @mmsabry
Why is Hamas losing its popularity among Egyptians, asks Ahmed Eleiba
April 24, 2013
Those who follow Egyptian public opinion can easily detect a harshly negative tone towards the Palestinian factions, especially Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since it imposed its control there in 2006 and has helped to entrench Palestinian divisions. Relations between Egypt and Hamas have fluctuated since then, with the regime of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak enforcing collective punishment against the Palestinians to the extent that Cairo was accused of tightening the siege on Gaza even more than the Israeli occupation itself.
However, following the ousting of Mubarak in the 25 January Revolution, relations with Hamas warmed significantly, and Egyptian intelligence successfully concluded a landmark prisoner-exchange deal between Hamas and Israel under the auspices of the former ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Since last year’s election of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, relations between Egypt and Hamas can be described as a “strategic embrace”, with both groups sharing similar origins.
Discord in Palestine may have caused important strategic repercussions for Egypt, which has shouldered many burdens because of its historic role in the region and its links to the Palestinian cause, acting as its defender in the most difficult situations. This was the case even during Mubarak’s rule, which some Palestinians say was not as bad as some have claimed. According to Moussa Abu Marzouq, deputy-director of Hamas’s political bureau, Omar Suleiman, the former director of the Egyptian General Intelligence service, was a “patriot who assisted and aided the Palestinian resistance”.
Yet, Egypt is still paying a high price for trying to close Palestinian ranks, something it has been trying to do for the past five years. The rift has also led to Egypt’s constructing a refugee camp in Rafah for those fleeing Hamas’s rule and for supporters of the head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Agency Mohamed Dahlan. Although the number of refugees has now dropped, the camp is still a headache for the Egyptian army, and Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein told Al-Ahram Weekly that the camp was the responsibility of Egyptian sovereign bodies and not of Hamas or the Brotherhood.
Since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, Hamas has been perceived as co-responsible for some of the lawlessness that has occurred in Egypt. According to some opinion polls, many Egyptians believe it has become a burden on Egypt, with the group being transformed from being a “thorn in Israel’s side”, as former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon once described it, into being one in Egypt’s side.
It has turned Egypt into the gateway out of the prison that Gaza has become as a result of the Israeli siege and the rift among the Palestinians. Cairo also rejects Hamas’s view that Gaza is “liberated” and not occupied territory, because if this were so the responsibility of governing it would likely be transferred to others, notably Egypt.
A long list of accusations has been made against Hamas, including the security threat represented by the underground tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. A special government department was created under the Hamas government in Gaza to collect revenues of more than $7 billion every year, according to estimates by Egyptian intelligence, as a result of traffic through these tunnels. The latter have developed into a way out from the Israeli siege, with black-market trading leading to the smuggling of commodities such as petrol and diesel fuel, cars and household products, and even jihadists and Egyptian military uniforms.
Major-General Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, a military expert, said the use of Egyptian military uniforms by criminal elements had begun when members of the Al-Nasser Salaheddin Brigades were involved in the Eilat attack in August 2011, one year before the more recent attacks in Rafah. The perpetrators wore the uniforms of Egyptian officers, and when Israeli forces pursued them, believing them to be Egyptian soldiers, they killed five Egyptian soldiers, mistakenly thinking them to have been among the perpetrators. After DNA testing, it was discovered that the culprits had been Palestinians, including Kamal Al-Nerb and Emad Hammad, and not members of the Egyptian army.
These accusations are not arbitrary, according to Samir Ghattas, director of the Maqdes Centre for Palestinian and Israeli Studies, because there is clear evidence of Palestinian involvement. The Egyptian authorities arrested Hamas leader Ayman Nofal, who entered Sinai once the border with Egypt had been opened, along with hundreds of other Palestinians who were released within weeks. Nofal remained behind bars, as he was a leader of the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades. While he was acquitted in court, Egyptian State Security did not release him, and he was only freed when the prisons were unlawfully opened at the beginning of the revolution.
Youssef Abu Zohra, brother of Hamas leader Sami Abu Zohra who died in an Egyptian prison, and Lebanese Hizbullah leader Sami Shehab were also arrested in Egypt when they entered the country via the tunnels from Gaza.
Hamas has also not surrendered the killer of Egyptian soldier Ahmed Shaaban, who was killed during an attempt to storm the border at the beginning of January 2010, even though Egyptian investigators have identified his killer. The Hamas government has barely cooperated in the ongoing investigations into last year’s Rafah massacre, although leads indicate that the perpetrators came from Gaza and were connected to the jihadist and Salafist Momtaz Daghmash group, which has Hamas’s blessing. The aim was to steal Egyptian armoured vehicles in order to kidnap Israeli soldiers along the border at Karm Abu Salem.
Anti-Hamas sentiments among Egyptians began after Shaaban was killed and some days after an admission by Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, a member of the group’s political bureau, to Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper that Hamas was smuggling weapons through the tunnels. Shaaban was killed as he stood on duty on the border, signalling the breaching of Egypt’s sovereignty by Hamas. The act also raised questions about the smuggling of weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip and vice versa, these being used in operations against Israel even if Egyptian soldiers were killed.
According to Ali Bakr, an expert on the Islamist groups, for the jihadists confronting the Egyptian army is no problem since they view themselves as fighting the enemy, Israel, even if innocents are killed. Some of their fatwas (religious edicts) have gone so far as to say that victims from the Egyptian army are legitimate targets because they guard the border with Israel and thus are “guarding the enemy”. Bakr said that such edicts sanctioned attacks on the Egyptian army by jihadists who adopt the same approach in Sinai.
The freeing of Palestinian prisoners in Egypt during the 25 January Revolution also appears to have been pre-planned, with these being smuggled through the tunnels to Gaza in record time. This made many Egyptians believe that Hamas had had previous experience in penetrating Egyptian political locations and that it had been involved in much of the lawlessness in Egypt during the post-revolutionary period. Though subsequent investigations have tended to vindicate Hamas, this has not altered many people’s perceptions.
The tunnels also brought many Palestinians to Egypt who purchased land from the Sinai Bedouins as well as homes and plots in Arish during the transitional phase when the army was distracted from its task of ensuring the country’s security by its new task of running the country’s domestic affairs. According to Hossam Al-Shatni, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, many Palestinians do not want to settle in Sinai because many of them already have homes in Rafah and Arish. According to military sources, possible Palestinian acquisition of land was the main reason behind the law regulating land purchases in Sinai, since Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had previously served as head of Military Intelligence and had detailed knowledge of the matter.
Al-Zahhar’s admission regarding arms smuggling through the tunnels has not been the only one of this sort, and the smuggling of arms has now reached record levels. More than 200 arms-smuggling operations have been stopped in Sinai by Egyptian forces, with shipments heading to the Gaza Strip from rugged mountainous regions of Libya and Sudan. A source in Hamas’s internal security told the Weekly that the weapons were sometimes disassembled in order to pass them through the tunnels, especially the heavier weapons, and there were even mobile workshops adapted for this task.
In the past, the army has ignored some of these operations in cases where the arms are passed from homes in Rafah into the tunnels leading into Gaza and evading Israeli spy satellites. Many of these smuggling operations were successful even before Israel’s last war on Gaza that mainly targeted the weapons stockpile smuggled into the Strip after the Egyptian revolution. This war ended in a truce between Hamas and Israel brokered by Egypt, with the latter assuring the US that it would play an effective role in ending the weapons smuggling into Gaza in return for a sustained truce. The army is now closing the tunnels by redirecting sewage through them, causing them to collapse.
According to Lieutenant-General Hossam Kheirallah of the Egyptian General Intelligence, the operations to shut down the tunnels which the army is currently expanding are not based on the four-way agreement with Israel, which only requires the army to stop arms-smuggling operations and confiscate weapons. What is happening today, he said, had also been triggered by the widespread smuggling of the Egyptian military uniforms that the jihadists continue to use. Egyptian police and the army in Sinai have also now built defensive points throughout Sinai in order to combat the lawlessness there, especially after some Palestinians were recently arrested with maps of areas that continue to be targeted by jihadists.
Also on the list of Egyptian accusations against Hamas is the belief that the Egyptian officers who have been missing since the revolution, namely Captain Mohamed Al-Gohari, Captain Sherif Al-Maadawi and Lieutenant Mohamed Hussein are alive and being held by the Hamas government. Al-Gohari’s wife Doaa Rashad expressed this belief in an interview by saying that a mediator has informed her that her husband was alive and in Gaza.
The three officers went to Arish during the revolution and on 28 January were ordered not to return to their posts at a roadblock but to stay in their hotel in the city. According to eyewitnesses, on their way home on 4 February the officers were ambushed by masked men in the vicinity of Midan at the western entrance of Arish. The men stopped their car with automatic weapons and kidnapped them after setting the car ablaze. The car was found four days after the incident near the kidnap location.
While such accusations against Hamas have led to distrust of the group among many Egyptians, others have tried to justify the group’s posture regarding what they view as a planned and systematic campaign by the Egyptian media against Hamas. Abdel-Rahman Al-Barr, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, told the Weekly that Hamas would never harm Egypt’s national security or be involved in operations against its army. He cited the example of the elections to the group’s political bureau that took place in early April under the supervision of Egyptian intelligence, saying that the latter would never have agreed to play this role had Hamas been involved in anything harming Egypt’s national interests.
“I object to the accusations of Hamas breaching Egypt’s national security,” said Major-General Alaa Ezzeddin, former director of the Armed Forces Strategic Studies Department. “It is in Hamas’s interests that relations with Egypt remain strong and close. There is the problem of the tunnels, which is now being dealt with. The reason these remained open is because Egypt did not want to be part of the Israeli siege of Gaza, thereby avoiding an explosive situation which Egypt would suffer from before anyone else. We do not want to work against the Palestinian cause, but we must bring matters under control, which is what we are doing now,” he said.
Osama Hemdan, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, told the Weekly that “weunderstand the nature of the campaign in Egypt and the political conditions that have triggered this campaign to distort the role played by the group. We owe Egypt a lot, and we will be patient. We are also covertly supporting the investigations into the Rafah massacre, though we do not need to reveal this to the media.”
Leading Brotherhood figure and correspondent for Hamas’s Al-Aqsa Television in Cairo Ahmed Sabie told the Weekly that “the media campaign is a plot against President Morsi to distort the public image of the regime and not just Hamas and the resistance factions. Time will show that there are Israeli agents inside the country who are behind this campaign because Israel benefits from it. It was said that Hamas was ready to defend the Brotherhood, but when the Brotherhood’s headquarters in Muqattam were attacked, not a single Hamas member was arrested there or during any other incidents. Hamas should not replace Israel as the country’s enemy.”
Yet, some Palestinians believe that they should not be blamed for Hamas’s mistaken policies, and not all Palestinians are happy with Hamas. “Many Palestinians living in Egypt try to hide their origins,” said Mohamed Abu Shaar, a Palestinian employee at a Palestinian media outlet in Egypt. “Many of them claim to be Jordanian in order to avoid Egyptians hurling accusations at them.”
“This is strange because the Egyptian street was much more sympathetic to us under Mubarak, with many people scorning the Brotherhood now that the latter group has come to power. Because of the Brotherhood’s relationship with Hamas and its sympathy towards the Palestinian cause, we are being targeted,” he said.