Monday, October 12, 2009

Gaza is cracking open

This past Saturday, Hamas and a group of Al-Qaeda loyalists clashed violently in Gaza.

What I find most interesting about this is the following: that both sides were from the same clan. This means that within one notable family we had essentially a splinter group of Salafi Al Qaeda supporters, despite the obvious benefits of sticking with Hamas when one lives in Gaza. Why is this? True Salafi religious fervor? (To be honest, I doubt it.) Perhaps the notion that Al Qaeda could get more done against the Israelis? A power struggle within the family? It couldn't have been a simple attempt to overthrow Hamas--or if it was, it was one of the stupidest things I think I've ever heard.

Hamas has managed more than any other recent governing authority in Gaza to break down clan power as well as dominate and control the other violent organizations present in Gaza. Clearly, they won this one, so nothing has changed too much--but why did this happen in the first place? What did "the sheikh" think he had to gain by declaring loyalty to Al Qaeda?

This Daniel Levy piece from 2007 has a lot to say on the subject. A sample:

There is a battle, both ideological and physical, taking place within the world of political Islam. Hamas have been targetted and criticized by Al-Qaeda. Most notably AQ number two, Ayman al-Zawahri, went after Hamas after it agreed to participate in Palestinian parliamentary elections and again after the Unity Government deal with Fatah. On both occassions Hamas were rejected as apostates and their actions as kufr - an abomination to Islam, they had sold out to the 'Zionists and the Great Satan'. All this does not automatically make Hamas a partner, but it certainly begs the question and demands a serious exploration of the alternatives. AQ is a franchise and any Gazan mutation if it gains a foothold, will threaten Palestinian and Israeli society alike.

He was commenting on the excellent piece "Jihadist Groups Fill a Palestinian Power Vacuum", which suggests that Hamas's control over Gaza has been weakening for some time. What is so ironic about the whole thing is that the deteriorating situation in Gaza is a result of the unrelenting embargo. The embargo was intended to weaken Hamas, but weakening Hamas is not actually, and never was, the most important goal. Without Hamas, no one rules Gaza, and no one can stop these groups. And yet even last year the American administration failed to understand this:

Bush administration officials say they are increasingly concerned that Hamas and even more radical groups may be hijacking the Palestinian movement. [...]

Mr. Taha’s fears are remarkable because of who he is: not a secular campaigner or a Fatah apparatchik, but a senior member of Hamas. In the violent underground of the militias, men like him have become unlikely moderates, calling for calm and seeking to build bonds with the other militias and the government.

Except that their status as moderates is neither unlikely nor surprising: it is obvious and to be expected. They have always had an interest in governing--and, of course, in maintaining their power--and so equilibrium, calm, and a controlled monopoly of violence has always been in their interest. Why this is so impossible for the West to understand is beyond me at times.

So it seems that the sheikh threw his lot in with the radical trend. Unfortunately for him, he misjudged the situation; Hamas still controls Gaza enough to take out someone like him, particularly when he makes rash statements and particularly when he is a member of a Hamas-loyal family, to which he was essentially a traitor.

A last note: the comments on the Ynet article are unpleasant. Should you click through, you've been warned.

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