The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The future (or lack thereof) of Hamas in Syria

Good reporting from Tobias Buck in the FT on Hamas' predicament in Syria:

The Syrian leader is outraged that Hamas, a movement he has sponsored and nurtured for years, is refusing to back his regime against the uprising that started earlier this year. Relations are reportedly at breaking point.

Fearful of retribution, and alarmed by the collapse of order, Hamas has evacuated many of its lower-level officials from Syria. “We feel that the situation is very dangerous for Hamas in Syria,” admitted one Gaza-based Hamas official. “They [the Assad regime] are very angry with us, they want us to give support just like Hizbollah [the Lebanese Shia movement] did. But this is impossible for Hamas. The Syrian regime is killing its own people.”

Hamas leaders are keenly aware it can be dangerous to pick the wrong side. “No one wants to make the mistake that [former Palestinian leader Yassir] Arafat made in Kuwait,” said Mostafa Alsawaf, the editor of Alresalah, a pro-Hamas newspaper in the Gaza Strip.

Arafat backed Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, and after Iraq’s defeat Kuwait took revenge by expelling some 450,000 Palestinian expatriate workers. Syria is home to about 500,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants – a potentially huge target for retribution.

The article goes on to note that neither possible alternative headquarters for the Hamas leadership, Egypt and Qatar, are ready to take them in. But that might change, in time, since the movement has friends there.

Last week, flying back from a trip in Rome, I noticed a group of of men dressed in suits with closely-cropped beards and Syrian flag pins on their lapels. Some seemed to be bearing Turkish travel documents — not a passport, but the kind of documents a country might give people without travel documents from their own countries, like political refugees. They spoke Shami Arabic. I suspect they were Syrian Muslim Brothers visiting Cairo.

One thing you can give Hamas credit for (unlike Hizbullah) is that they took a courageous decision not giving support to Assad. It's a dangerous one as the Syrian regime gets increasingly desperate.