The Islamist frenzy that is currently sweeping the Arab world has seen Hamas rise to become a legitimate and recognized player in the Palestinian and international arena.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh last week began a tour of a number of Arab and Islamic countries, where he has so far been received as a hero and with chants of “Death to Jews!”
In the countries that he has visited so far — Sudan, Turkey and Tunisia — Haniyeh was received as the “Palestinian Prime Minister.” The leaders of these three countries went out of their way to treat Haniyeh as if he were a legendary Muslim warrior who has declared jihad [holy war] on the infidels.
The Hamas prime minister, whose movement seized control over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in 2007, was also invited to deliver sermons and speeches to thousands of supporters in the three countries.
This was the first time that Haniyeh had left the “besieged” Gaza Strip since 2007. He is expected to triumph all the way to Egypt, where radical Islamic groups scored a landslide victory in the recent parliamentary election.
Haniyeh’s tour would not have been possible were it not for the rise to power of Islamists thanks to the “Arab Spring.”
Under the former dictators of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, people like Haniyeh were persona non gratae.
If anything, the “Arab Spring” has so far strengthened Hamas at the expense of the less radical Palestinian camp.
Understandably, Haniyeh’s tour has enraged the “moderate” Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank, whose representatives are beginning to realize that the changes in the Arab world are not in their favor.
This is why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quick to file a protest with the new Tunisian leaders over their enthusiastic welcome of Haniyeh. Abbas, after all, has never received a hero’s welcome in any Arab country.
Until recently, most of the Arab countries had boycotted Hamas. But now many Arab leaders are competing as to who will embrace Hamas stronger than the other.
Acknowledging Hamas’s growing power and influence, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elarabi has sought the help of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in convincing Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to stop slaughtering his people.
The request has raised many eyebrows throughout the Arab world, where political commentators rushed to denounce the Arab League for turning Hamas into a mediator with Assad. As one analyst remarked, “Mashaal is affiliated with the Syrian and Iranian regimes. He loves the Syrian regime so much that on one of his tripes to Tehran he kissed the hand of Iran’s spiritual leader to thank him for supporting Assad.”
This article first appeared at the Stonegate Institute