All the immense humanitarian tragedy, suffering and despicable terror on the part of the Israeli state aside, the political implications of the Gaza assault have an utterly important point for the Zeitgeist, as the so-called Arab Spring fades into an uncertain autumn.
With all the developments observed in recent years — the Muslim Brotherhood’s deeply flawed policies in Egypt, the disintegration of its Syrian equivalent and the birth of ISIS in Iraq — the cycle in the MENA region, save in Tunisia, seems to be punctuated with one severe blow after another against Sunni political Islam.
Add to this the increasingly worrisome regional policies of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), once seen as a source of inspiration for the political and democratic normalization of countries in the region. That the instability, marked by spilled blood and the mass displacement of people, pounds at the borders of Turkey is not good news.
Juan Cole, an expert on the Middle East, shares some of his characteristically sharp observations in his blog, focusing on Hamas and analyzing beyond.
“The Israeli security establishment was almost certainly encouraged to launch its military assault on little Gaza by the current divisions over political Islam in the Middle East,” he writes.
“Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, though they are quite separate in policies and leadership. The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt last summer has positioned the Egyptian government as almost as big an enemy of Hamas as Israel itself. The Egyptian military blames Hamas for radicalizing the Bedouin of the Sinai Peninsula and creating a security problem for Egypt itself (in fact, the depriving of people in Sinai of government services is at the root of much of the resentment). Indeed, some groups in the Sinai have proffered their allegiance to the so-called Islamic State now based in Mosul, Iraq.
“President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt now backs the secular government of Bashar al-Assad against his opposition, which is now dominated by the al-Qaeda affiliate the Succor Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) and the al-Qaeda offshoot the so-called Islamic State. Al-Sisi has also expressed support for prime minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq, largely on the grounds that Baghdad is attempting to fight back against the so-called Islamic State. Jordan’s King Abdullah II is also terrified of the so-called Islamic State.”
So you have a bloc of nationalist states — Egypt, Jordan and Syria — facing off against movements of political Islam, and Hamas has to be counted among the latter. It is therefore difficult for these states to intervene on behalf of Hamas, since they want the organization, and the whole tendency to political Islam, to “drop dead.”
“Even the so-called Islamic State turns out to be useless to Hamas. Its leadership says that it has to tackle the ‘hypocrites’ among the Muslims before turning to the ‘Jews.’ This is a reference to early Islam. The so-called Islamic State views all other Muslims this way. So the struggle between nationalism and political Islam has neutralized most of the Middle East if it hasn’t made them de facto allies of Israel.”
If these observations have some grain of truth, they leave the AKP, with Erdoğan on top, as the “odd player out.”
Despite the imminent collapse of political Islam as being a potential democratic catalyst in the wake of the Arab Spring, the AKP refuses to see the reality — operating under the illusion that its government can still be the leading light to revive brotherhood movements — and obstinately backs Hamas, which has lost some of its “glamour” at home through its continuous erratic behavior.
The AKP government is now paralyzed by the not-so-friendly (!) ISIS in Iraq, which refuses to free Turkish hostages, apparently to block a Turkish rapprochement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad. Turkey has no reasonable political leverage since it has no diplomatic ties in the east Mediterranean region. It is left at the margins, with decreasing credibility, as it insists on swimming against the tide of time.
The more Erdoğan acts stubbornly, the more risks he takes. His government is seen as embodying the sense of brashness displayed by the brotherhood movements in the region, movements that are standing on the losing side of history.