Hamas can set an example

Khader Khader

Perhaps the single most important aspect of Hamas’ overwhelming victory in Palestinian Legislative Council elections last month is that it was the first time in the contemporary history of the Middle East that democracy was exercised for real without any direct external or internal interference. The ramifications of such free elections may well reverberate around the region for years to come and might mark a new phase in the geopolitical map of the Middle East.
This, however, was not the first time an Islamic political party showed its popularity at the ballot box. Algeria’s Islamic Front appeared headed to certain victory in elections in the mid-1990s before external intervention on the part of the “democratic” West and its allies in Algiers nipped that experience in the bud. In Algeria, the result of burying democracy has been an extremely bloody conflict that still drags on, much to the embarrassment of western countries, which prefer not to comment. For the ordinary citizen in the Arab world, it was an experience that only added to the sense of oppression and frustration felt in every corner of the region.
Thus Hamas’ electoral victory has sparked widespread hope among the Arab masses that they have another chance to find out if an Islamic party can rule better than the current regimes in the Arab world. Hamas, in this sense, carries the hopes of millions of Arabs and Muslims all over the world.
But with such expectations comes a time fraught with danger. Hamas and the way it runs matters in the Palestinian territories can set a very interesting example: if it succeeds; if it proves it can run Palestinian affairs more transparently and to the benefit of more ordinary Palestinians than previously, while at the same time managing tough negotiations with Israel, the experience will encourage other Islamic movements in the Arab world to use it as an example to convince their citizens that Islamic political movements are a viable alternative.
But if Hamas fails in its difficult and challenging task, the setback will strike a devastating blow to all Islamic movements and parties in the region. A Hamas failure could perhaps send the entire region into another period of political wilderness akin to the era after the failure of the pan-Arabists.
Thus, Hamas in power is an interesting and illuminating phenomenon, and one that will be followed closely by all concerned parties. According to a leading Hamas figure in Khan Yunis, Dr. Younis al-Astal, the International Muslim Brotherhood has already expressed its readiness to assist Hamas with all the needed expertise to make it succeed in its mission. The Brotherhood will of course be the principal benefactor of any Hamas success.
By the same token, however, the West may feel itself forced now to exert all possible efforts to make Hamas fail even if the movement proves successful in meeting the needs of the people. The issue in question here is not how efficient a government is but how loyal a government shows itself to be to the West. This is the measure the West has generally used to assess the Middle East, where billions of US dollars have been spent on keeping Arab regimes “moderate and realistic”, especially in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
There is a curious parallel to the Cold War now in the dynamic that is developing between the West and the Muslim world. During the Cold War, the West was confident that democracy would bring the Eastern Bloc to its knees and forcefully spread the message that individual freedom and the right to vote were human rights par excellence.
Now, however, that same message is likely to backfire on the West. If real elections were held in Egypt and Jordan, it is highly likely that Muslim Brotherhood movements would come to power and cast into doubt the peace treaties between those countries and Israel, in which the West has invested so much effort.
Everyone knows that democracy comes at a cost in the Middle East. Is the world ready to engage in this game? The key is likely to be the success or otherwise of Hamas, which is operating under extremely adverse conditions. Arabs and Muslims across the region, so often let down by political promise from various quarters, may well be disappointed again. But in the meantime their hopes are with a political movement that is posing the first serious challenge in decades to Arab regimes everywhere.
Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: ArticlesEgyptFeaturedHamasMuslim BrotherhoodPalestine

Tags:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Leave a Reply

Get Adobe Flash player