Hamas Elections: In With the Old

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Hamas chief Khaled Meshal leaves on 29 June 2012 a mosque in the Jordanian capital Amman where he attend the funeral of a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement who was killed in a Damascus subrb. (Photo: AFP - Khalil Mazraawi)

By: Houssam Kanafani

Published Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled Meshal has decided not to run in the party’s upcoming internal elections. Some names from the past have appeared on the list of contenders.

Khaled Meshal, otherwise known as Abul-Walid, will likely not retain his post as the head of the political bureau of the Islamic Resistance Movement, according to senior leaders in Hamas.

Hamas’ internal elections, to be concluded in the coming days, are expected to yield a new leader for the organization – or rather an old one, with most of the names being circulated those of established, old-guard party figures.

The decision to discard Meshal has come as a surprise, and is inconsistent with the rumors that have been circulating over the past few months. In fact, when it seemed Meshal might step down, there was a flurry of mediation intended to dissuade him from abandoning his post.

However, following recent high-level meetings in Cairo to put their house in order, the Hamas leadership appears to be reconsidering their strategy, especially with the emergence of what might be called the “Gaza wing.”

In truth, both the military and political arms of this wing are united in seeking to take control of the movement’s leadership in light of regional developments, particularly with the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, to power in Egypt. This has provided the Gaza wing with an opportunity, having hitherto been unable to put its members in leading positions in the politburo as a result of the blockade on the Strip and the restrictions on their movement.

Sources that took part in the Cairo meetings spoke to Al-Akhbar about the details of the dispute that prompted Meshal to drop out of the race, despite his popularity among the voting body.

“The idea is that Abul-Walid had no desire to contend for the post, and would have required a consensus or unanimous agreement over his name; this was what was agreed upon around nine months ago,” one source said, when Meshal first announced his reluctance to run for reelection.

At the time, many mediators got involved, including a delegation from Hamas’ military arm in Gaza, who met with Meshal and assured him that he remained their preferred choice, and he agreed to run but only if the vote was unanimous.

Meshal was caught by surprise when the Gaza wing, with the political arm’s approval, proposed several other names during the Cairo summit.

The source went on to describe this development as the result of the alliance forged by Hamas’ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh with the military arm during the Islamic movement’s internal elections in Gaza. The source also alluded to a tacit alliance between the Gaza wing and the former head of the politburo, Moussa Abu Marzouk, which explains how his name came to be put forward as a successor for Meshal, along with Haniyeh’s, by this wing.

The sources say that the abrupt shift in the position of the Gaza wing stems from their belief that they are more deserving of leading Hamas than those in the Diaspora. This is because, in their view, they are the ones who have fought and who suffer under the blockade and are targeted by Israeli attacks.

The Gaza wing relies on the fact that it represents the majority of the movement’s members, although this is not reflected in the Shura Council where the wing controls only a third of the seats, while the rest is distributed among the West Bank, the Diaspora, and the prisoners.

The Gaza wing, with its external alliances, may control up to 40 percent of the vote. Yet it will be the West Bank’s votes that will ultimately decide the elections.

Voter attitudes in the West Bank, however, remain unclear, especially in light of the strained relationship between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The West Bank wing of Hamas believes that it was the first to initiate the struggle [against Israel], suffering years of persecution at the hands of both Israel and rival Palestinian factions, only to have the Gaza wing swoop in and gain control of decision-making powers.

With all these alliances and calculations in mind, the name of the next head of the politburo will remain a mystery until the last minute. So far, only the names of Haniyeh and Abu Marzouk have been leaked as possible candidates.

Sources indicate that Abu Marzouk is the most likely candidate to be put forward by the Gaza wing, since Haniyeh is currently serving as the prime minister in the Strip. Yet this does not necessarily mean that Abu Marzouk will win the post easily. Reportedly, there are seven to eight other candidates unknown to the media, and one of them may well pull off a surprise win.

Despite reports of the Gaza wing’s role in driving out Meshal, the leaders of this wing insist that this is all part of the democratic process and the “rotation of power.” Hamas political bureau member and senior leader Khalil al-Hayyah confirmed to Al-Akhbar that Khaled Meshal does not intend to run for the post, but denied that there are any disputes between him and the leaders in Gaza.

“Abul-Walid affirmed in the recent meetings that he does not want to run in the next round [of elections] for the movement’s leadership, seeing that he has been in this post for a very long time,” Hayyah said. “Although Hamas’ bylaws allow him to serve for another term, he wanted to make way for others to lead.”

When asked about whether the Gaza wing had influenced Meshal’s decision, he said, “We in Gaza asked him nine months ago to go back on his decision [and run]; everything circulating in the media about this happening because of certain disputes is not true.”

“We have nothing but the utmost respect and appreciation for Meshal,” he added. “He is not only a symbol for Hamas, but also a national Palestinian symbol that is carrying the torch of Islam and the resistance; Abul-Walid is greater than all these rumors.”


Potential role in the Muslim Brotherhood

This time, when the head of Hamas’ politburo Khaled Meshal declared that he would not run again for office, there were no mediation efforts within Hamas or outside to dissuade him from stepping down. Instead, it is now recognized that Abul-Walid will no longer be at the helm.

There is still time for him to change his mind, although this would require intervention at the highest level. According to sources involved in the Cairo meetings, this is something that only Muhammad Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, can undertake.

Badie is respected by all parties within Hamas. He also wields considerable spiritual influence over the Islamic Resistance Movement, which is a part of the global organization of the Muslim Brotherhood. Badie is yet to make a move, making Meshal’s exit the most likely outcome.

Nevertheless, Meshal may continue to play an important political role, possibly in the global organization of the Muslim Brotherhood in the future, given his charisma and popularity.


No disputes over external issues

Sources in Hamas deny any dispute over external affairs, particularly the movement’s relationship with Syria and Iran, a significant factor in the current arrangements for the elections of a new chief for the movement’s political bureau.

The same sources point out that the Gaza wing went even farther than Khaled Meshal in its stance against Syria, noting that the wing’s leaders and Abu Marzouk were among the first to condemn the violence perpetrated by Damascus, and to unequivocally stand by the Syrian people.

The main disagreement, they explain, lies in the issue of Palestinian reconciliation and the relationship with the Palestinian Authority after the signing of the Cairo agreement with Fatah over a year ago. Abul-Walid was in favor of President Mahmoud Abbas’ political settlement, angering many in the Gaza wing.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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