28 August 2012
By Pinhas Inbari
Last week, Islamist parties across the Middle East marked Quds Day (Jerusalem Day), on the last day of Ramadan. Over the years, celebrations of the holiday did not attract much attention. This year, however, Salafists in Tunisia attacked marchers of the Quds Day parade and inflicted serious injuries on the participants. Similarly, Salafist activists in Jordanian refugee camps insisted on refocusing attention on the events in Syria instead of Jerusalem. Finally, Azam Tamimi, a London-based leading scholar affiliated with Hamas, questioned the entire value of the day.
By and large, Hamas ignored this year’s event. According to a Hamas online forum, Tamimi wrote on his Facebook page that Quds Day had transformed from a day commemorating the conquest of Jerusalem to an Iranian propaganda day. This remark triggered a wave of angry reactions on the part of Hamas bloggers who reminded Tamimi that Iran, despite being a Shiite state, had revived the interest in the Palestinian problem in general and in the 'rescue' of Jerusalem in particular. Tamimi, however, was correct in his observation. Over the past year, Iran has indeed invested much more than in previous years in organizing demonstrations across the Arab world in countries that were rocked by the Arab Spring.
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists could have interpreted Iran’s actions as a challenge to the Sunni domination over the Arab world. The angry response by Hamas bloggers in Gaza to Tamimi’s remarks may indicate the existence of a greater amount of support for Iran in Gaza than in other places affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has traditionally been suspicious of Iranian scheming inside the Arab world. Gazan support for Iran could stem from the amount of aid it receives from the Shia power. Most recently, Iran has shifted the majority of its support for Gaza to the Qassam Brigades that form the military wing of Hamas. The Brigades promptly overtook the movement during the last elections to the Shura, thus solidifying Iran’s grip and influence over the Gaza Strip.
However, despite Iran’s growing influence on Hamas, the organization’s abstention from the Quds Day celebrations signals points of contention between Tehran and its client. It was stated on the aforementioned website that the negative role Iran has played in Syria has put it in direct confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood. This, in turn, has triggered Hamas to cancel the Quds Day events. The post on the site confirmed that relations between Hamas and Iran have touched their lowest level yet.
Still, it would be incorrect to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran are at complete opposite sides of the barricades. While the Brotherhood in general is upset with Iran’s growing interference in Arab affairs, part of its membership – which may include Egyptian President Mursi – supports a potential alliance with Iran. In this context, a call to liberate Jerusalem could serve as a unifier between Shia and Sunna as step on the road to establishing the grand caliphate.
This potential union is the reason why Saudi Arabia and the Salafists are keen on foiling the al-Quds campaign. They, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, could never align with Iran. It is therefore likely that the Saudis compelled Gaza to cancel this year’s al-Quds, which suscitated some noisy resentment from Hamas’ pro-Iranian wing.
The Salafists’ actions are buttressed by their religious view of Jerusalem. While the city is considered sacred to Islam, it is not seen by the Salfists as a holy place akin to Mecca or Medina or a venue that would be the likely site for the next caliph.
Hamas’ distance from the Quds Day celebrations does not signal its intention to put the issue of Jerusalem to the side. This year, Israel permitted the Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Jerusalem and hold holiday prayers at al-Aqsa for the first time. These measures were taken in the hope that the PLO would refrain from re-applying for statehood at the UN. Hundreds of thousands of West Bankers took the opportunity and flocked to Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Yards.
And so, Jerusalem, the city that was meant to unite all radical Islamic trends, turned into another point of contention that further split radical Islam.
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