By Pinhas Inbari
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (pictured) successfully completed a round of visits to several Arab countries in the Middle East, including Egypt and Turkey. The tour’s crowning achievement was Haniyeh’s reception in Tunis as 'legitimate prime minister of Palestine'. The gesture by Tunisia’s new regime, which has a decades-long history of hosting the PLO and giving it legitimacy as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, was meaningful and symbolic as it may signal the shift of Palestinian leadership from the PLO to Hamas.
However, despite Haniyeh’s international foray, the radical Islamic movement is now caught in the middle of an undeclared internal dispute between Hamas’ Gazan leadership and the external Politburo, led by Khaled Mashal (pictured below). While the Gazan leadership is solely concerned with Gaza’s affairs, the Politburo sees itself as part of the Arab world and is deeply tuned in to the Muslim awakening of local governments further to the Arab Spring. Hamas’ internal split is highly important in light of Hamas’ Shura elections and the possibility of joining the global Muslim Brotherhood Shura (consulting forum).
The Shura is the supreme leadership body of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Every local chapter of the Brotherhood has a Shura. The global Shura is based in Cairo and represents the global movement. The identity of the Shura members and even the number of the members is highly secretive. The Muslim Brotherhood has declined to report on them.
Hamas’ Shura is dominated by the Politburo, soliciting resentment from its leadership in Gaza. The Gazans plan to change the internal composition of the Hamas Shura during the upcoming Shura election in February, so as to secure Gaza’s prominence. Hamas’ external leadership has been weakened by its difficulty to relocate to either Amman or Cairo, having lost its traditional base in Damascus. The head of the Politburo received an additional blow last weekend when an informal but reliable report from Jordan confirmed the kingdom’s denial to give Hamas’ external leadership an office in Amman.
The external leadership’s trouble became even more apparent during Huniyya’s stop in Sudan for a meeting of the Gazan and the external leadership of Hamas. The fact that the leadership forum was only able to meet in Khartoum, and not in a leading Arab country like Egypt or Jordan, points to Mashal’s weakness after the loss of Damascus. The little that has emerged about the meeting itself in the media suggests that Hamas is considering changing its name to 'Hamas – Muslim Brotherhood Branch, Palestine' which would indicate that the organization’s leadership and center is now in Gaza.
In addition to its internal Shura, Hamas is also intent on joining the global Shura. However, its entry is hindered by the fact that Hamas is fundamentally a 'muqawama' (resistance) movement. Whereas Khaled Mashal’s global vision, as well as the possibility to relocate to Cairo, make joining the global Shura a premiere goal, Haniyya’s insistence on Hamas’ muqawama nature and its sole focus on Palestine, as he told the Egyptian newspaper 'Al-Youm al-Sabe' during an interview in Cairo, preclude the organization from becoming a member of the global Shura and create further tension within the organization.