By Pinhas Inbari
One of the threats to the recently brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is the fate of the political Islam doctrine in the region. Political Islam differs vastly from radical Islam. Western countries could potentially ally with political Islam, embodied by the Muslim Brotherhood, as opposed to radical Islam, represented most glaringly by Salafist al-Qaeda.
However, while real gaps and tensions exist between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, they would never ally with a Western power, let alone the United States, against fellow Muslims. Although the two streams may well clash and even kill one another, they would never do so to benefit the West.
This trend can be seen in the current turmoil in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood has joined hands with the Salafists against the secular protesters. While in the future al-Qaeda may well attack a major Egyptian city, it currently shares in the rejection of secular Western values together with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The situation is worse still in Syria, where the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda are fighting the Assad regime shoulder to shoulder. Al-Qaeda’s involvement presents a problem for the West, which wishes to supply rebel forces with weaponry. However, these weapons may end up in al-Qaeda’s hands and be used against the West later on. There are reports that al-Qaeda is training European converts in Tripoli, Lebanon, to join the Syrian front. However, they may also pose a grave danger to the European home front in the future.
On the eve of the American election, the United States was shocked by the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi. The circumstances of the tragedy were not immediately clear, but were most likely connected to preventing arms shipments from Libya to al-Qaeda’s fighters in Syria.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed shock at the fact that the people of Benghazi killed the person that saved them from being slaughtered by Gaddafi. As a result, Clinton launched a new Syrian policy intended to sideline the old Syrian National Council, which has become a front for the Muslim Brotherhood-Salafist coalition, and replaced it with a new coalition led by a Muslim Brotherhood preacher, Maaz al-Khatib, who has shunned the Salafists. However, immediately after the establishment of the coalition, al-Qaeda units stormed Syrian Kurdistan, creating a wave of refugees who fled to Turkey fearing not the Assad regime but al-Qaeda.
Hamas in Gaza is also torn by the tension between the two Islamic streams. Last month, when the emir of Qatar visited Gaza, Iran expressed suspicion that Qatar was attempting to untether Gaza from Iran. Yet, Qatar’s actual mission was to promote and save the doctrine of political Islam from collapse. The emir’s offer to the Gazan leadership amounted to the renunciation of the muqawama – resistance – and the beginning of Gaza’s reconstruction. Clearly, Gaza will not be able to pursue the reconstruction project while it actively engages in an armed struggle.
It is interesting to note that Syrian opposition leader Maaz al-Khatib, a favorite of Qatar, rejected the notion of political Islam outright in one of his first interviews. He told Al-Jazeera TV that he committed himself to the renewal of the struggle over the Golan Heights and blamed Assad’s regime for neglecting the struggle. Israel, therefore, can expect the future regime in Damascus to stir things up on its northern border.
Similar statements were voiced by Khaled Mashal, Qatar's favorite to lead Hamas. Gaza’s latest round of hostilities with Israel presented Mashal with a podium to address the Arab street and present his narrative, which echoed al-Khatib’s support for resistance. Moreover, at a Doha conference on Muslim trends and democracy last month, Mash'al presented a paper in which he rejected the notion of political Islam by name and confirmed Hamas as a muqawama movement.
Mashal refusal to accept the way of political Islam is blocking his acceptance into the Muslim Brotherhood regional supreme body in Cairo. Egypt’s acceptance of political Islam stands at the center of the American policy in the region.
Should Mashal, who rejects political Islam, become a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, American policy in the country would shift.