Morsi has fallen, but Hamas may be as big a loser

Muslim Brotherhood’s Gaza offshoot banked heavily on support from Cairo’s regime. With Islamists being rounded up, Hamas could be forced to circle the wagons

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Egyptian anti-riot soldiers stand guard in front of a destroyed banner of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, March 22, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)
Egyptian anti-riot soldiers stand guard in front of a destroyed banner of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, March 22, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)

Thursday was a bad day for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist movement’s leaders were rounded up or forced to go into hiding, a day after seeing their man in Egypt’s presidential palace pushed from power by the military.

In Gaza, Hamas is likely feeling little better watching events unfold across the border. The Palestinian group, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, may come out to be the big loser in Egypt’s upheaval, right behind ousted President Mohammed Morsi and his cronies, analysts said Thursday.

“If Hamas was already screwed before” – with Morsi’s unbendable need for US financial aid trumping his and Hamas’s shared Islamist agenda in the short term – “now it is double screwed,” said Dr. Jonathan Fine,  a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya who focuses on terror ideology and religious violence.

MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima), a former deputy commander of the Shin Bet, said in a phone interview that from an Israeli perspective the coup seemed to be a positive development, both regionally and within the internal Palestinian power struggle between Hamas and Fatah.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which had “reaped most of the fruits of the Arab Spring,” he said, “have taken a very serious blow.” Likening the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the flagship of an armada, he said it was taking water but “has not been sunk.”

Hamas, which has designs on a West Bank takeover, had been dealt a blow by the ouster of Morsi and the rise of, at least for now, a more secular leadership in Cairo, Hasson said. The group had seen itself as the vanguard of the Arab Spring — with its own Islamist coup in Gaza in 2007 serving as an example of a triumph over a corrupt and somewhat secular regime. The fall of Morsi may now signal the fragility of Islamist regimes born out of the same spring.

As far as Israeli security is concerned, the Kadima MK said it was impossible to know how matters would develop, positing that Hamas, if neglected, could make itself felt by heating up the border. It could also reasonably say that, with a preoccupied Egypt, “now is not the time to let the Jews run wild.”

Israel’s security chiefs, he said, will “have to keep their eyes very open, look at things very suspiciously, and they’ll have to not express themselves publicly at all.”

What does seem certain, however, is that Hamas has been backed into a very tight spot. “This is a bad blow for the international Muslim Brotherhood, but for its Palestinian affiliate, Hamas, it is especially bad,” said Col. (res) Shaul Shay, a lecturer at IDC and a former military intelligence officer. “They gambled and broke away from Syria, banking on the natural alliance between them and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and that hasn’t worked out as planned.”

Hamas leadership left Damascus in January 2012, in the midst of the civil war, and has since been at odds with Tehran and Bashar Assad’s regime, severing most of its ties to the so-called axis of resistance.

Egypt, though not riven by the sort of sectarian hatred that has been ripping Syria apart, is sure to be unstable in the coming years and may have to weather a period of internal violence. Dr. Mordechai Kedar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies said that in light of such violence, Egypt may well “fasten the grip on the terror issue,” doing its utmost to seal the underground border between Gaza and Egypt so as to stop the flow of arms in a westerly direction. “Hamas now becomes suspect of collaboration with Morsi,” he said.

Shay, who said that Hamas would likely be extremely careful in its dealings with Egypt – a country on which it depends, no matter the ruler – also said that the Brotherhood lacks an organized militia and might, therefore, be willing to receive arms from Gaza. “The tunnels accommodate two-way traffic,” he noted.

With Egypt engaged in its own internal strife on the mainland, the Sinai Peninsula, already unruly and rife with global jihad terror operatives, could develop into an even greater problem, or it could be put down even more forcefully by the new regime in Egypt.

“The situation is so so so unique that almost anything could be correct,” said Hasson, who predicted that the Brotherhood would have to think long and hard “how to stay in the game.”

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