This post will not dispute the wickedness of many of Hamas’ actions, nor the wrongness of many of their beliefs. It will ask only: given that there hardly any group or movement of any substance in the Middle East which does not use bloody and wicked tactics, and given that beliefs are less important than actions, is Hamas ‘the best side’ – would a ‘victory’ for Hamas, whatever that would mean, be better than a ‘defeat’ of Hamas by one of its now existing enemies.
Picture the scene. The dictator’s support is crumbling, and he is held up only by backing from America, who need him as a strategic partner in the Middle East. Around him, two popular movements of resistance are building their strength. On the one side are the Islamists, dreaming of banishing corruption, decadence, Western imperialism and Western liberalism, and establishing Islamic order. On the other side are the Leftists – communists, feminists, trade unionists, dreaming of freedom both from their oppressors within the country and from foreign domination.
This is a good description of (at least) two countries: Iran in 1979, and Egypt right now. Egypt recently saw the formation of its first free trade union for 50 years. It has been struck by waves of strikes and protests over the last two years. Its largest (though banned) opposition party is the Muslim Brotherhood, a close ally of Hamas. And its ruler, the American-backed Hosni Mubarak, has provoked immense anger from his people over his collaboration with the Israeli assault on Gaza, because Egypt controls the only other border to the Gaza strip and has kept it closed to maintain Israel’s siege.
What happened in Iran? Well, to cut a long story short, the Islamists and the Leftists fought side-by-side to overthrow the Shah, and then the Islamists crushed the Leftists and established an Islamic Republic where women can be imprisoned for not wearing a veil (which is the complete opposite of the US, where women can be imprisoned for wearing a veil…)
Mubarak may be clinging on by his fingernails but I’d be surprised if he lasts much longer. When he falls, might there be a replica of the Iranian Revolution? A second (this time Sunni) Islamic Republic in the Middle East? That would be perhaps the biggest event in the region this century – bigger than the invasion of Iraq. American influence would take a colossal blow, while any alliance between Egypt and Iran, together with allies Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and whatever factions supported them in Iraq, would be the absolutely dominant regional force. The revolutionary government of Egypt would almost certainly open the Gazan border and quite possibly extend greater co-operation to its ‘brothers’ in Hamas – Gaza would become not a tiny isolated enclave, but in some ways a part of the region’s largest country. Israel would not like that. It would be like the Cuban missile crisis. On the other hand, life in Gaza would be much better.
What’s most worrying to me is that the workers’ movement and the women’s movement might go from one enemy to another, and make very little progress, or going backwards. The point is not that Hamas, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, do not ‘deserve’ support (either actual co-operation from Egyptian and Palestinian Leftists, or the sort of meaningless theoretical support that British Leftists could give) because they aren’t ‘ideologically pure’ enough. The point is that judging from the history of Iran, it is very likely that they will, when they have the chance, repay that support by executing Leftists and dispersing their organisations.
At the same time, it seems depressingly clear that complete non-support would produce the same results. People support the Islamists for a reason – they can provide services, they can provide power, they can provide pride. Expressing neutrality between Hamas and Israel is likely to just alienate people from an Egyptian or Palestinian (or Jordanian, or Lebanese) Leftist group. The result would be that Leftists would shrink to such insignificant numbers that they would be easy to simply sweep out of the way.
This is, arguably, what happened in Afghanistan. For about 40 years now, communism and feminism and liberalism have been associated with occupation, whether Soviety or American, and as a result they have very little support. The only thing that has been consistently opposed to imperialism has been Islamism, and so when people’s homes and families are destroyed by imperialism, they turn to the Islamists.
So in conclusion, I don’t have a conclusion. In the abstract what’s needed is for the workers’ and women’s movements in Egypt and elsewhere to co-operate with the Islamists in opposing imperialism, while organising and propagandising separately, not subjugating their demands to those of Islamists. But in concrete terms I have no idea how to do that – only the actual Middle Eastern people involved do. If they succeed, then the fall of Mubarak might either 1) be principally led by Leftists and establish a comparatively progressive government, 2) be led jointly but co-operatively, so that a relatively progressive version of Islamism was established, or 3) be led jointly until the two sides turn on each other, at which point the Leftists win.
Any of those things might well happen. Good luck to them. The title question doesn’t really get answered though.