We don’t know yet what the final outcome of the power struggle going on in Egypt will be, but we do know the identity of one of the big winners: Hamas. No matter how much power the Egyptian military winds up with, there’s little question the Islamist group is one of the chief beneficiaries of the collapse of the Mubarak regime and the increasing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.
As the New York Times reports this morning, the Brotherhood’s clout is just one of a number of factors that have increased Hamas’ influence among Palestinians and the region. Their ability to force Israel to free over 1,000 terrorists in exchange for one kidnapped Israeli soldier diminished Fatah and the Palestinian Authority as did the failure of the latter’s effort to bypass the peace process by winning independence from the United Nations. But with Gaza’s border with Egypt no longer sealed and the possibility that it will become the entry point for arms and other form of aid, there will soon be no way for anyone to ignore the fact that the Hamas state there is the true face of Palestinian independence.
Just as Egypt was the lynchpin for the start of a Middle East peace process, the rise of a new government there that may further downgrade relations with Israel has the potential to bury what little hope remains for negotiations with the Palestinians. Though most observers doubt the Egyptian army will allow the peace treaty with Israel to be completely repudiated, it will be no surprise if the government that is formed after elections will be hostile to the Jewish state and even friendlier with the Brotherhood’s ideological ally Hamas.
That will strengthen Hamas immeasurably, because it has the potential to negate Israel’s blockade of the Islamist enclave and set up a secure supply line between Gaza and Iran, which remains the terror group’s main supplier of arms and material.
The impact of this turn of events will be felt throughout the region. Hamas’ popularity among Palestinians, heightened by the Gilad Shalit deal, will continue to grow. The unity pact with Fatah reflects the PA’s recognition the tide has turned in its long rivalry with Hamas with the Islamists clearly gaining the upper hand. The Palestinian unity government that comes out of that agreement is expected to be less oriented toward the West and more subservient to the terrorists. This has caused even Jordan, heretofore a bulwark of Arab moderation and deeply fearful of the influence of Hamas, to thaw its relations with the group. All this dooms any hope for a resumption of peace talks with Israel no matter what concessions the Obama administration is able to force the Jewish state to make.
On the sidelines watching this disaster unfold is the Obama administration, whose mishandling of the peace process and the Arab Spring has aided the rise of Islamists. Though American influence in the region is diminishing, it remains to be seen whether the president is too distracted by other events to recognize he still has some leverage that can be used to maintain the isolation of Hamas via the vast sums of aid that still flow from the U.S. and the West to the Palestinians as well as to Egypt and other Arab nations. Though he cannot dictate who will run Egypt, Obama can make it clear to the army and whoever emerges after the elections that support for Hamas and the trashing of the peace treaty with Israel is a red line they dare not cross if they wish to get another penny of the $2 billion a year they get from the U.S. But no matter what Obama now belatedly says or does, there’s little question that Hamas’ power and influence is growing.