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EGYPT FINDS BROTHERHOOD WITH HAMAS AFTER ELECTION VICTORY

Analysis by Adam Morrow

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(IPS) CAIRO -- Following the victory of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas in the Jan. 25 Palestinian elections, Cairo is readying itself for new political equations.

In a flurry of diplomatic activity, President Hosni Mubarak met both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni last week.

"The meeting comes within the context of ongoing dialogue between the two presidents, and President Mubarak remains eager to provide support to the Palestinian people," spokesman Suleiman Awad said after the Mubarak-Abbas meeting..

"It's now up to the winners of the Palestinian elections, along with the winners of the upcoming Israeli elections (scheduled for March) to deal with international agreements regarding the Middle East peace issue," Awad said.


He went on to confirm the Egyptian president's desire to "keep the door to the peace process open," while noting that "the victory of Hamas came as a result of democracy."

In the first election to the Palestinian legislative council in ten years, the militant group won 76 out of 132 seats, giving it a legitimate mandate to form and possibly lead a new government. The traditional ruling party, Fatah, captured only 43 seats.

Israel has said it will not establish diplomatic relations with a Hamas-led government until the group renounces violence and recognizes Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Hamas "an armed terror organization that calls for Israel's destruction."

"The Palestinians went to the ballot box and chose...a terrorist organization to lead them into the future," Livni said after her meeting with Mubarak.

But while the Hamas charter explicitly calls for the liberation of Palestine "from the Jordan river to the sea," ruling out a two-state solution to the conflict, the group's party platform made no reference to this ambition in the run-up to elections.

The so-called "quartet" playing peacemakers -- the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia -- have largely echoed the Israeli position, and made continued aid to the Palestinian Authority contingent on the group's renunciation of violence, and recognition of Israel.

According to recent remarks by Egyptian officials, Cairo also appears keen to see Hamas moderate its historical stance.

"Nobody will talk to them before they give up violence and recognize Israel," intelligence expert Omar Suleiman, who has frequently mediated between Palestinian factions and Israel, told reporters after the Mubarak-Abbas talks.

Foreign minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Hamas had to make the transition from an armed resistance group into a legitimate political movement. "When you're in parliament, you use verbal arguments -- not the gun," he said.

Shortly before the election, Abul Gheit told pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat that he was confident of Hamas's ability to "live with the idea of negotiations with Israel."

"Hamas has already accepted a truce with Israel for the sake of negotiations," he was quoted as saying. "We believe that Hamas's joining of the political process will lead to a fundamental change in its thinking."

Hamas, which achieved prominence in the first Intifadah in the late 1980s, is included in Washington's official list of terrorist organizations for carrying out numerous attacks both in Israel and the occupied territories. But the group has largely abided by the terms of a year-old truce hammered out in Cairo last March.

"Hamas has generally respected the ceasefire, with a few minor exceptions following Israeli aggressions," Emad Gad, an expert on Israeli affairs at the state-run Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told IPS. "Now, the group's leadership is talking about establishing a ten-year ceasefire."

"If they manage to form a new government, I think they will take a very tough approach to maintaining the truce," he added. "They won't tolerate any unsanctioned militant activity."

Some observers suggest that Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood might have a role to play in future mediation efforts. The banned-but-tolerated Islamist group -- of which Hamas is a historical offshoot -- recently won 88 parliamentary seats in an unprecedented electoral performance in Egypt.

"Hamas is hoping to see the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood join the mediation process," said Gad. "While the government will resist this idea, some officials may be tempted to ask the Brotherhood to play a role, as long as it's kept under the supervision of the government."

Walid Kazziha, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, agreed. "The Hamas parliamentary victory will certainly present the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt with new opportunities," he told IPS. "The government will have to resort to the Brotherhood sometimes to counsel moderation."

The Brotherhood is qualified to do this, Kazziha added. "It has itself accepted a constitutional framework and its activities remain entirely political. Hamas must learn to do the same."

Most Egyptians seem to have welcomed the Hamas win.

"People were generally delighted," Kazziha said. "Most of us are thinking, what have the Israelis -- and the Americans -- been doing for 12 years when they had (late Palestinian president Yasser) Arafat and (now president) Mahmoud Abbas to deal with?"

"By rejecting these people, who were the moderates, the U.S. and Israelis pushed the Palestinians into a corner," Kazziha said. "This not only served to defeat the moderates and secularists, but it has also resulted in the empowerment of more fundamentalist groups, like Hamas."



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Albion Monitor   February 2, 2006   (http://www.albionmonitor.com)

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