Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


Middle East Democracy and the Hamas Factor

Middle East Democracy and the Hamas Factor

By Ramzy Baroud

There is a degree of surrealism in all of this. Hamas has presented its choice of Prime Minister to President Mahmoud Abbas, as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine says it has agreed in principle to join a Hamas-led government.

In the Arab world, such political transformation (that of Islamists and Socialists working together to create a transparent and democratic Parliament) is only possible in political satire, not as an attainable and healthy political process. But Palestinians - as the Hamas Parliamentary victory sweep and the smooth transition of power have shown - are proving to be quite exceptional in this regard.

It goes without saying that Palestinians, and those who have genuinely supported their democratic insurgency have many reasons to be proud. Evidently, those who used democracy as a decoy to justify their grievous foreign policies or to defend their unwarranted military occupation are now being forced into an unpleasant era of 'soul searching' - as proposed by the Financial Times.

Hamas, not knowingly, perhaps, has abruptly deprived Washington of its last card in a Middle East foreign policy game, which was already in tatters. Delivering democracy was - until Hamas' political rise - Washington's strongest, albeit murkiest pretext to justify its military presence in the Middle East. Other pretexts also proved to be a sham; weapons of mass destruction and all. Even the war on terror logic was turned upside-down, as post-Saddam Iraq became a terror magnet, a term liberally used by US policy makers.

Nothing was left but the good old democracy pretence, which worked well, until Palestinians cast their vote on that critical day late January. The majority voted for Hamas, not because of its Islamic agenda, but because of its uncompromising anti-corruption platform, its stance on Palestinian rights and the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Those who understand the intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict must have also decoded the vote as a strong rejection of the US government's dubious role in the conflict and in abetting Israel's defiance of international law. According to the deliberately ambiguous terminology of pro-Israeli fan clubs in Washington, the Palestinian vote reflected an emphatically “anti-American,” stance, a most dishonest title indeed.

Chances are, US foreign policy pundits will carry on with their democracy media parade. However, as we have already seen, the democracy rhetoric will begin to erode, losing its tangible associations and relegating almost exclusively to rosy and indefinable assertions. In short: 'Think Again: Middle East Democracy', as an article title in Foreign Policy sums it up. The authors suggested, and rightly so, that the “US wants democracy in the Middle East -- to a point.” However, it seems that Palestinians have somehow taken democracy a little too far.

Prior to the Hamas victory, the Middle East democracy train seemed to be chugging along at a calculated speed with fantastic speeches and more or less favourable outcomes, from a US foreign policy perspective. From the well-touted, grand democratic experiments in Iraq, Egypt and to the much less popular, yet equally consequential local or municipal elections in various Gulf states, the status quo - with its pending US interests - seemed well preserved. Even the seemingly containable tremor caused by the Muslim Brotherhood poll results in Egypt failed to bend the Bush administration's will of carrying on tailoring democracy to the Arabs. But then, Hamas' surprising victory changed everything.

There should be no illusions that a Hamas elections victory and its aftermath have not changed the parameters of the raging conflict: Palestinians are still as ever an occupied nation and Israel is still the occupier. Notwithstanding, the Hamas takeover of power underlines - aside from the limitation of military occupation - the lack of sincerity on the part of the US administration and the Israeli government in the former's 'push for democracy' and the latter's boasting about its own being the one and only.

Needless to say, having Hamas in power places both the US and Israel in a terrible conundrum. The Israeli one is obvious: never before has Israel dealt with a Palestinian 'partner' so decisive in its demands and objectives, and so un-receptive to bribery or intimidation. Even at the height of its 'unilateral' jargon, Israel knows well that without a 'moderate' Palestinian leadership, little can be achieved insofar as a state of security for Israel while Palestinian rights and freedoms are shamelessly denied.

But the Bush administration debacle, in my opinion, transcends the geographic boundaries of the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the much more, far-reaching political and strategic setting in the entire Middle East, to its quandary with 'political Islam' and the disgruntled, 'rascal multitudes' - to borrow a Chomsky term -- of the Arab and Muslim world; so fractious and so eager to take charge of its own destiny - perhaps through the ballot box.

Indeed, the Bush administration finds itself in a greater political mess than thought possible. Weaseling its way out of its 'commitment' to democracy in the Middle East is easier said than done. Every other pretext to justify US imprudence in terms of foreign policy and unconditional financial and military backing of Israel - no longer the 'only democracy in the Middle East' - have long been exploited if not exhausted altogether. Until an alternative policy is devised - chances are a new US doctrine dealing with unfavorable democracy outcomes in the Middle East is currently being concocted - the US and Israel will resort to every form of bullying, intimidation and pressure to completely sideline the relevance of the new Palestinian government, or to 'oust' Hamas, as a joint plot, one recently leaked by US media. The hope is to discredit, then overthrow a Hamas-led government without having to overhaul its entire democracy 'project', whose demise would be much more consequential than the removal of a movement branded terrorist.

Only time and more media leaked plots will reveal what is to transpire. However, the early signs - that of Israel's intention to starve Palestinians through sanctions, coupled with unequalled enthusiasm among US lawmakers to punish Palestinians for electing Hamas - makes the coming Israeli and US foreign policy course even more predictable. While Israel sees little harm in making Palestinians a 'whole lot thinner' as a result of its economic sanctions policy, the US' rash response in chastising Palestinians will likely scar US credibility, or whatever remains of it.


-Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communication at Curtin University of Technology and is the author of forthcoming The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle. He is also the editor-in-chief of He can be contacted at: editor@palestinechronicle .com

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news