July 11th, 2013
11:15 AM ET

What Morsy’s fall means for Hamas

By Jonathan Schanzer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The views expressed are his own.

When Egypt’s army toppled the Muslim Brotherhood from power last week, it also delivered a punishing blow to Hamas in Gaza.

Fallen President Mohamed Morsy was one of the last remaining friends of Hamas after the group broke from the Iranian “Axis of Resistance” last year. Unable to stand by while the Iran-backed Syrian regime mowed down tens of thousands of fellow Muslims in Syria, Hamas left its Damascus headquarters. As punishment for this defection, Iran cut the purse strings.

Predictably, Hamas turned to Morsy’s Egypt, along with Qatar and Turkey, for patronage. This Muslim Brotherhood triumvirate, for the last year, provided financial assistance to the terrorist organization that conquered the Gaza Strip by force in 2007, while also working assiduously to bring it out of political isolation. These three countries represented a tripod upon which Hamas, a group that is heavily dependent upon foreign assistance to survive, was tenuously balanced.

After Morsy’s ejection last week, Gaza-based leader Ismail Haniyeh stated that he was “not afraid.” If he isn’t, he should be. Now, Hamas has only two patrons left, and both are Western allies that could be tempted to throw Hamas under the bus for greater financial or political incentives. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Army has stepped up efforts to block Hamas’ financial lifeline, the underground smuggling tunnels connecting Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to Gaza, while the Rafah Border crossing – the only overland exit for the Hamas-controlled territory – has remained largely closed since Morsy’s dramatic demise.

More from CNN: How to avoid next Hamas clash

Admittedly, everything wasn’t rosy between Hamas and Egypt during Morsy’s short stint in office either. Hamas has taken a beating in the Egyptian press. Most of the criticism stemmed from concern over violence in the Sinai Peninsula carried out by Gaza-based Salafi jihadist groups.  Last year, for example, Gaza-based fighters attacked an Egyptian military outpost near Rafah and killed 16Egyptian soldiers. There was further concern in Cairo that Hamas members might be sneaking in via the tunnels to carry out operations in Egypt. Egypt’s military subsequently closed down dozens of smuggling tunnels, while also interdicting weapons transfers to the Palestinian territory, including short-range rockets and antitank missiles.

Yet all the while, Morsy continued to provide political support to Hamas, hosting at least one senior Hamas figure – Mousa Abu Marzouk – on Egyptian soil. Egypt hosted Hamas’s internal elections earlier this year. It was widely believed that Muslim Brotherhood financiers found ways to bankroll their brothers in Gaza under the table, so as to not upset Egypt’s patrons in the U.S. Congress.

As one Israeli official put it, Egypt was Hamas’s “back office.” The Brotherhood played a particularly crucial role in ensuring the bulk-cash smuggling that has kept Gaza’s economy running.

In other words, under Morsy, the Egyptian government was at odds with itself. Conspiratorial minds might even link the Hamas issue to last week’s toppling, but the country’s Gaza policy was not even a peripheral reason for the military’s intervention.

For Hamas now, the problem is less about the Egyptian army’s wrath or the rapid unraveling of Morsy, and more about the overall beating that the Muslim Brotherhood brand just took. In Egypt, there is no easy way forward. The movement can either swallow its defeat and retreat to its former role of Islamic opposition, or launch an “intifada” against the state. These are tough choices for the “mother ship” of the Muslim Brotherhood, which sets the tone for the other regional movements, including Hamas.

Hamas’ adversaries understand this. Israel’s public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch recently suggested that the Islamist faction was weaker. Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo also called upon Hamas to rethink its position in the region. “The victory of the revolution in Egypt and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood warrants [such] reflection,” he told Palestinian state radio, adding, “Hamas must realize that the Brotherhood can no longer protect it."

The PLO, of course, lacks the means to topple Hamas, and the Israelis are not likely to strike at Hamas given the multitude of other military threats on their plate (Iran nukes and Syrian WMD are chief among them).

For the moment, then, Hamas is probably safe. It still appears to have the backing of Qatar and Turkey. Nevertheless, the divorce from Iran and Syria, followed by the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, give the impression that Hamas has buckled at the knees. Whether it is allowed to stand again may depend upon the new junta in Cairo.

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Topics: Egypt

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    "The Foundation For Defense of Democracies" says it all. What 'democracies" ? Most od these "peace' foundations are nothing but propaganda machines for the Big Money Trust to continue endless wars and this article reflects it.

    July 11, 2013 at 11:31 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      It does indeed says it all. "Defense of Democracies' certainly is NOT defense of Hamas, Al Qaeda and similar organizations of mass murderers. This being said, however, was there ANYTHING AT ALL you did not agree with in the article above?

      July 11, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Reply
      • Sean B.

        Yeah that was a pretty good article. Having the right to speak doesn't necessarily mean you have to.

        July 12, 2013 at 1:20 am |
  2. Dennis

    Uh-oh. The Hamas terrorists lost their best friend, Morsi. Too bad for Hamas and Palestinians terrorists – they did not have many friends to begin with. This will hurt them and the whole world is happy about that.

    July 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  3. Amani

    What kind of experts are these people? This is all so convoluted its pathetic, when turkey, Qatar and Egypt support Hamas, and when Israel works closely with Morsi and Hamas, it tells you one thing, that alliances are determined by one thing personal and financial gain, coupled with a desire to rule at all costs. look at Netanyahoo actually defending Morsi, really Bibi you care sooooo much about Egypt's democracy. Let me tell you what happened in Egypt is nothing short of a miracle. Don't tread on Egypt and specifically don't tread on Christian Copts, they pray too much.

    July 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  4. deep blue

    Jonathan Schanzer is under a key misconception. He believes that the power of a movement strengthens when it is a government role. He is wrong. The Muslim brotherhood is the perceived victim. A political force in government has to solve problems. They have to compromise and find solutions. A political force oppressed out of power only needs to point out what the current government is doing wrong.
    You see this effect in the US too. The political group in power always loses support.

    July 11, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  5. Muin

    So, Israel and U.S forced Morsy out with the help of Egypt Army for Israel's security. What's new?

    July 12, 2013 at 2:26 am | Reply
    • BM

      Really? Is that why Obama called Sisi asking him to release Morsi after the house arrest took place? And I'm sure Israel is happy now that Morsi and the MB is overthrown, but they did not organize or plan this, it was the tamarod group in Egypt, which was then joined by the military and the police when they realized the numbers and when Morsi decided to publicly insult the army on national Egyptian television.

      July 12, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  6. sand

    means nothing soon usa britain australia ireland dublin norway oslo and ghana is going to get nuked there will be dead irish children reduced to ashes every were if usa wants a fight then just start one and then usa and britain are going to get a nuke up there a s s.

    July 12, 2013 at 5:52 am | Reply
  7. j. von hettlingen

    Since Morsi's ouster, the new Egyptian authorities have decided to close their border with Gaza, which has caused acute fuel shortages in the Palestinian territory and stranded thousands of travellers. The Hamas government has called on Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing, but it now holds a weaker hand after Morsi's fall. it's now mourning the loss of its biggest regional ally.

    July 12, 2013 at 8:34 am | Reply
    • BM

      Well, Hamas is the MB's biggest ally and the military had to shut the borders to avoid them supplying weapons and starting a civil war in Egypt. This means that Hamas and Palestine have to find alternative fuel sources for the time being.
      Egypt had to deal with the same fuel and energy issues for the past few months due to decisions made by Morsi and the MB to alienate and make enemies with the surrounding nations. They are finally back on the right track now with the help of UAE and Saudi Arabia.

      July 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  8. istopper2

    sad thing is that you don't want to support the Rebels in Syria because it has now been over run by Islamic extremists (terrorists) but at the same time you don't want to side with Assaad and the Regime being that it is backed by Iran... But can understand why the West has taken the side of the rebels in all this. If the Rebels conquer Assaad then it hurts Iran and their strength in the Middle East which I am assuming that the West feels it will be much easier to control the rebels/extremists than try to control Iran. Its all starting to make sense why the west is willing to take their chances arming the Islamic extremists. Was it just me that wasn't really thinking it through completely or are there others that haven't realized this situation?

    July 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Reply
    • maryam

      They want to arm certain elements of the FSA not all of them. AQ extremists and Al Nusra and those like them need to go back home to their families and leave such groups who do not represent anyone but Satan, hatred, and violence. If they dont they will take an eventual holiday to Shaytaans village for a barbeque, roasting them for their violent behavior on Gods creations.

      July 15, 2013 at 1:58 am | Reply
  9. watsa46

    Iran may still be a spoiler!

    July 14, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  10. Brett Champion

    Support from Turkey is on shaky ground because, unlike Qatar, Turkey is an actual democracy in which the governing party can, and probably will soon, lose power. Turkey is headed for a major economic crisis that will likely see the AKP out of office within two years. If the secularists regain power in Turkey, it probably won;t take much prodding from the West for them to cut Hamas off.

    July 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  11. MOHAMED NABIL MOHAMED MOUSSA

    The not avolbomint but morsy nort prisdent in egypt it.s finish morsy good bay sisi he prsident in egypt

    July 24, 2013 at 5:17 am | Reply
  12. Nagi

    If Morsi and The Muslim Brotherhood supports Terrorists,, and the US Government Supports Morsi,, Then US Government Supports Terrorism,, Beleive it or Not, Understand it or not,, Deny it or accept it,, IT WAS PEOPLE'S REVOLUTION BACKED BY THE ARMY,, AGAINT TERRORISM. SIGNED : THE EGYPTIAN PEOPLE

    July 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  13. amin elashabrawy

    egypt do not likes morsi and brotherhood ( they are terrorism )

    July 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  14. mostafa

    August 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Reply

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