On Sunday, I posted that I think that Hamas would come out stronger from the Israeli attack on Gaza. On January 7th, Muhammed Hassanein Heikal, in a long_interview on Al Jazeera, apparently agrees on that. For American readers Heikal (read an English bio here) is by far the most important, famous and respected journalist in the Arab world. He was the Editor- in- Chief of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram from 1957- 1974 which during his tenure was often refered to as the New York Times of the Arab world. As a sign of his popularity, Heikal has his own show on Al-Jazeera ( With_Heikal) where he gives lectures on recent Arab history, discussing the information he acquired during his working days, the things that brought him a new and unprecedented following in the Arab world.
For some context: Heikal was very close to Gamal Abdel Nasser. He was and still is a Nasserist and a believer in pan-Arabism as well as a strong critic of the change in direction towards the US that happened with Anwar Al-Sadat (see Autumn_of_Fury for more on that point). Many people in Egypt still believe in the pan-Arabism of Nasser so Heikal is expressing a point of view in this interview that has widespread support.
Heikal tackled 3 main points in this interview: the situation in Gaza, the Egyptian position, and the regional status.
Inside Gaza. Heikal believes that what’s happening in Gaza right now is not because of Hamas, rather it is a scheme to impose the US-Israeli settlement for the situation in the region, adding that the timing was not randomly chosen. Since Hamas won in the 2006 parliamentary elections, the US and Israel were facing a stalemate in the region and that’s why Israel started to besiege Hamas and finally interfering militarily. According to Heikal, the timing was perfectly chosen, the US is living a transitional period, the Israeli parliamentary elections is immanent, thus its an opportunity to regain the Israeli deterrence capabilities. Heikal added that Obama knew about the attack, clarifying that if the attack succeeded Iran would be next. Hiekal, however, said that the biggest mistake Hamas has done was its religious discourse, Palestine is Arab national cause and not a religious one.
The Egyptian side. Heikal expressed his bewilderment from the Egyptian position from whats happening in Gaza, he believed that the Egyptian interference in Gaza should’ve been 2 sided; the first, is protecting the Egyptian national security, the second, is aiding the Palestinians. What happened was Egypt helped Israel to gain more security and political ground at the expense of the Egyptian national security. The situation in Gaza represents a test for the Egyptian leadership and its ability to influence any part of the Middle East, and currently it seems that it is losing its soft powers. The point is the military superiority of Israel could mainly be balanced through the Egyptian extension regionally, which is a privilege that Israel do not possess. In his opinion, Egypt would gain absolutely nothing from clashing with Syria, or Hezbollah or Iran, he added that Egypt should maintain a very good relationship with Hamas and all those who represent the line of resistance, basically this line would never threaten Egypt it actually protects the Egyptian national security.
Regionally. Heikal described the Arab role as being very lame, he thinks that depending on the UNSC would bring them nothing because the US is in a transitional period and would never take a position that would harm Israel. However, he thought that Nasrallah’s speech shouldn’t be interpreted the way it happened, and he said that his speech is derived from his belief in the Egyptian role and history in the region, and his belief in the deep sentiments the Egyptian people hold for the Palestinians. Heikal warned from deploying international forces on the borders with Gaza which threatens the Palestinian cause, this issue is one of Egypt’s cards that it should not give up, adding to that the giving up the control of the Rafah-crossing is a threat to the Egyptian national security.