Egypt and Jordan have large popular Islamist movements, which are either limited or outlawed by their rulers. Both countries have rulers who were not democratically chosen. And both countries get large hunks of US aid as a reward to prop up their governments for being friendly toward Israel and pushing down their anti-Israeli and religious populations.
Now the US is pushing democracy and the results are worrying for the rulers of Egypt and Jordan, and ultimately for the State of Israel.
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The first result of the American democracy-pushing was in Iraq, where a Shi'ite government was elected which supports Shari'a as a source of law. The US had to intervene to make sure that women's and religious minority rights were included in the constitution.
But more significant to the region is the election of Hamas, a party that defines itself as Islamist, to head the government of the Palestinian Authority. One Hamas leader, Sheikh Muhammad Abu-Tir (who was arrested Sunday by Israeli forces), told The Globe and Mail
that it supported using Shari'a as a "source" of law. That may be only the beginning. He also spoke of separating boys and girls in school.
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That is not necessarily something to fear. Religious people from different religions do not have to be enemies.
One leading Hamas sheikh made this point to a reporter from The Jerusalem Post
after giving a rousing speech at the Hamas victory rally in Nablus the day after the election: "We do not hate Jews," Muhammad Bishtawi told the reporter as the two were surrounded by throngs of supporters carrying the green Islamic flags of Hamas. Rubbing his two index fingers together he said: "Before 1948 we were close friends."
The problem is that Hamas rejects the existence of Israel. And that is not something it can change. By definition the State of Israel is illegitimate, according to Islam, since it stands on land that once was part of the Dar al-Islam (the Land of Islam) and still properly belongs to it. A Muslim government must rule Dar al-Islam. Indeed for fundamentalist Muslims, Syria's secular Ba'athist government is considered apostate. For that reason Hamas can never recognize Israel. It is against its religious beliefs.
The most Hamas can do to get around that is make a "temporary state" on the pre-1967 borders, as Yasser Mansour, No. 5 on the party's list of candidates, told The Jerusalem Post
in an interview on Wednesday.
"We can accept a temporary state on the pre-1967 borders," Yasser he said. "We can do this by agreement, but we cannot recognize the occupation of our land."
The other way that Hamas plans to get around its proclaimed desire to take back all of the land of Mandatory Palestine is to make a hudna
(cease-fire). "We can give a hudna for a long time," Mansour said.
But whatever agreements Hamas and Israel may arrive at, the problem for Jordan and Egypt remains difficult. These are the countries that are friends of the US (and Israel) and are thus under the most pressure to follow the US plan of democratization. On the other hand, if they follow the path, they will be paving the way to their own downfall.
Hamas's win legitimizes the Islamists in both Jordan and Egypt. Should those governments now accept Hamas and do business with it or should they act like Israel and the US, who (at this point) say they won't talk to the terrorists?
They need to have relations with their neighbor, the PA, yet they also don't want to legitimize the Islamist forces among them. If those countries were to have fully democratic elections, instead of dealing with friendly dictators Israel would have to deal with people who have a less than favorable disposition toward it, mainly because of the plight of the Palestinian people with whom they identify as fellow Muslims, fellow Arabs and - in the case of Jordan - relatives.
This means Israel will have to take into consideration a whole new foreign policy vis- -vis its neighbors. Those neighbors views of Israel would depend on the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But as some Palestinians in Nablus told the Post
, if Hamas does make a deal with Israel, no Palestinian can reject it because it is the hard-liner. Like Israelis, who can only accept territorial compromise if its made by a right-wing government, Palestinians say they could accept a compromise on land if it were made by those whom they believe will give stick up for their rights.