As the Arab Spring gathers force, it’s beginning to produce some internal contradictions between authoritarian politicians and the radical movements they’ve been backing, which are now caught up in the revolutionary fervor.
Two such cleavages — between Syria and its allies in Hamas, and between the traditional Kurdish leadership in Iraq and a growing Kurdish dissident movement — are already visible. More tensions are surely on the way as the push for self-determination creates a new landscape in the Arab world. As the popular slogan has it, “the barrier of fear is broken,” and traditional alliances are under strain. For example:
l Hamas is increasingly caught between pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood to back revolution in Syria and its links to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This Hamas-Syria tension is outlined in an analysis prepared by Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
For Hamas, it’s a problem of competing loyalties, according to the analysis provided by Jonathan Peled, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Khaled Meshal, the nominal leader of Hamas, is based in Damascus and operates with the approval of Assad’s regime. But Hamas also has links to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose campaign to topple Assad has won public support from Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a fiery preacher whose sermons are featured on al-Jazeera. Qaradawi is “the supreme religious and ideological authority of the Muslim Brotherhood,” according to the Israeli assessment.
On March 25, Qaradawi “called for a revolution in Syria, strongly criticized Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime, and expressed unconditional support for the revolutionists in Syria,” the Israeli analysis noted, continuing: “Thinking ahead, Hamas needs to take into account that complete identification with the Assad regime may compromise it if and when [Assad] is toppled.”
l Kurdish leaders, facing popular protest against corrupt and undemocratic government in Iraqi Kurdistan, on Wednesday turned to Baghdad for help in quelling demonstrations that have rocked the Kurdish capital of Sulaymaniyah. Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq and also head of the old-line Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is said to have requested help from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; a source in Sulaymaniyah said that Talabani depends on a 3,000-man “security force” that is largely Arab.
The Sulaymaniyah source said that when Talabani appeared there Monday in an effort to calm demonstrators, protesters began chanting: “Mu-bar-ak, Mu-bar-ak,” in a reference to the deposed Egyptian president. Talabani’s colleague in the PUK, Burham Salih, this week reportedly offered to resign as president of Iraqi Kurdistan to halt the protests.
“There have been mafia-style practices used against the free media in the region,” said Salih’s letter in an unusually blunt criticism of the Kurdish leadership, according to Agence France-Presse. The AFP said 95 people were wounded in clashes between police and security forces in Sulaymaniyah Sunday and Monday, and seven more on Tuesday.
Though Iraqi dissidents haven’t been much in the news, there’s a growing movement protesting the corruption and inefficiency that’s rampant in Maliki’s government in Baghdad and among the traditional parties that divide the spoils in Kurdistan. The possibility that a Kurdish leader might seek help from Iraqi Arabs would have been unimaginable several years ago. But local forces have not succeeded in quelling popular protest against the traditional Kurdish leaders, Talabani and Massoud Barzani.