Sat, Dec 01, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Sunni Muslim alliance gains clout in Middle East power shift

The Arab Spring uprisings, wars and economics have altered the landscape of the region, paving the way for a new axis to emerge, one led by Sunni Muslims

By Neil MacFarquhar  /  NY Times News Service, RAMALLAH, West Bank

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi resigned as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood only when he became head of state, but he still remains closely linked with the movement.

Turkey has kept strong relations with Washington, while diminishing the authority of generals who were long-standing US allies.

“The United States is part of a landscape that has shifted so dramatically,” Malley said. “It is caught between the displacement of the old moderate-radical divide by one that is defined by confessional and sectarian loyalty.”

The emerging Sunni axis has put not only Shiites at a disadvantage, but also the old school leaders who once allied themselves with Washington.

The old guard members in the Palestinian Authority are struggling to remain relevant at a time when their failed 20-year quest to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands makes them seem both anachronistic and obsolete.

“Hamas has always argued that it is the future of the changes in the region because of its revolutionary nature, that it is part of the religious political groups who have been winning the revolutions,” said Ghassan Khatib, an official at Birzeit University and former Palestinian government spokesman.

The Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the UN General Assembly on Thursday to request that it recognize Palestine as a non-member state. The resolution passed, but analysts view it as too little, too late in the face of the new regional mood.

At a busy Ramallah bakery, that mood was readily evident.

“If this situation continues, so what if Abu Mazen gets recognition, so what?” Salah Abdel Hamad, 50, a teacher said, referring to Abbas. “It will not bring any substantial change.”

The bakery’s owner dared hang in the window a mourning poster for Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military chief whose assassination by Israel helped to set off the latest conflict.

“The resistance proved that they are much better than the negotiating camp,” said Tha’er al-Baw, 23, referring to Hamas. “In the days of [former Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat, we used to think peace could be achieved through negotiations, but nobody believes this now.”

Even before the conflict, the emir of Qatar visited Gaza, promising US$400 million in aid. Qatar did not donate that sum just to have its investment bombed to smithereens every few years.

As Egypt’s president, Mubarak, who reviled the Muslim Brotherhood, was basically content to have Israel periodically smash Hamas, effectively the Brotherhood’s Gaza cousin.

Morsi changed little from Mubarak’s playbook, though his tone shifted. He sent his prime minister to lift morale. Ten foreign ministers, including those of Turkey and the newly Islamist government of Tunisia, also part of the new axis, visited Gaza during the fighting.

Egypt, Qatar and Turkey all want a more quiet, stable Middle East, which they have said repeatedly requires an end to the Israeli occupation, but the new Islamist governments do not talk about a two-state solution much, so analysts believe some manner of long-term truce is more likely.

“As Hamas moves closer to Turkey, Egypt and Qatar, it will be weaker as a ‘resistance’ movement because those three countries do not want a resistance movement,” said Talal Atrissi, a Lebanese academic specializing in Arab-Iranian relations.

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