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The Shifting Al Qaeda-Hamas Relationship
The recent shift in al Qaeda's stance on Hamas is perhaps the best reality check for the relationship between groups that seek political power through strictly violent methods and those who dip their toes in the political arena.

In March, Zawahiri, for the al Qaeda old guard, blasted Hamas for entering into the political process with Fatah, charging that Hamas had "finally joined the surrender train of [former Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat for humiliation and capitulation. . . . Hamas went to a picnic with the U.S. Satan and his Saudi agent."

Now that Hamas has broken with Fatah and abandoned the electoral process, Zawahiri is doing a complete about-face, calling on all Muslims to join Hamas in their jihad.

"We tell our brothers, the Hamas mujahedin, that we and the entire Muslim nation stand alongside you, but you must redress your [political] path. . . . Muslims must join Hamas ranks . . . and we will back them by facilitating the passage of weapons and supplies from neighboring countries," Zawahiri said.

It is worth remembering that Hamas is the armed branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to its own charter. It represents the Muslim Brotherhood's tactics of combining political action with military action, using whichever is deemed more expedient at the moment. The tactical flirtation with the political sphere, not the overall strategy of re-creating the caliphate, is the root of the intense disagreements that arise between the two groups.

The discussion of this tension over tactics and alliance between Hamas and al Qaeda was one of the most interesting parts of a recent conference on the Muslim Brotherhood sponsored by the NEFA Foundation in Florence, Italy.

Experts who monitor Hamas and al Qaeda websites predicted there that, if Hamas were to abandon the political process, the relationship between the two groups would return to its more traditional state of tension but tolerance for each other.

The conference also looked at the history of Hamas and the Brotherhood, the use of the Internet to facilitate conversations among Hamas and other jihadist groups, and other topics that helped draw the large contours of the Brotherhood's global presence.

The relationship has a long history of tumult and acrimonious debate, but ultimately Hamas, al Qaeda old guard and the new jihadist groups from Iraq to Somalia share a single goal, and that unites more than divides them. This is one of the great failings in the analysis of Robert Leiken and others like him who continually try to paint the Brotherhood as a moderate organization.

Moderate in terms of not relying solely on violence, perhaps, but not moderate in its goals, whether achieved militarily or politically.

As one Hamas leader responded to Zawahiri's criticism: "Hamas develops and adopts a balanced and flexible response, but this response is based on a specific path and vision and not on illusions. . . . We are not sensitive to the accusations you [al-Zawahiri] have mentioned. . . . There is no problem if one is reassured about his own ideas, especially Hamas."

That is perhaps the fundamental difference between the jihadists who rely strictly on waging war and the Brotherhood: a balanced and flexible response based on a more realistic assessment of the political reality one faces.

If the endgame is still our submission to sharia law, the recreation of the Caliphate and the supremacy of Islam over everything and everyone else, it is still not a moderate game plan.

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