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Hamid Dabashi: Qatar and Saudi Arabia want to control the region, pushing Hamas towards a Muslim Brotherhood led Egypt

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

A few months ago, during the intense fighting in Syria, Hamas closed its office in Damascus and moved it to Doha in Qatar. Qatar, as we know, is the money and power and owner of Al Jazeera network, amongst many other things, and Qatar has been an increasingly active player in the politics of the Middle East and has to a large extent been clashing with or competing with Iranian interests in the area. Qatar, as we know, is also the home of the American CENTCOM, Central Command for the Middle East region.

Now joining us to talk about Qatar and Hamas and Iran is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid’s a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York, and he’s the author of the recently released book Corpus Anarchicum: Political Protest, Suicidal Violence, and the Making of the Posthuman Body. Thanks for joining us again, Hamid.


JAY: So there’s a chess game, a chessboard, Brzezinskian chessboard game going on here—Qatar with lots of money to throw at various forces, and Saudi Arabia as well. The emir of Qatar went to Gaza just a few weeks before the recent attack, Israeli attack on Gaza. One doesn’t think the emir goes anywhere unless he’s already got the deal he wants. And what is that deal? And just where is Hamas, in terms of its relationship with Iran now?

DABASHI: You see, the whole situation with Hamas—you remember, if you step back, we had what in the region is called [mo’gav@ma], the resistance. The resistance consisted of Islamic Republic of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. That was supposed to be the line of resistance to Israeli aggression, American imperialism, and so forth. That began to dismantle, remember, with the revolution, the Arab revolutions in Tunisia, in Egypt, and particularly when it hit Syria—bloody face of this revolution is in Syria.

Then that alliance began to dismantle and Iran became heavily entangled in Syrian politics, helping the regime to stay in power, along with China and Syria, while Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United States, and Israel were trying to force it in their own direction.

Now, in this arrangement, while Iran was helping Syria to stay in power, Hezbollah sided completely categorically with Syrian regime, and that had implication for its presence in Lebanon, which is very precarious, but nevertheless continues. Hamas, on the other hand, was very quick to decouple itself from that alliance.

But Khaled Mashal did that very judiciously. For example, when there was a conference in Tehran labeling the Arab revolutions as Islamic awakening, Khaled Mashal went to Tehran, participated in that conference. However, there and then, in Khomeini’s—Ayatollah Khomeini’s face, he defended the move by Mahmoud Abbas towards statehood, a move that Ayatollah Khomeini was proposing. So he kept—he began to distance himself from Islamic Republic, but not too much.

Let’s keep in mind that one should not exaggerate. The Islamic Republic of Iran is still very much influential with the Hamas, with the [fadZ] involvement and other factors. But eventually the rapprochement that happened between Hamas and Fatah and Palestinian Authority was something that was negotiated in post-revolutionary Egypt, and Qataris were involved, the Saudis were involved, and so forth. So your assessment is absolutely correct that this game change is happening in a way that they’re trying to win over Hamas towards an alliance with the Egyptians and the Qataris and the Saudis, and even Turkey, in a way that will decouple it from Iran as well.

Part of that decoupling from Iran and from Syria is good, because these are repressive regimes, and Hamas, however you want to assess it, is integral to a national liberation movement. But now you will see that it’s changing in a more radical direction, to be incorporated into a kind of a Sunni-dominated, Wahhabi-dominated aspect of the politics of the region that is not of the same nature, is of a different nature.

What opposes it, however, is the fact that Hamas, however isolated and insular it is in Gaza, is integral to Palestinian national liberation movement. And that integration does not allow it—that is, the power of national liberation movement of Palestinians for 60 years does not allow a sort of an Islamization of the movement. It’s simply impossible. If you simply allow for this, the Gaza 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza to be integral to the rest of Palestine, I am absolutely convinced that this attempt to Islamization and Sunnification of the Palestinian national liberation movement would immediately melt away.

JAY: It seems like the plan is to push Gaza—which is something Israel always wanted, I think—more and more under the management of Egypt, meaning the Muslim Brotherhood now manages Gaza and defuses, gets rid of any militant forces that might continue kind of an armed resistance against Israel. And Qatar’s money kind of is the lubricant for all this.

DABASHI: Oh, yes. I mean, the Israelis would love for Egypt to take over Gaza, and the Palestinians in West Bank to go to Jordan and for them to gobble up the whole Palestine, and if they have to let go of Gaza, so be it. And, as you see, under the smoke screen of this invasion, yet again another bombing of Gaza, Netanyahu’s landgrab, Morsi is going for power grab. Netanyahu is going for landgrab. Grabbing more of Palestinian lands in the West Bank continues. So, so far as Israelis are concerned, they wouldn’t mind foregoing Gaza, letting Gaza be absorbed into Egypt, but instead they take over the entirety of West Bank, and that becomes greater Israel.

But opposing it, the thing is that you have to keep in mind, as many years as Zionism has occupied this segment of Palestine, you had history of Palestinian national resistance. That history is not easy. That is not something that it can easily sort of dispense with it. The day after the bombing stops in Gaza, Palestinian flag is up and the kids are playing on the rubbles. The power of Palestinian aspiration for the liberation of their homeland, the entirety of their homeland that includes Gaza but is not particularly Gaza, people either don’t know the history of this national liberation movement, or trying to disregard it or dispense with it.

But I am absolutely convinced, as somebody who has followed these events in Palestine, that it is impossible imaginatively and territorially to dismantle Palestine and Palestinian national liberation movement, and for the emir of Qatar or the king of Saudi Arabia or the increasingly corrupt president of Egypt to try to have design for it. Of course they have design for it, but resisting that design is the fact on the ground, the fact of a national liberation movement that has gone on for over 60 years.

JAY: Now, this visit by the emir to Gaza just a few weeks before Israeli attack on Gaza, whether there’s some grand plan conspiracy or not I don’t know, but this undermining, demolishment of so much of the infrastructure of Gaza, never mind the deaths of the civilians, it puts Hamas even more vulnerable to needing Qatari money, which makes it more manipulative. And just to give you an example of how much this seems to be rivalry with Iran, I was looking at an Iranian news website that also translates its material into English, and it was accusing the emir of Qatar of handing out pens that had GPS’s built into them to the leaders of Hamas so it’d be easier for Israel to knock off the Hamas leaders. Now, I’m not suggesting I believe any of that, but just at a propaganda level it shows just how much the Iranians don’t like this Qatari move.

DABASHI: That is true. First of all, don’t go that conspiratorial route, because there is an insight in there, in that argument that Qatar [crosstalk]

JAY: Yeah, no, no. I’m not suggesting I buy the pen argument. I’m just saying that that kind of propaganda reflects something.

DABASHI: Exactly. But the more fundamental aspect of your point is absolutely correct, namely, one result of this particular military operation of Israel is more devastation, more homelessness, and more and more need for financial aid. And if anybody—emir of Qatar or, you know, anybody from Kalamazoo comes with money and resources, etc., Palestinians inevitably have to welcome them, whether it’s Hamas or Jihad al-Islami or whoever else is—it is total devastation.

But keep in mind—I mean, speaking of chess, we have to keep in mind, the support of Islamic Republic of Iran for Hamas and Hezbollah, as their strategies say it in so many words, is not out of a bleeding heart for Palestinians, is for their own interests. As one of the military strategists say, Hezbollah and Hamas are not fighting for Hezbollah/Hamas; they’re fighting for us. And they were even calculating that the money that Islamic Republic of Iran gives to Hamas and Hezbollah is less than if they were to buy a submarine to be able to fight Americans in the Persian Gulf.

So they all have their agenda. Islamic Republic of Iran has its own agenda, is a beleaguered theocracy, is deep—I mean, after crippling sanctions, I mean, and all sorts of other things, threat of military strikes, they’re also in deep trouble. But they’re taking advantage—the Qataris and the Saudis and the Egyptians and Israelis and Americans are taking advantage of this for their own agenda.

But as I said, resisting both sides of this pressure remains the aspirations of Palestinians for their homeland.

JAY: And the hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Egypt today.

DABASHI: Of Egypt as well that is in solidarity with them. This is the prospect. I mean, if you were to ask me what is the reason behind Netanyahu’s decision to go and begin with the killing of the only man, according to the Israeli negotiator with Hamas, who was actually—hours before he was assassinated, he was living—reading the draft proposal of a more permanent peace treaty with Israel. The first thing that Ehud Barak does is assassinate the man who was thinking and preparing—this is not according to me; according to an Israeli negotiator—assassinated, that and attack it.

Why? Because these series of revolution, as you see it, right now, in these very hours, as you and I are having conversations, are open-ended and unpredictable, and unpredictable democratic uprisings are not what Israel can deal with. They want—they’d much rather deal with Bashar al-Assad.

Right now, they don’t like the possibility—. I mean, they think that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists are taking over Syria, so they don’t want that, and they’d much rather to have Bashar al-Assad in power. I think we have a future democratic condition in Syria, and for that reason they don’t want to have Bashar al-Assad in power as well. So Bashar al-Assad provides two kinds of models for Israelis: one, slaughtering of innocent civilians; and one is to keep the status quo and [incompr.] these revolutionary movements to a status quo anti to the politics of this fear as we have had it, in which Israelis continue to grab more lands, Palestinians will be more impoverished and dispossessed, and so forth.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Hamid.

DABASHI: Anytime.

JAY: Thanks for joining us on The Real News. Don’t forget the Donate button over here. We’re in our year-end fundraising campaign. Every dollar you donate gets matched. But if you don’t click on that, we can’t do this.


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Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He received a dual Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. He wrote his dissertation on Max Weber's theory of charismatic authority with Philip Rieff (1922-2006), the most distinguished Freudian cultural critic of his time. Professor Dabashi has taught and delivered lectures in many North American, European, Arab, and Iranian universities.
Professor Dabashi has written twenty-five books, edited four, and contributed chapters to many more. He is also the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, medieval and modern Islam, and comparative literature to world cinema and the philosophy of art (trans-aesthetics). His books and articles have been translated into numerous languages, including Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Danish, Russian, Hebrew, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Urdu and Catalan.