by Khaled Abu Toameh
The problem is that many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip still do not see Fatah as a better alternative to Hamas.
These are tough days for Hamas. After losing the military and financial support of Iran and Syria, Hamas has now lost its main allies in Egypt.
The downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt is a severe blow to Hamas, whose leaders are now studying ways of avoiding a "revolution" that could end their rule in the Gaza Strip.
But although Hamas has suffered a major setback in wake of the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, it is premature to talk about the beginning of the countdown for the collapse of the Hamas regime.
The Gaza Strip has neither an organized opposition nor an army that could assist in removing Hamas from power.
One of the biggest fears is that if Hamas is toppled, those who would replace it would not be any better. This is particularly true in light of the growing popularity of various Islamist groups operating inside the Gaza Strip, some of which are affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Hamas supporters were the first to celebrate the toppling of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and the first to take to the streets in jubilation over the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Morsi, in the general elections a year ago.
Morsi's rise to power had been seen by Hamas and other Muslims as a "divine victory": Allah's gift to his believers.
Contrary to Mubarak, Morsi's regime adopted a completely different policy toward Hamas.
While Mubarak dealt with Hamas and the Gaza Strip as a "security" issue, Morsi sought to legitimize the Palestinian Islamist movement in the eyes of the whole world.
For the first time ever, and much to the dismay of the West Bank's Palestinian Authority leaders, under Morsi, Hamas leaders became regular and welcome guests in the Egyptian presidential palace.
Morsi's rise to power emboldened Hamas in a way that allowed it further to tighten its grip on the Gaza Strip.
For Hamas, there was nothing better than having the full political backing of Egypt, the largest and most important country in the region.
During the last war between Israel and Hamas, "Operation Pillar of Defense," and much to the dismay of Fatah's Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank, Morsi dispatched Egyptian prime minister Hesham Qandil to the Gaza Strip, in an unprecedented show of solidarity with the Hamas regime.
Qandil's visit was followed by a series of mutual visits to the Gaza Strip and Egypt by Hamas and Egyptian cabinet ministers and top officials.
Although Hamas leaders have publicly played down the significance of the Egyptian coup, reports from the Gaza Strip suggest that some leaders of the Islamist movement are already nervous.
According to one report, the new rulers of Egypt have issued an order banning all Hamas leaders from entering their country.
Another report said that Egyptian security authorities have arrested several Hamas members based in Cairo and Sinai on charges of involvement in terror attacks against Egyptians.
Hamas leaders who tried to contact senior Egyptian government officials over the past few days said their phone calls were being totally ignored.
The crisis in Egypt also seems to be have had a negative impact on the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip: there seems to be a severe shortage of petrol, natural gas and basic goods as a result of severe restrictions imposed by the Egyptian authorities along their shared border.
Palestinian Authority officials and other Palestinians are now hoping that the latest revolution in Egypt will accelerate or facilitate the overthrow of the Hamas regime. Some Palestinian Authority representatives have even called on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to learn from the Egyptian model and rise up against Hamas.
The new rulers of Egypt may even turn out to be extremely hostile to Hamas, especially in light of claims that Hamas members had been dispatched to Cairo and other Egyptian cities to help Morsi supporters crush the opposition.
But does all this mean that the countdown for Hamas's collapse has begun? Not necessarily.
Unlike Egypt, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip do not have an army that could come to the rescue. Also, Fatah's supporters in the Gaza Strip do not have enough weapons to launch an Egyptian-style coup against Hamas.
Hamas, on the other hand, has a huge arsenal of weapons and thousands of militiamen who are quick to act against any individual or group who challenge its regime.
The Gaza Strip also does not have a credible, powerful, well-organized secular opposition that could rally thousands of Palestinians behind it.
Today, the only choice in the Gaza Strip is between Hamas and Fatah. The problem is that many Palestinians still do not see Fatah as a better alternative to Hamas.
Khaled Abu Toameh
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