TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME UAE

UAE Plans First Arab Spaceship to Mars in 7 Years

(DUBAI, United Arab Emirates) — The United Arab Emirates, already home to the world’s tallest tower, is now reaching for the stars. The energy-rich country on the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula announced plans Wednesday to establish a space program to send the first Arab spaceship to Mars in 2021.

The ruler of the UAE’s emirate of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said the mission will prove the Arab world is still capable of delivering scientific contributions to humanity, despite the many conflicts across the Middle East.

“Our region is a region of civilization. Our destiny is, once again, to explore, to create, to build and to civilize,” said Al Maktoum, who is also UAE’s vice president, in a statement.

For years, the UAE has been pushing Arab League nations to create a pan-Arab space agency similar to the European Space Agency.

A UAE Cabinet statement said the unmanned space probe is also aimed at diversifying the country’s economy and building up its local talent in the technology and aerospace fields.

The government did not say how much the program is expected to cost, but said the space agency would report to the Cabinet and be financially and administratively independent otherwise.

The UAE, which is comprised of seven emirates, says that its investments in space technologies already exceed 20 billion dirham, or roughly $5.4 billion. That includes investments in satellite data, mobile satellite communications and earth mapping and observation.

The Cabinet statement said the space technologies industry is estimated to be worth around $300 billion globally, and is increasingly important to the security of nations.

For hundreds of years up until the mid-13th century, Islamic advancements in science and technology experienced a golden age, but later fell behind. The ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi and UAE President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan said the Mars probe “represents the Islamic world’s entry into the era of space exploration.”

Several Muslim-majority nations such as Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey Indonesia, Pakistan and Iran already have space agencies or programs.

Iran sent a monkey into space for the second time last year, returning it safely to earth, and says it aims to send an astronaut into space.

There have also been several Muslim astronauts from around the world. Saudi-born Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud became the first Muslim and Arab to travel to space in 1985.

Meanwhile, Egypt became the first Arab country to launch its own communications satellite in 1998, dramatically transforming the broadcasting landscape in the region.

The Dubai ruler said his country chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because it inspires and motivates.

“The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward,” he said.

TIME Dubai

Dubai to Build World’s First Temperature-Controlled Indoor ‘City’

In Dubai's latest attempt to cement its place as the economic hub of the Islamic world, Sheik Mohammed announces plans to build the world's first temperature-controlled "city," which will double as the world's largest mall

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Dubai’s ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum has unveiled plans for the Mall of the World — a 48 million-sq.-ft. (4.5 million sq m) shopping center, to be the world’s largest, which will also form the world’s first temperature-controlled “city.”

Designed by developers Dubai Holding, the complex will be modeled on the cultural district around New York’s Broadway and Oxford Street in London, and is expected to draw 180 million visitors to the city annually — even during the sweltering 104°F (40°C) summer. (The complex will be opened to the elements during tamer winter months to allow fresh air to circulate.)

“The growth in family and retail tourism underpins the need to enhance Dubai’s tourism infrastructure as soon as possible,” Sheik Mohammed said in a statement. “This project complements our plans to transform Dubai into a cultural, tourist and economic hub for the 2 billion people living in the region around us; and we are determined to achieve our vision.”

The ambitious project will include the world’s largest indoor amusement park and shopping mall, 100 hotels and serviced apartment complexes, an entertainment center to host 15,000 people, and a 3 million-sq.-ft. (300,000 sq m) “wellness district” for medical tourism. Buildings in the city will be connected by promenades stretching 4.5 miles (7 km). The plan is Dubai’s latest attempt to mark itself as the economic hub of the Islamic world; the UAE’s most populous city already boasts the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, which stands at 2,722 ft. (829.8 m).

In addition, as countries around the world struggle to reduce their greenhouse emissions, the project could lead the way for environmentally responsible urban planning. Ahmad bin Byat, chief executive officer of Dubai Holding, said in a statement that technology used will “reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint, ensuring high levels of environmental sustainability and operational efficiency.”

The cost and timeline of the project have yet to be released, but it is expected to be a highlight at the UAE World Expo trade fair in 2020.

TIME India

Airline Passenger Attempts Suicide During Flight

The 30-year-old man, who works as a draftsman in Dubai, was on a flight to the Indian industrial hub of Hyderabad.

A passenger on an Emirates flight from Dubai to India attempted to commit suicide in the aircraft’s lavatory, the airline and police said Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Crew members found the passenger bleeding heavily shortly before the descent into Hyderabad, India. They administered treatment on board the aircraft before giving the passenger to a medical team on the ground.

The 30-year-old man, who works as a draftsman in Dubai, had wounds on his neck, ankles and wrists. He was in stable condition at an area hospital Monday. It’s still unclear what he used to injure himself or why he attempted suicide.

Emirates said the plane returned to Dubai without passengers for maintenance.

[AP]

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