Compare and contrast: Hamas's old and new charters
During his presser on Monday announcing Hamas’ new charter, Khaled Meshaal, the group’s outgoing political bureau chief, told reporters in Doha that it took his group four years to draft the new document, which should represent the movement’s new political frame of reference and will be taught to its grassroots.
Meshaal was keen to emphasise the integrity of the new charter as a document that is the fruit of a long process of intellectual and practical learning by his group. He repeated the idea that the document was not written under the pressure of any foreign entity and does not seek to please anyone. The goal of the document, according to Meshaal, was to reflect Hamas’ new thinking and to improve its performance.
"We hope the whole world will objectively and correctly hear our voice. We don't beg anyone. But, world understanding is important for us. We will not weaken our positions to gain understanding. But, we can present them in a better way and can be open to the world. We also believe that presenting our case in open political language is not enough. We also have to be powerful (on the ground) in order for our message to be heard," he said.
In such context, comparing the new document with the 1988 charter shows some clear differences on major ideological issues such Hamas' views on religion, democracy, and relations with the world and other religions and not just Jews.
|Read more: Could Hamas' new charter end stalemate in Gaza?|
Religion versus politics
The 1988 charter included more than 30 verses from the Quran, the Muslim holy book, that were used to explain and justify Hamas’ stands on various issues, such as its goal, internal structure, relations with other Muslims, strategy, identity, and role of women inside the group among others. The new charter does not include a single verse.
Make no mistake; the new charter upholds Hamas' religious identity. It describes the group as “an Islamic Palestinian national resistance and liberation movement that aims to liberate Palestinian and to confront the Zionist movement and uses Islam as its frame of reference for its approaches, goals, and means.”
Moreover, its speaks of the Palestinian issue as an “issue that has major human and international aspects. Supporting it is a human and civilization mission dedicated to the quest for truth, justice, and shared human values.”
In other words, Hamas’ new charter sounds more political and less religious than the old one. It speaks about the Palestinian cause in international terms that de-emphasise its local and religious identity and projects it more in terms of shared international values, such as justice, freedom, and independence. The new charter sounds more political, pragmatic, and international compared to the old one.
|The new charter sounds more political, pragmatic, and international compared to the old one.|
The old charter had several negative references to Christianity not just Judaism. It talks about Israel as a part of a colonial and crusade attack on the Muslim world. It makes several references to the crusades and how “other religions should stop challenging Islam’s sovereignty over this region.”
In contrast, the new charter portrays Israel as “a Zionist project that it is a danger to world safety and security and to the interests and stability of the Human society.”
It also says that “the conflict with the Zionist project is not a conflict with the Jews because of their religion” and that Hamas “rejects any discrimination against any person because of his nationality, religion, or sect.”
The new charter removes any negative reference to Christianity, the West, or the history of conflict between the Muslim world and Europe. It is more rooted in the present as it attempts to portray the Palestinian issue as a just human and global cause and not just a Muslim one.
|The new charter removes any negative reference to Christianity, the west, or the history of conflict between the Muslim world and Europe.|
Hamas’ new reconciliatory approach extends to domestic Palestinian politics. The 1988 charter projected the conflict between Hamas and Fatah dominated Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as a conflict between Islam and secularism. “The PLO has adopted the notion of the secular state, which fully contradicts with the religious ideal… the day the PLO adopts Islam as a way of life, we will be its soldiers,” it says.
The old charter portrayed the conflict with Fatah and the PLO as a religious one and saw the only solution in “Islamising” the PLO and the Palestinian struggle.
In the new charter, Hamas emphasises democracy, which was absent in the old manifesto, as the way to solve internal disputes.
“In dealing with Palestinian relations, Hamas believes and upholds the principle of pluralism, democracy, and national partnership, acceptance of the other and dialogue… Hamas emphasizes the need to build Palestinian institutions and national platform on solid and correct democratic bases.”
The new charter also promotes the idea of partnership with Fatah and other Palestinian factions and living in a pluralistic political society.
|Hamas emphasizes democracy, which was absent in the old manifesto, as the way to solve internal disputes.|
Gap between rhetoric and reality
Such ideas will certainly face many internal and external challenges. Hamas, as described by its new and old charters, is not a political party or movement working in a stable free democracy. It is a liberation movement that believes in armed struggle.
A group engaged in a decades old conflict with the Israeli occupation and one that suffers from a suffocating siege. An Arab movement that lives in an undemocratic region suffering from foreign intervention. In such context, it is difficult to expect Hamas to fulfill important aspects of its new doctrine.
For example, Hamas is often criticized by Human Rights organizations for committing various kinds of abuses against its opponents in Gaza , and for indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Israel.
However, the new ideas injected by the charter represent important ideological change and will certainly create debate especially among the Arab and Muslim masses who are going through dramatic changes.
|Read more: New Hamas Charter: Too little, too late?|
Masses throughout the Middle East are still living the consequence of the Arab Spring and failed democratisation.
They are reevaluating their relationships with the world as well as with domestic groups. The rise of Islamic State (IS), the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the ongoing civil wars, and the rising counter-revolutions backed by Israel and populist Western groups are pushing people to re-examine their views on everything and on how to deal with the new reality.
Given the significance of the Palestinian cause and Hamas’s leading role, the new doctrine will be debated for years to come.
Ideologically and rhetorically, Hamas has sided with democracy, internationalism, and shared human values against populism, religious wars, and anti-Semitism despite any gaps that might exist between rhetoric and practice.
Ultimately, such ideas will certainly help challenge widespread views and strongly held believes among Arab political religious groups and their many followers.
Alaa Bayoumi is an Egyptian journalist and the author of two books studying US foreign policy in the Middle East. He also writes on democratic transition in the Arab world.
Follow him on Twitter: @Alaabayoumi
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.