Senior Hamas officials have become frequent visitors to the Egyptian capital of Cairo, where the authorities treat them as VIP's and invite them to meetings with top government officials.
Following the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, the Egyptians have invited several Hamas leaders for talks on ways of achieving a new cease-fire with Israel and ending the rift between Hamas and Fatah. Some of these Hamas representatives have been in Cairo for weeks now as guests of the Egyptian government.

Similarly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has launched a "national reconciliation dialogue" with Hamas for the first time since the Islamist movement kicked his loyalists out of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007. The dialogue, according to Abbas's aides, is aimed at persuading Hamas to agree to the formation of a unity government with Fatah.

Hamas leaders and spokesmen have not concealed their satisfaction with Hosni Muabrak and Mahmoud Abbas's new strategy.

Until recently, the two US-backed Arab leaders had refused to engage Hamas diplomatically to avoid legitimizing the movement and turning it into a significant player in the Middle East. Both Mubarak and Abbas even worked hard to convince many countries not to deal with Hamas out of fear that such a move would boost the movement's standing.

The two even went as far as boycotting an Arab summit in Doha, Qatar, in January because of the presence of Hamas leaders. So why have Mubarak and Abbas suddenly changed their positions? And why are they themselves now helping Hamas win recognition on the international arena?

Egyptian and Palestinian political analysts believe that the change is a direct result of the departure of the former US Administration, which was vehemently opposed to any form of dialogue with Hamas. Mubarak and Abbas feel comfortable to talk to Hamas because they realize that President Barack Obama's new administration is contemplating a new, conciliatory approach toward Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, namely the Syrians, Hizbullah and Hamas, they explain.

Israel's failure to topple the Hamas regime is another reason why Abbas and Mubarak decided to end their boycott of Hamas. The two, who tacitly supported the Israeli military offensive, were hoping that it would result in the ouster of Hamas from power.

The fact that the war ended with Hamas still in power is being celebrated by the movement and its supporters as a "divine victory." True, Hamas suffered heavy casualties and its military capabilities were dealt a severe blow, but the movement has succeeded in scoring political points among many Arabs and Muslims.

Aware of Hamas's rising political power, Mubarak and Abbas obviously faced no other choice but to engage the movement. The two leaders, after all, have good reason to be worried.
The future of Mubarak's regime appears to be at stake as the challenges from home are growing. In the past few weeks, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been rounded up by Mubarak's secret police for allegedly seeking to destabilize the regime by voicing public support for Hamas. There is also growing discontent on the Egyptian street with Mubarak's refusal to reopen the Rafah border crossing into the Gaza Strip and his ruthless clampdown on human rights activists, editors and pro-Palestinian activists.

Abbas, on the other hand, appears to be in a much more difficult position. First, his term in office expired in early January. As such, he has lost his credibility among many Palestinians who say he does not have a mandate to represent them. Second, Abbas is facing increased criticism at home for his failure to adopt a tougher policy toward Israel during the war.

Some Palestinians have even gone as far as accusing him of collusion with Israel and the US to bring down the Hamas government. Moreover, Abbas has come under attack for ordering a massive crackdown on pro-Hamas Palestinians in the West Bank and for preventing Palestinians from expressing their public support for their brothers in the Gaza Strip during the military offensive. In short, Abbas is being dubbed by many Palestinians as the Dictator of Ramallah.

In a desperate bid to regain their lost credibility, Mubarak and Abbas are these days pleading with Hamas to hand them a straw that would save them from drowning. Mubarak has for weeks been begging Hamas to accept an Egyptian proposal for a new truce with Israel in the hope that the calm would ease tensions in his country. And Abbas has dispatched some of his top Fatah operatives to Cairo to plead with Hamas to agree to the formation of a unity government.

Mubarak and Abbas are hoping that by engaging Hamas they would be able to divert attention from their problems at home. But what they do not realize is that by courting Hamas they are actually boosting the movement's standing and further undermining what is left of their credibility.

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