"he Palestinian militant group Hamas announced Saturday that its political leader, Khaled Meshal, would not seek re-election, opening the door to a possible leadership contest and adding to the uncertainty enveloping Hamas at a time of regional turmoil.
"Mr. Meshal, who has led the group’s political bureau since 1996 and is the face of Hamas’s leadership, told the Shura Council, the group’s highest decision-making authority, that he preferred not to run in elections scheduled in the coming months, Hamas said in a written statement. There was no immediate comment from Mr. Meshal, who is based in Damascus, the Syrian capital."
The Damascus-based Mesha'al said his decision was to allow for a rotation of power within the movement. He recently stirred interest and uncertainty with his call for Hamas to move toward a strategy of popular protest against Israel, and Ha'aretz mentions Palestinian analysts as speculating that their opposition to this led the Gaza Hamas leadership to prevent him from retaining the leadership. The New York Times, however, focuses on the Syrian context:
"Hamas has been unwilling to express support for the beleaguered Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, despite pressure from its Iranian backers to do so, and relatives of many of Hamas’s leaders are reported to have already left Damascus for reasons of personal safety.
"An analyst close to Hamas, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested that Mr. Meshal, who has Jordanian residency documents, might want to quit so that he could return to Jordan because the situation in Damascus had become unbearable. Jordan has said that Hamas leaders who hold Jordanian papers can return to its territory as long as they refrain from conducting any political activities there."
Some combination of these factors could be in play, but I have no particular insight into the balance. The fact Hamas's leader would step down voluntarily, however, shows a key reason why Islamist movements are popular in the Arab world.