Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Turning over a new leaf

The government’s appeal of a court ruling designating Hamas a terrorist organisation offers an opportunity to ease tensions, writes Khaled Dawoud

Turning over a new leaf
Turning over a new leaf
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Cairo Appeals Court will rule on 10 May on the petition, presented by state lawyers, against an earlier verdict designating the Islamist Palestinian resistance group Hamas a terrorist organisation. The initial ruling, issued on 28 February, followed a similar verdict in a separate case in which the Ezzeddine Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, were branded a terrorist group.

Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, clearly paid a high price for the ouster of Brotherhood leader,

Mohamed Morsi, on 3 July, 2013. Amid growing anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment Egypt’s private and state media began an open season on Hamas which was accused of training members of the Brotherhood and other Islamists to launch terrorist attacks in Egypt. Hamas has consistently denied the charges.

The case against Hamas in the Court for Urgent Matters was launched by lawyer Samir Sabri who petitioned for the Palestinian group to be added to the Egyptian government’s list of terrorist organisations. He alleged Hamas had engaged in criminal activities in Egypt during and after the 25 January Revolution, including armed attacks on prisons to free Hamas and Brotherhood prisoners, and had worked alongside other terrorist groups to attack soldiers in Sinai. The court found in Sabri’s favour, signaling a nadir in relations between Hamas and Egypt. Hamas described the ruling as “dangerous and shocking” and “a coup against Palestinian resistance”.

Under Mubarak Egypt mainly had backed Fatah, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and based in Ramallah, over Hamas. Mubarak never met with Hamas leaders. Their main channel of communication was through late Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. The joint border with Gaza, under Hamas control since forces loyal to Fatah were ousted in 2006, meant there was always a need for an open channel of communication between the two sides.

Relations entered a new phase when Mohamed Morsi became president in June 2012. Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal and other senior Hamas figures were regular visitors to the presidential palace. Reports emerged that Brotherhood leaders, including the Deputy General Guide Khairat Al-Shater, were using bodyguards trained by Hamas.

The government’s decision to appeal the ruling against Hamas suggests that Cairo is unwilling to push relations with the Palestinian group into a dead end. The government’s lawyers argue in their appeal that the decision to designate

Hamas a terrorist organisation is “an act of sovereignty” that can only be taken by the government informed by its reading of Egypt’s national interests. The lawyers further argued the ruling contradicts a decree — the Law on Terrorist Entities — recently issued by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi which identifies the legal steps that must be undertaken before any organisation or individual be branded terrorist.

Columnists such as Abdullah Al-Sinawi, known to support Al-Sisi, warned of the consequences of the verdict. Cairo, Al-Sinawi argued, needed to maintain open channels with all Palestinian factions given its role in the peace process. He also noted that no other Arab country has followed Israel, the United States and the European Union in dubbing Hamas a terrorist organisation.

Egypt’s press has also published reports that Saudi Arabia’s new monarch, seeking to build a united Arab front against Iran, is keen to see a halt in tensions between Egypt and Hamas. There have been stories that a senior Hamas delegation is preparing to visit Riyadh.

In a surprising move Sabri, who also filed the cases against the Ezzeddine Al-Qassam Brigades, told the Appeals Court on Saturday that he was abandoning his case following the government’s appeal. He told reporters he took the decision “in order to allow Egypt to continue playing a role in the Palestinian cause, and not to leave it open for Qatar and Turkey alone.”

“I have no doubt that Hamas is a terrorist organisation,” he said. “But I took a decision that gives the Egyptian government a chance to continue playing a role in fostering reconciliation between Palestinians.”

A second lawyer, Ashraf Farahat, who had joined Sabri in the case, told the Appeals Court that he insisted on pressing the charges, and demanded the court back up the February ruling that designated Hamas a terrorist group. The judges said they would rule in the case on 10 May.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zohri welcomed the Egyptian government’s decision to appeal the ruling, saying it was “a recognition that a mistake had been made against the Palestinian cause.” He added that the movement was “hoping that this step will help develop relations to serve the interests of the Egyptian and Palestinian peoples.”

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