Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt and Hamas

No sooner does Cairo begin a fresh page with Hamas than the Palestinian movement’s security policies and ideology flip it back. Since it staged its coup in 2007 and imposed its de facto government in Gaza, Hamas has demonstrated time and again its refusal to observe the cardinal principles governing the historical relationship between Egypt and Gaza and the Egyptian role in the Palestinian cause. It has undermined all efforts Cairo has made to broker a reconciliation with Fatah and mend the inter-Palestinian fissure. Gaza, under Hamas control, became a breeding ground for terrorists, whether from Gaza itself or from Sinai, and a platform for terrorist attacks against Egypt. Hamas also served as a vehicle for Iran and Qatar to obstruct Egyptian policy on the Palestinian question, to the detriment of the Palestinian cause and to the detriment of Egypt as well.

Yet, Egypt continued to remain true to the principle established by the former chief of Egyptian General Intelligence, the late General Omar Suleiman, which held that Gaza must not be allowed to starve no matter how tense the relationship between Hamas and Cairo, and no matter how negative a policy Hamas adopts towards Egypt. This principle is grounded in Egypt’s sense of responsibility towards the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, Hamas does not have a sense of the responsibility that it owes to Cairo or a sense of gratitude that might compel it to reciprocate help and assistance.

In the chapter before last, Hamas was on the verge of being designated a terrorist movement by the Egyptian judiciary. The Egyptian Interior Ministry had just announced that Hamas was complicit in the assassination of the Egyptian prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat by furnishing logistical support for this crime. Also, Hamas continued to refuse to hand over the list of persons wanted by police in Egypt for their involvement in cases related to terrorist operations in Sinai. However, the Egyptian judiciary ruled against the terrorist designation in order to give Hamas a new opportunity. The movement’s leaders should have seized that chance.

In the last chapter, which opened with the amendment of the Hamas charter and a new leadership hierarchy, it seemed that change was possible. It had formally relinquished its affiliation as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is designated as a terrorist organisation in Egypt and other Arab countries. Hopes were raised with the appointment of Yehia Sinwar as prime minister in Gaza. Thanks to Cairo’s determined intercession, Sinwar was included in the list of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails who were released in the prisoner exchange deal for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. He had also been received in Cairo many times and resided here for a long period. All such factors encouraged a new openness towards Hamas as was evidenced by a number of actions Egypt took in favour of Gaza immediately after Sinwar’s election: fuel shipments to operate long stalled electricity generator stations in Gaza; shipments of wheat and other essential commodities for the people of Gaza who have suffered severe shortages of such needs due to the Israeli blockade; and other such humanitarian measures. In addition, border security measures had been adopted by both sides, making it possible to create a restricted area on the Palestinian side in which movements could be monitored by Egyptian surveillance teams. It also became possible to reconsider a mechanism to govern the opening of the Rafah crossing which had previously been made conditional on the reinstatement of the Palestinian Presidential Guards as the agency in charge of administrating it.

In spite of the fact that such facilitating measures ran up against the opposition of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who visited Cairo last week, Egypt still felt that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Adding to this belief was the convergence of interests between Hamas’ old foe and potential ally Mohamed Dahlan who could serve as a balancing factor in the relationship. Although the Dahlan factor has worked counter to the policy of Ramallah in view of his antagonistic relationship to Abbas and the PA leadership, it could help overcome current Palestinian stagnation, especially if it is linked to the general regional context and the need to neutralise Hamas’ relationship with both Qatar and Iran.

But now we come to the incident of 8 July — that terrorist attack in Sinai last Friday in which were involved four Palestinians from Gaza, three of whom were members of the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, which declared their allegiance to the Islamic State, plus a member of the Army of Islam.

Naturally, once again the possibility of resuming relations with Hamas in any dynamic way has been called into question. Even if Hamas was not directly involved in that attack, it is at fault since it is responsible for everything that takes place under its watch in Gaza. Even if it reiterated its condemnation of this attack more forcefully than at any previous time, and even if it praised the Egyptian army and held condolence ceremonies, the shadow of doubt regarding its willingness to change still hangs over its head.

As the situation currently stands, Hamas is still in the circle of suspicion and its true intentions are being tested. The forthcoming days will reveal the result. If negative, Cairo will not hesitate to exact penalties this time. It will give Hamas no more opportunities and leave it no more choices. If the movement does not pursue an acceptable policy or at least one that can be tolerated, Cairo will be forced to conduct a reckoning based not only on the last chapter, but on all the chapters of Hamas’ relationship with Egypt.

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