Sisi’s hard line on Gaza not popular with Egyptian activists

Analysis: Cairo longs to see Hamas deposed and the Palestinian Authority returned

A Palestinian child who was injured in the Gazan conflict is prepared to be moved by ambulance from a hospital in north Sinai to Cairo after crossing the Gaza-Egypt border. About 100 wounded Palestinians have been allowed enter Egypt from Gaza for hospital treatment. Photograph: Muhamed Sabry/AP

A Palestinian child who was injured in the Gazan conflict is prepared to be moved by ambulance from a hospital in north Sinai to Cairo after crossing the Gaza-Egypt border. About 100 wounded Palestinians have been allowed enter Egypt from Gaza for hospital treatment. Photograph: Muhamed Sabry/AP

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 01:00

Israel’s onslaught on Gaza finds Egypt between a rock and a hard place.

The foreign ministry has condemned Israel’s “excessive” and “unjustified” use of force against Palestinian civilians but neither president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi nor foreign minister Sameh Shoukry have adopted a tough line toward Israel after it stepped up operations on Eid al-Fitr, the feast that ends the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

To mollify Egyptian public opinion, which identifies with the Palestinians, the army has delivered food and medical supplies to Gaza through the Rafah crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border. The latest convoy consisted of 15 lorries loaded with 50,000 boxes of food and other supplies while an earlier shipment consisted of 500 tonnes of aid.

About 100 wounded Palestinians have been permitted to enter Egypt for hospital treatment. Having ruled Gaza from 1948-1967, Egypt has close family, business, social and cultural affinities with Gaza’s Palestinians. However, Cairo longs to see Hamas deposed and the return to Gaza of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, which governed until June 2007. Cairo’s antagonistic approach to Hamas was displayed when it proposed a ceasefire a week into the Gaza war.

Sisi discussed the terms of the truce with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and with US secretary of state John Kerry but not with Hamas. It was outraged by the slight and Hamas’s supporters accused Sisi of colluding with Israel.

In common with US and EU leaders, Sisi does not speak to Hamas. This makes it nearly impossible for Cairo to be a mediator and explains why Turkey and Qatar, which back Hamas, have assumed this role although they do not have the stature or influence Egypt used to wield on the regional scene.

Yesterday’s claim by the Palestine Liberation Organisation that all Gaza factions had agreed on a 24-hour ceasefire ahead of negotiations in Cairo on a long-term truce appeared to confer on Egypt, once again, a mediatory role. But this claim was dismissed by Hamas which does not believe Israel is ready to cease fire. Nor does it trust Egypt to deliver the Palestinian demand for an end to Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza.

Sisi sees Hamas as an enemy. It is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, ousted from power last July by the Egyptian military he headed following massive popular protests against president Mohamed Morsi. Since then, the Brotherhood and its supporters have mounted street protests calling for Morsi’s reinstatement. The resulting turmoil has led to a harsh crackdown on all dissent, whether from Brotherhood or secular quarters.

Brotherhood militants and radical jihadis who back the Brotherhood have staged frequent attacks on public buildings, policemen and troops and risen up against the Egyptian authorities in northern Sinai.

Blame game

Although unrest in Sinai has been caused by Cairo’s neglect of the peninsula, discrimination against its Bedouin inhabitants, and an influx of jihadis and arms from Libya, the Egyptian authorities have blamed the problems there on Hamas.

Seeking to escape responsibility, Cairo argues Hamas is infiltrating fighters into Sinai from Gaza and arming local insurgents. This line has been trumpeted in the media. Consequently, due to the anti-Brotherhood campaign and the Sinai blame game, Hamas is widely unpopular in Egypt.

This has given the government leeway to adopt a hard line toward Gaza, prompting accusations by pro-Palestinian Egyptian activists that Cairo is taking a hardhearted approach. Activists argue that this was demonstrated by the army’s refusal to allow the first private Egyptian aid convoy to cross into Gaza. This was partially remedied with a delivery on Friday, but there is little doubt that the hard line has been hardhearted.

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