By Somdeep Sen – The Palestine Chronicle
It was May 17th, 2013 that Palestinians in Gaza were once again reminded that their lives were beholden to someone else’s fate. The day before, armed gunmen in the Sinai had kidnapped Egyptian soldiers on their way to Cairo. To express their dissatisfaction with the deteriorating security conditions in the area, the Egyptian personnel at the Rafah terminal called for a strike leaving Gazans stranded on both sides of the border. While the border finally opened after the release of the Egyptian soldiers, Palestinians in Gaza have since been pensively watching and wondering the fate of their seemingly only lifeline to the outside world.
In the Prelude
As Gaza got wind of the planned protests on June 30th, most knew that tumultuous times loomed ahead. For some time before the demonstrations, fewer and fewer Palestinians were allowed to register to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing. On June 22nd, owing to a ‘system failure’ thousands were refused entry into Egypt. As of now, Egyptian officials have completely closed the border citing security concerns in the Sinai. The tunnels, now an institutionalized mode for the transportations of goods and people, were also largely inactive in the days leading up and after the protests. At the same, the Egyptian army seemed to be in ‘combat mode’ in Sinai. In a region still scarred by the memories of Mubarak-era atrocities, the armed forces were prepared to quell any violence that may erupt as a spin-off from the opposition protests. Regular army patrol of the border region was, according to locals, “a normal occurrence.” Simultaneously, the road between Cairo and Rafah was also dotted with armed vehicles, tanks and army staffed check points making sure that Palestinians in Egypt hadn’t crossed in illegally through the tunnels.
The Loss of a Partner
With the demise of Egypt’s first elected president and the Muslim Brotherhood from the helm of the country’s politics, Gaza has seemingly lost an important partner. In keeping with his policies towards Egypt’s own Islamist opposition, Mubarak had concertedly shunned the then new Hamas-led administration in Gaza and had choked the Strip’s population of essential resources and mobility. Morsi in power was a welcome respite. Hailing from the Muslim Brotherhood, he forged an almost natural alliance with Hamas, historically an offshoot of the Brotherhood’s branch in the Gaza Strip. Showing contempt for the previous regime’s policies of effective-siege of Gaza, Morsi was able to open the Rafah crossing and had, to a large extent, eased the crippling impact of border closures. In Morsi and the Brotherhood, Hamas also found a key partner and interlocutor, that was seemingly on ‘its side’ during negotiations.
Search for a ‘New Friend’ in Cairo
While Hamas officials have insisted that the ouster of Morsi will have little impact on the Islamic Resistance and the Gaza Strip, a long and treacherous path lies ahead for its search for a new partner in Cairo. For months the anti-Morsi clique has ridden on the waves of growing anti-Palestine sentiments in Egypt. Hamas and its cadets have been blamed for several instances of violence in the Sinai, for attempting to violate the sovereignty of Egypt and for sending in fighters from Gaza to prop up the Morsi regime. While the evidence behind these allegations remain ‘thin’ at best, Egyptians have kept suspicious eye on their Palestinian neighbors. This means that the opposition, who are currently on a ‘political high’, would be reticent to demonstrate any overt allegiances to Hamas or Gazans, so as not to go against the grain of the peoples’ sentiments and to maintain a clear distinction between themselves and the Morsi-led Islamists. Accordingly, Gaza-based analyst Omar Shaban asserts, “the future relationship between Hamas and Cairo will not be as warm as it was under Morsi and Gaza’s leadership will not be received officially in the Egyptian capital.” Additionally, it is unlikely that the Egyptian Armed Forces would lend an immediate hand to Gaza. Notorious for their (historical) aversion of Islamists and their political project, they have been perpetually wary of Hamas’ rise and the political project it embodies. For many within Egyptian military, Hamas and the multitude of armed factions within its realm represent a serious threat to the already tense environment in the country’s hinterlands.
The result then is another period of uncertainty for Gaza’s populace and its Hamas leadership. In recent days, a closed Rafah crossing and the tunnels beneath it has meant a sharp worsening of the Strip’s gas crisis leaving businesses and homes in despair. Thousands hoping to cross over into Egypt for business, education and holiday, wait with the same uncertainty that has come to be synonymous with the Palestinian plight. And Hamas, with the loss of a close historical partner, wonders who it could now talk to in Cairo. While the possible scenarios are varied, Palestinians in Gaza only hope that they don’t have to pay a high price for Egypt’s current predicament.
– Somdeep Sen is a PhD Fellow at the University of Copenhagen. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.