By Mohamed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba
The autocratic regime of Egyptian leader Mubarak is more and more overtly complicit in aiding and abetting the inhumane strangulation and criminal blockade of the Gaza strip. It has used all kinds of phony pretexts to prevent international aid from reaching Gaza. Under the preposterous disguise of “national security” and “state sovereignty”, it has invented new measures aimed at further tightening Israel’s illegal embargo of the territory, thus contributing to the suffering of an already gravely battered population. Moreover, the Egyptian regime has continuously stoked up the chauvinistic sentiments of its populace in order to further its criminal policies and, more insidiously, disguise its failures of leadership and lack of political legitimacy.
A task at which the Mubarak regime seems expertly adept at as revealed by the recent trivial incidents involving soccer games with Algeria or its utter opposition to any role played by the state of Qatar to further rapprochement among Palestinian factions. Even Turkey did not escape it wrath for just trying to help the Palestinians or bridge gaps with the Syrians, to say nothing of Iran whose bashing appears an officially-sanctioned hobby.
Since June 2007, Israel has, with some rare exceptions, stopped almost everything from entering Gaza. Hamas, the Islamist party which won the parliamentary elections against Fatah in January 2006, took control of the territory in order to pre-empt an upcoming Fatah coup engineered by Israel, the US, Jordan and Egypt. In addition to the interdiction of imports, all exports from Gaza have been virtually banned by Israel and obsequiously enforced by the Egyptians.
There is no doubt that the Egyptian ruler, Hosni Mubarak, has played a critical role in the asphyxiation of the territory by unashamedly agreeing to police Gaza’s southern border at Rafah: the only entry point that does not pass through Israel.
This blockade, Israeli-Egyptian blockade, has created an unimaginable level of deprivation and poverty among the people of Gaza. Because of it, the territory’s only lifeline is the 400 tunnels under its border with Egypt, but now the Mubarak’s regime has begun, at the behest of its backers, the construction of a 14-kilometre-long wall made of super strength steel that extends 18 meters underground. Designed by US army engineers, the barrier has been engineered and tested in the US to ensure it is explosive proof and is being implanted at the frontier of Gaza.
This barrier is part of a concerted effort by Mubarak’s Egypt to definitely restrict all goods from entering Gaza and ultimately force its people to bow to the demands of Israel. The regime’s propagandists have in the past tried to downplay the role of Egypt in enforcing the blockade but the physical construction of this iron wall cannot be hidden anymore or camouflaged by hypocritical denials and lies , hence the recourse, once again, to the old, and overused, mantra of “national sovereignty” and so-called “state security”. An empty rhetoric epitomized by this ridiculous statement of Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister: “Egyptian borders are sacred, and no Egyptian allows any violations in one way or another.” As if the Egyptian people has any say on the policy of this senile regime.
No matter how outrageous, distasteful or appalling the action may seem to the people of Egypt, Mubarak has only one worry, one obsession and one focus: appeasing Tel Aviv and pleasing Washington. The potential destabilization that this excess of zeal in hypocrisy may cause his regime isn’t apparently a factor to be slightly weighted or remotely considered.
The nasty tricks unashamedly employed to stop the international convoy, Viva Palestine, from reaching its final destination is an indication of how far, and low, the Egyptian government is willing to abase itself in its servility to its backers and how indifferent it can be to the sentiments of its own people. After driving, without any problem, through Western Europe and Turkey, where the convoy was joined by other humanitarian contingents from Malaysia, Turkey and other countries, and crossing Syria and Jordan to pass through Egypt, the Egyptian authorities systematically refused to give it permission to enter. They demanded that the convoy enter through the Mediterranean port of El Arish which meant going back to Syria through Jordan. In which case the vehicles have to be ferried to El Arish via Latakia and some of the personnel must be flown to El Arish, adding 300,000 dollars to the expenses already incurred. What a shame!
The deportation of the British MP, George Galloway, is another example of the moral decay affecting the Egyptian regime which relentlessly stocks up xenophobia and jingoism to divert the attention of its people from the issues that matter the most (political reform, unemployment, abject poverty, inflation, torture, censorship…) by equating any critique of its policies to an attempt to the security of the state of Egypt or its national integrity.
To further prove its hypocrisy and abject cynicism, the Egyptian government seized 59 trucks out of 129 vehicles heading toward Gaza insisting that they go through Israel’s Ouja crossing. When the persons in charge of the convoy protested, Mohamed Heiba, a member of the ruling National Democratic Party, angrily stormed out of the meeting.
Soon after, thousand of riot police surrounded the port and started to forcefully break up the peaceful sit-in staged by the volunteers provoking clashes wherein many have been injured including 5 VP volunteers .The footages of police beating the peaceful activists with batons were aired on a Turkish TV prompting angry people to go demonstrate in the street.
The next day, following a call by Hamas to protest against the steel wall and Egyptian restrictions on the international convoy, angry Palestinians began throwing stones across the border at Egyptian security forces who fired back at the protesters. To disperse the crowd, the Hamas police fired into the air. In the melee, eight Palestinians were hurt and one Egyptian soldier died.
The Egyptian government quickly seized the opportunity of this tragic death to issue arrest warrants against the activists and threaten that aid destined to Gaza must in the future be sent to El Arish port and be handed to the Egyptian Red crescent.
Because of the accidental death of a soldier some pathetic characters like Magdi Daghagh or Ossama Saraya and their likes will relentlessly invoke the mobilizing themes of national honor and dignity to incense Egyptians. But the same characters become deaf when confronted with the facts that shatter into pieces such phony themes like honor or dignity: the humiliating acquittal of criminals directly responsible, by virtue of their recklessness and greed, of the drowning of hundred of poor Egyptians or the collapse of their housings, the squatting of homeless in graveyards that has become a landmark of Cairo, the near-starvation wages of the peasants, the overt threat of Lieberman to bomb the High Dam, the permanent state of emergency that strips a proud nation of its freedom, the outsourcing in Egypt of, not calls centers, MRI readings or the manufacturing of computer chips, but the secret torture chambers of Big Brother.
When two hundred magistrates try to demonstrate peacefully inside the headquarters of their syndicate for their rights or those of their brethren in Palestine, two thousand antiriot police are called upon to encircle their building and clear its surroundings. Yet that same police were blatantly incompetent when duty, and common sense, called for the protection of a single bus carrying the Algerian soccer team.
Yes the Algerian reaction was not any nobler but the fact remains that if it can stiffen the freedom of eighty million Egyptians, the police state of Egypt can very well protect twenty players. Without the complicity of the Egyptian government and other Arab states, Israel would hardly be able to impose its will on the Palestinian people, much less the entire Middle east. It derives her strength and arrogance only from the terrible impotence of autocratic Arab regimes.
To be fair, Egypt is not, alas, an exception in this regard.
– Mohamed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.