An air of uncertainty is engulfing most matters related to Egypt. Since the Egyptian revolt started over two years ago, the country remains hostage to a barefaced power struggle with many destructive implications that have polarized society in unprecedented ways, perhaps in all of Egypt’s modern history. And while in Egypt itself nothing is sacred and no one is safe from the massive campaigns of defamation, demonization and sheer lies that each political camp is launching against the other, Palestinians find themselves in a most precarious position.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in particular, are heavily dependent on their Egyptian neighbors. Six years of an Israeli siege, originally imposed to punish Palestinians for electing Hamas in an election viewed widely as transparent and fair, has culminated into a drama with international dimensions. This drama of course involved the Palestinians, but also Israel’s traditional benefactors – lead, as always, by the United States - Arab countries, Iran, Turkey and more. Aside from the vicious nature of a siege imposed to punish a civilian population for making democratic choices, the siege has morphed to acquire multiple meanings. On one hand, it further cemented the division of Palestinian political elites, as the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) invested in ensuring the isolation of its Hamas political opponents. Notably, this took place after their brief but bloody encounters in Gaza in 2007. On the other hand, the siege positioned Hamas, whose survival was at stake, forcefully in a regional camp that involved Iran, Syria and the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah.
Exploited by Israel
Yes, Egypt has every right to secure its border, but certainly not at the expense of a besieged people who are tired of being subjected to ‘collective punishment’ or being used as political fodder.Ramzy Baroud
Under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt served as a buffer zone for Israel and the U.S. to isolate Hamas from the rest of the world. The Egyptian dictator also had his own reasons for isolating Gaza. Any success in Mubarak's neighborhood for the Islamists, Palestinians or others, would have constituted a threat and would have emboldened Egypt’s own Islamists to expect or strive for a greater role in Egypt’s undemocratic political institutions. Moreover, by tightening the noose, the Egyptian regime at the time had hoped to strengthen its role as a major player in the U.S. Arab camp of ‘moderates’, in exchange for financial and political perks.
The Mubarak regime justified its incarceration of Gaza as its attempt at preserving Palestinian unity. The logic was flawed, but also clever. Under the auspices of the George W. Bush Administration and full Egyptian involvement, Israel and Mahmoud Abbas’ PA had reached an agreement on Movement and Access at the Gaza-Egypt border in November 2005. Expectedly, the agreement was tilted in every way necessary to reassure Israel regarding its many security concerns. A European mission - The European Union Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point (EU BAM Rafah) – was hurriedly deployed to monitor the border. Those listed by Israel as ‘suspects’ were either turned back or detained. It was an Israeli operation conducted by Palestinian and EU hands, with full Egyptian cooperation. The Mubarak regime argued that opening the border under Hamas’ authority was a violation of the agreement and would have further divided Palestinians.
When Palestinian militants clashed in Gaza in 2007, resulting in the removal of Abbas’ Fatah loyalists from the Strip’s entire security apparatus, Abbas found himself on the very camp urging greater clamp down at Gaza’s border, especially with Egypt. The latter enthusiastically obliged. As Mubarak erected a barrier and an underground wall around Gaza’s 12k border, Abbas cheered him on. “I support the wall,” he was quoted in the Guardian on Jan 31, 2010. “It is the Egyptians' sovereign right in their own country. Legitimate supplies should be brought through the legal crossings.”