Egypt’s ban on Hamas: a political decision?
On March 4, the Cairo Urgent Matters Court banned the activities of Hamas... the response was divided
On March 4, the Cairo Urgent Matters Court banned the activities of Hamas, ordered the closure of its offices in Egypt and prohibited any kind of interaction with it. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Egyptian lawyer Samir Sabry, if only partially. Sabry originally demanded that Hamas be designated a terrorist organization citing its affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood, now a terrorist organization in Egypt, and its designation as a terrorist organization by several countries across the world as well as the involvement of its members in storming Egyptian prisoners during the 2011 uprising and the group’s violation of the Gaza border. “I presented to the court 25 CDs that prove Hamas’s involvement in several terrorist operations in Egypt whether in the Sinai Peninsula or Cairo,” Sabry said in a TV interview. These operations, he explained, included the bombing of State Security headquarters in Cairo and Mansoura and the killing of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai. “I even submitted CDs that prove Hamas’ involvement in other atrocities inside the Gaza Strip, like torture.”
Based on the ruling, the ban applies to Hamas and all entities affiliated to it and funded or supported, financially or otherwise, by it. The ban in its current form is temporary pending the ruling on another case before the Cairo Criminal Court, in which Hamas faces charges of espionage and prison break. Unlike what is commonly believed, or what some media outlets had actually reported, Hamas has not been officially declared a terrorist organization as is the case with the Muslim Brotherhood and as was initially requested in Sabry’s lawsuit. Sabry, however, sees the current ruling, which he considers “historic,” as conveying the same meaning. “Banning Hamas’ activities is proof enough that it engaged in terrorist activities,” he said in a TV interview. The verdict, he added, is enough to ensure that Hamas will no longer pose a threat to Egypt. “Through this verdict, Hamas members will be denied entry into Egypt and the ones already in the country will be arrested,” he said. According to Sabry, this ruling is final and no one except the president, the prime minister and the interior minister can appeal it.
“This is a purely political verdict,” said senior Hamas member Mahmoud al-Zahhar. According to Zahhar, the verdict is void because the case is incomplete. “It was a one-sided case. Hamas was not given the chance to defend itself and refute the evidence presented against it,” he explained. Zahhar communicated an perceivable threat to Sabry. “One day, we will take him to task.” For Hamas member Yehia Moussa, the ruling tarnishes the image of Egypt rather than Hamas. “This is a grave affront to Egypt’s role in the Arab world and its history of supporting the Palestinian cause,” he said in an interview. “Plus, this is a punishment for the Palestinian people not Hamas.” Ezzat al-Rashq, a member of Hamas’s politburo agreed with the last point underlined by Moussa.
“This verdict means tightening the blockade against Palestinians in Gaza and increases the possibility of another Israeli aggression,” he said in a statement.
Both Zahhar and Moussa insisted that Hamas has no offices or activities in Egypt. “This is sheer propaganda,” said Moussa.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside Egypt condemned the ban with Rashed al-Ghanouchi, head of the Tunisian Islamist party al-Nahda considering it “an oppressive verdict by an oppressive regime” and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan arguing that it is “an attempt to curry favor with the Zionists.”
French historian and expert on Arab affairs Jean-François Legrain saw the ruling as another battle in the war waged by the Egyptian state on the Muslim Brotherhood. “Hamas is paying the price for the regional conditions in the aftermath of the marginalization of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he told Le Monde. Legrain did not view this step to be in Israel’s interest as is commonly believed. “Israel does not want to get rid of Hamas because it is the only group that can control the Gaza Strip,” he explained. “True, it imposes a blockade on Gaza and makes life hard for Gazans, but does not incite them into getting rid of Hamas.” Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli professor of Arabic literature, argued. He added that the charges leveled against Hamas are fabricated. “I don’t believe Hamas collaborated with the Muslim Brotherhood to destroy Egypt. It is not in their interest to antagonize the Egyptian regime because if they do, they will lose an important source of fuel and foodstuffs in addition to the taxes they charge for these,” he wrote in Maariv. According to Kedar, the Egyptian regime was looking for an external enemy to blame for its failures and warned of the consequences. “If the regime becomes that harsh with Hamas, the group might start another wave of terrorist operations or might resort to Iran and this is not in Israel’s or Egypt’s interest.”
Those in favor...
The ruling was, however, seen as necessary by a number of Egyptian analysts. Security expert Colonel Khaled Okasha said the ruling was the right response to Hamas’s stance on Egypt since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Hamas preferred the Muslim Brotherhood over its relations with Egypt and they disregarded the will of the Egyptian people,” he said. “They acted as if they spoke on behalf of Egyptians when they called for Mursi’s return.”
Saeid al-Zant, head of the Center for Strategic Studies, argued that the verdict was late. “This verdict should have been passed as soon as it became known that Hamas took part in storming the prisons during the first days of the revolution,” he said. Professor of political science Gamal Salama pointed out that the verdict is not expected to have an effect on Hamas. “I think the only purpose of this ruling is to put pressure on Hamas so that it would stop interfering in Egypt’s domestic affairs,” he explained. The liberal Free Egyptians Party issued a statement welcoming the ruling as an important step in the war on terrorism. “It is time for everyone who plotted against Egypt to be punished and for everyone to know that Egypt will not be intimidated by extremist groups.” The statement downplayed the impact of the ban on the relationship between Egyptians and Palestinians. “The Egyptian and Palestinian people have historical relations that will not be affected by the terrorist activities of this group which falsely claims that it represents Palestinians,” the statement added.
On the official level, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy stressed that the ban on Hamas will not affect Egypt’s role in Palestinian reconciliation. Fahmy refused to comment on the ruling in respect of the independence of the judiciary. “The law is being implemented,” he said. “And no one is to threaten Egypt’s national interests, whether Hamas or anyone else.” Fahmy also stressed that Egyptian sentiments towards the Palestinian people remain unchanged. “We consider the Palestinians our brothers.”