Will Egypt’s ban of Hamas armed wing undermine its mediator role?
Sources close to the Qassam Brigades said they have ruled out Egypt as a broker with the Israelis
Several Palestinian factions in the Gaza strip condemned on Thursday an Egyptian court’s decision to designate the armed wing of Hamas as a terrorist group, a move some experts say could undermine Egypt’s role as a mediator in the Palestinian Israeli conflict.
An Egyptian court last week banned the Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, in line with a crackdown by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
Sources close to the Qassam Brigades said they have ruled out Egypt as a broker with the Israelis, Reuters news agency reported. Separately, several political factions in the West Bank, including Fatah, have denounced the decision.
“Should the Egyptian government adopt the ruling, it will end its role as a mediator,” Saleh Abdel Jawad, a professor of political science at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University, told Al Arabiya News.
“This is a loss for Egypt and Hamas,” he said, adding that Cairo is effectively assuming the same stance as Israel and the United States, which will “most definitely” affect its ability to negotiate.
“I understand that Egypt stands against Hamas, but their confrontation impacts the people of Gaza,” where the group has been in power since 2007.
While this may not be the Egyptian intention, “this is the reality,” he added.
It remains unclear whether the court ruling will have a direct impact on Egyptian foreign policy. A spokesperson for the Egyptian foreign ministry could not be immediately reached in time for the publication of this article.
Since Egypt’s military ousted president Mohammad Mursi in 2013, authorities have accused Hamas of aiding militants who have carried out a string of deadly attacks on security forces in Sinai.
“In my guess, Egypt may have a problem with Hamas, until the Sinai problems clear,” an Arab senior political analyst, who chose not to be identified, said in a telephone interview.
The Egyptian government has thrown the entirety of Hamas “under one big tent, which would not be very accurate,” he said. As to how this court decision would impact Egypt’s relations with Fatah, which condemned the ruling, he said that it would not have major adverse effects.
“Fatah needs Egypt, they have to say this in order to maintain a cordial relationship with Hamas, you have to show solidarity with another Palestinian faction,” he said, describing Hamas “not an adversary or a friend, but a curious partner.”
In a speech to the crowd a few days after the court decision, senior Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said that the ruling against the militant group’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades was “political” and meant to “conceal failure and the lack of security in Egypt at this time.”
That claim, according to Mostafa el-Fekki, an Egyptian writer on current affairs, will cause the main rift between Hamas and Egypt.
“I feel it will affect the ability of Egypt to close the gap between Fateh and Hamas, simply because Egypt will be accused of standing against Hamas,” Fekki, who previously served as assistant foreign minister for Arab and Middle East Affairs, told Al Arabiya News.
“We have been accused of that for the past decade,” he said, adding that Hamas has always felt that the Egyptians have given more support to Fatah which he said was not the case.
Most recently, Egypt brokered a ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israel in August 2014, ending a seven-week war that claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians and 73 Israelis.
Additionally, the 2014 reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas was reached under Egyptian mediation.
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