Egypt’s latest court ruling may thaw relations with Hamas

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When an Egyptian court designated Hamas a terrorist organization in February, analysts said the ruling would negatively impact Egypt’s role as a mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But the decision was rescinded on Saturday as Cairo’s Urgent Matter Appeals Court found the lower court that issued the ruling lacked jurisdiction on the matter.

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Hamas welcomed the decision, saying it rectified an earlier mistake. But February’s classification raises questions on Egypt’s role mediating not only between Israeli and Palestinian authorities, but also between factions Fateh and Hamas.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters news agency: “The decision today represents a commitment by Cairo to its strong role towards the Palestinian cause.”

Thawing frosty relations

The development will have “positive results and impacts on the relations between Hamas and Cairo,” Zuhri said, and analysts agree.

“The ruling is a promising approach between the two parties,” Deputy Director of the Brookings Doha Center Ibrahim Sharqieh told Al Arabiya News.

The decision was reversed after the Egyptian government challenged the ruling, a move Sharqieh described as a “good gesture towards reconciliation with Hamas.”

An off-shoot of the banned Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas sent several messages to the Cairo that “they do not seek any part in Egyptian internal affairs, whether between Sisi and the Brotherhood,” Sharqieh said.

“I think that the Egyptian state seems to get this message, that Hamas is not interested in intervening in internal domestic affairs and for that reason, this could be the beginning of a reconciliation between the two parties,” he explained.

Separately, the role the Egyptian government played in removing Hamas from the classification could open the door “to restoring relations between Hamas and Egypt, despite Hamas’ previous mistakes as it,” Saleh Abdel Jawad, a professor of political science at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University told Al Arabiya News.

“At the end of the day, any penalties imposed on Hamas are punishments imposed on the people of the Gaza Strip,” he added.

Impact of initial ruling

Egypt’s foreign policy is governed by the executive branch of government, raising questions about how much weight the initial ruling would have carried in Egypt’s policy towards Hamas.

A spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment about the court ruling, saying that it is a product of the judicial branch of government, a matter he is not authorized to speak about in an official capacity.

However, analysts say February’s decision would have had an adverse impact on Egypt’s role as a mediator in the conflict.

“Should the Egyptian government adopt the ruling, it will end its role as a mediator,” Jawad told Al Arabiya News in February.

Had the decision remained in place, it would have “seriously questioned or undermined Egyptian foreign policy at least in the region because Hamas is not treated as a terrorist organization by any other Arab country or any party in the region,” Sharqieh said.

Additionally, it would have hurt Egypt’s interests as it would have limited Cairo’s ability to mediate between Israel and Palestine.

“Once you treat one organization as a terrorist organization, you will not be mediating between a terrorist organization and Israel,” Sharqieh, who taught international conflict resolution at George Washington University, told Al Arabiya News.

“That would limit the impact of Egypt’s foreign policy in the first place,” he said, adding that it would hamper “the mediation role that Egypt has historically played in the Palestinian Israeli conflict.”

“It would be like shooting yourself in the foot.”