Egypt and Hamas: The honeymoon that wasn´t (JERUSALEM POST) By MOHAMMED NAJIB / THE MEDIA LINE 03/22/12)
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The high hopes Gaza’s Hamas leaders had in the Egyptian revolution
and the ouster of their old nemesis, Hosni Mubarak, have been
swallowed up by growing acrimony and traditional distrust.
Tensions were on display during the fighting between Israel and Gaza-
based militant groups last week, when Egypt’s efforts to broker a
truce were subject to repeated delays and violations. The ceasefire
gradually went into affect, and now the two sides are back to sniping
over who is responsible for the fuel shortage in Gaza that has been
behind weeks of brownouts and blackouts.
Over the weekend, Yusef Rizka, adviser to Prime Minister Ismail
Haniyeh, whose Hamas movement has ruled the Mediterranean enclave
since seizing power in 2007, charged that the leadership in Egypt is
using the fuel crisis for “political extortion.” But Cairo charges
that Gaza smugglers are buying subsidized gasoline in Egypt and
reselling it at a profit at home.
The latest bickering comes against a background of disappointment on
the part of the two neighbors.
Cairo accuses Hamas of taking advantage of the lawlessness in Egypt’s
Sinai Peninsula by turning a blind eye to a flood of 1,300 stolen
cars being smuggled into Gaza and allowing drugs grown there to be
shipped out. They accuse the Islamic group of being behind the
circulation of some $40 million of counterfeit US currency in Egypt.
A senior Hamas security source sheepishly admitted that purloined
vehicles had made there way to Gaza, but denied it was on a large
scale. “It’s only 15 cars, not 1,300,” he told The Media Line on
condition of anonymity.
But Egyptian accusations go deeper. Officials in Cairo say Hamas and
other militant groups backed by Iran have turned Sinai into a staging
ground for attacks on Israel. In fact, Israel says it has repeatedly
foiled Sinai operations directed from Gaza. Its air force killed
Zuhir Al-Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committee in a
targeted assassination March 9, saying he was planning an attack from
Cairo has been unhappy that Qatar, the distant, tiny but hugely
wealthy Gulf emirate, supplanted it as mediator in the latest attempt
to negotiate a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and its rival
Fatah movement, which retains control of the West Bank. The talks
have failed so far, but Qatar’s involvement was a blow to Egyptian
Hamas also has it grievances. Expectations that the interim military
government that replaced Mubarak would open the border between Gaza
and Egypt and undermine Israel’s blockade have been disappointed;
months after it was opened, traffic through the sole crossing point --
Rafah Terminal -- is severely restricted.
Moreover, Hamas officials themselves have been subject to delays
traveling in and out of Gaza through Egypt, their only route to the
outside world. Over the past few weeks, dozens of Hamas field
commanders were blocked from crossing through the terminal. Last
month, Atef Edwan, a Hamas lawmaker, former minister and official in
charge of refugees, was denied permission to visit Egypt when he
landed at Cairo Airport and was told that he would be taken directly
to Rafah, Hamas sources in Gaza told The Media Line.
Even Haniyeh has been subject to insulting treatment, the security
sources said. When Haniyeh left Gaza for a tour of the Gulf
(including Iran, despite Cairo’s disapproval) his crossing at Rafah
was delayed for two hours, allegedly for technical reasons, and his
meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Al-Janzouri was canceled.
It wasn’t suppose be this way after Mubarak was toppled. But less has
changed in Egypt in the following 13 months than Hamas had expected.
Major policy decisions have been frozen while the country undergoes a
gradual transition to democratic rule. Meanwhile, the cadre of
generals that took over from Mubarak runs the country.
Military Intelligence continues to manage the bilateral relationship,
employing the same personnel and observing the same policies it did
when Mubarak was still ruling.
“There are three sources of power in Egypt these days -- the ruling
military council, which is anti-Hamas; the parliament, which is
dominated by pro-Hamas lawmakers; and the youth movement, which right
now remains undecided on its attitude toward Hamas,” Palestinian
analyst Hani Masri told The Media Line.
Egypt’s attitude toward the Gaza Strip is influenced by a host of
external factor, not the least its support for Mahmoud Abbas, who
leads the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and is a rival
claimant with Hamas for Palestinian leadership. Egypt is also
dependent on US military aid and is careful not to upset Washington
by getting to close to the Muslim militant movement, which is
considered by the US as a terrorist organization.
But Masri said that at the top of Cairo’s calculations is the desire
to ensure Gaza remains Israel’s headache, not Egypt’s. On the whole,
Gazans enjoy greater freedom of movement today compared to the
Mubarak era, he said, “but Hamas is ambitious to get more freedom.”
The movement has not given up hope on Egypt and is now counting on
the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament to emerge as the dominant
force in Egypt after presidential elections, which are likely to put
either an Islamist or other Hamas-friendly personality into Egypt’s
highest office. Hamas itself is an offshoot of the Brotherhood,
although their ideologies differ in many respects.
“Hamas is waiting for the presidential elections in May, and hoping
that a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood will be formulated,”
If not, analysts warn, Hamas has ways of striking back at Egypt, if
it feels it is not getting the cooperation it expects. Egypt’s
authority in Sinai has been weakened by the revolution and Hamas
could easily use the region to embarrass Cairo by striking at Israel
from Egyptian territory or causing direct damage to Egypt and its
economy by encouraging local terror attacks. (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 03/22/12)
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