Al-Ahram Commentary: Gaza depressed about Egypt by Rana Baker

Rana Baker Al-Ahram

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are aware of and strongly affected by the hostile campaign brewing against them in neighbouring Egypt. Especially disheartening for Gaza’s Palestinians was General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to close the Rafah Crossing hours after his speech that ended Mohamed Morsi’s rule on 3 July. For the residents of Gaza, this was enough of an indicator to expect a “return” to the dark days of Hosni Mubarak.

The driving force behind such accusations and outright incitement to murder is Hamas’s allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood, now deemed the enemy of the Egyptian revolution and democracy. This anti-Muslim Brotherhood fanfare has made it easier for anchors on Egyptian state and privately owned TV channels to lump the Palestinians into a single group of Hamas.

Israel’s siege on Gaza and the subsequent closure of most commercial crossing points made Egypt the lifeline and only gateway for the vast majority of the Gazan population. The besieged people of Gaza not only depend on Egypt for travel purposes, but also for most of their goods and construction materials.

Today, an atmosphere of apprehensiveness is enveloping the Strip. Instead of watching Egyptian TV drama series customary in the month of Ramadan, Gazans are glued to news channels, speculating on events as they unfold in Cairo and all over Egypt.

For now, life in the Strip seems to have come to a standstill with travel plans either cancelled or postponed and prices of basic commodities soaring due to the recent military crackdown on the tunnels that link Gaza and Egypt. The crackdown, which caused total destruction or damage to 80 per cent of the tunnels, comes in response to allegations that Hamas militants smuggle themselves into Sinai and Cairo to aid the Brotherhood. This claim, however, has never been substantiated despite numerous claims by army officials about “investigations” into the purported attacks.

To make matters worse, Palestinians in the Strip are now forced into filling their vehicles with Israeli fuel, which is twice as expensive as its Egyptian counterpart. Any rumour about Egyptian fuel at Gaza’s gas stations means kilometres-long queues of vehicles, sometimes blocking roads from the early hours of the morning. This has also led to increased profits to Israeli suppliers directly involved in the colonisation of Palestinian land.

But the economy is not the only side of Palestinian daily life affected by the unrest in Egypt. Politically, Gazans are observing Israeli reactions to the military stepping into the political scene again, weeding the Muslim Brotherhood from electoral politics, with great concern. The Israeli government seems to be satisfied with the Egyptian military’s moves, despite that the Muslim Brotherhood maintained relations with the right-wing government of Israel under Morsi’s rule.

This has caused further anxiety among Gaza’s Palestinians who deem Egypt’s relations with Israel a thermometer by which to measure and expect Egypt’s policies towards Gaza and its residents now and in the future. This feeling of anxiety is coupled with mistrust towards the Egyptian army whose long-standing security cooperation with Israel continues to suffocate the Palestinians.

Because of the military-instigated anti-Palestinian propaganda, Gazans not only fear for themselves but also for their children who are studying or working in Egypt. Today, many Palestinians in Egypt find themselves under the threat of being arrested or attacked merely because of their origin.

To further complicate the situation, students who left Egypt to spend the summer vacation with their families in Gaza are worried about the prospect of not being able to return to their universities when classes resume in September.

All this has made many Palestinians feel obliged to reiterate examples of their long history of support for the Egyptian people’s struggles against foreign invaders and more recently, the 25 January Revolution. In fact, Palestinians were quick to condemn Mohamed Morsi for his November constitutional declaration in which he gave himself sweeping powers even over the judiciary. These statements, however, go either unheard or downplayed and belied.

It is also worth noting that people in Gaza are themselves divided over the crisis in Egypt. Palestinian secular elites and VIPs who flourished under Mubarak hope to see the old regime back in power — this means that they fully support the military takeover. Hamas supporters, on the other hand, are calling for the reinstatement of “legitimacy”. Leftists and moderates find both camps equally guilty of protecting the interests of Western imperialism in the Arab world’s most influential country.

Overall, a deep feeling of disappointment in the Egyptian revolution characterises most discussions, and many lament the uncritical dismissal of Palestinians as ungrateful “terrorists”. Meanwhile, the Hamas government is calling on the interim Egyptian government to open its borders to Palestinians. The Egyptian government, so far, has only agreed to allow patients and holders of foreign passports into Egypt.

The author writes for The Electronic Intifada.

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