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Demonisation of Palestinians continues in Egypt thanks to the old regime

January 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm

The past week has seen a lot of media speculation about seven Palestinians who were taken into custody as they tried to enter Egypt and their subsequent release. Was their treatment merely coincidental or the last shout of a phase of Egyptian history that the nation rejected and revolted against?

One newspaper suggested that the group were a “cell”, with all of the negativity and threat which that word implies. Arriving with passports showing that they had entered Syria without a visa, they were detained and, during a search of their bags, incriminating documents and pictures were discovered. When questioned, they allegedly confessed to plotting terrorist activities in Egypt.

Another newspaper then claimed that despite this evidence, the seven were released following pressure from the presidency. The same article claimed that they had been trained not only by the Qassem Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, but also the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, and they had pictures of very sensitive state institutions, such as the Ministry of Defence and media establishments. This made their release even more mysterious. Did President Morsi order their release and deportation to Gaza through the Rafah crossing? If so, why?

A third newspaper had the Cairo Airport authorities releasing the men after some initial questioning over the lack of an exit visa from Syria. While still at the airport the pictures were, it was claimed, not of Egyptian sites at all, but showed places in Gaza and Iran; there was no terrorist threat. This version was corroborated by a Palestinian media centre which stressed that the men were in possession of nothing which posed a threat to Egypt’s national security or integrity. The Syrian authorities had, said an Egyptian security source, stamped their visas on separate cards, not in the Palestinians’ passports issued by the Palestinian Authority, which are no longer recognised by the Syrian government. All seven had, said the source, entered Egypt legally on previous occasions. Links to Hamas were denied, although ties to one of the Palestinian jihadist groups in Gaza may be a possibility.

In the middle of all of this, Al-Ahram Al-Arabi magazine published what it considered an exciting scoop by revealing the names of three Palestinian officials from Hamas and Gaza, accusing them of being responsible for the infamous Rafah massacre that killed 16 officers and soldiers during Ramadan 2012. The men are Ayman Nofal, an official in Al-Qassem Brigades; Muhammad Ibrahim Abu Shamala, known as Abu Khalil, a senior Hamas official; and Raed al-Attar, the “Hamas mastermind” behind the kidnap of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The magazine alleged that Hamas had carried out the massacre in Rafah in retaliation for Egypt’s destruction of tunnels into Gaza.

Dr. Mousa Abu Marzook, Deputy Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau called this a blatant lie when I spoke to him. He should know; he is in constant contact with Egyptian intelligence agencies over Palestinian issues. The officials dealing with the issue directly also denied any knowledge of the “Hamas was responsible” theory; nobody from the media had even spoken to them.

I happen to have seen forged documents purporting to show that Hamas was ready to send at least “500 fighters” – and possibly “tens of thousands”  through the tunnels to protect President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Equipped with snipers’ rifles they were to enter Egypt wearing uniforms very similar to those of the Egyptian army, driving vehicles with local number plates.

Commenting on these documents, Dr. Abu Marzook said that they are intended to create a rift between Egypt and Hamas in Gaza. Whoever wrote them, he said, neglected the fact that the Egyptian army monitors everything going through the tunnels; it would be impossible to pass so many people through unnoticed.

All of this suggests that there is nothing of substance in any of these claims by the media, none of which appear to have been verified. It would seem that long-standing “Sadatian” and “Mubarakian” attitudes towards the Palestinians still prevail in some quarters in Egypt.

Palestinians are the smallest Arab minority in Egypt, numbering around 100,000 people (the Sudanese number around 5 million). They face daily discrimination and are not allowed to own property or trade unless they have been married to an Egyptian for 5 years.

During the rule of Gamal Abdul Nasser, Egypt was the “big brother” which helped and supported all Palestinians. When Sadat made peace with Israel he turned against them, and suddenly the Palestinians were unwelcome. When Mubarak became a “strategic treasure” to Israel, he opposed all resistance factions, starting with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The layers of pro-regime bureaucracy built up over the years look as if they are still in place and retain their capacity for mischief-making, especially against the Palestinians. Even the Preventative Security Agency run by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has been working with the remnants of the old regime to drive a wedge between Hamas and the government of President Morsi. At least one of the forged documents is alleged to have been leaked from the agency.

I would suggest, therefore, that those who take every opportunity to demonise the Palestinians and turn people against Hamas do not reflect the true Egypt, which remains “the big brother” at heart. They do not speak on behalf of the rest of us, the majority, but are indeed remnants conspiring against the will of the people. Such troublemakers are a burden on the Egyptian Revolution.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.