We should not allow current events to distract us from Egypt’s strategic constants and its ultimate interests, because while these events will fade away with time, the ultimate interests of Egypt will remain throughout history. When the components of the moment are interfering with the components of Egypt’s strategic interests, giving warning is urgent and required.
Hamas is at the heart of the events in Egypt, in light of three factors. The first factor is the regional alliance Mubarak enjoyed along with his internal problems with the Muslim Brotherhood, which he considered to be the greatest threat to his rule in Egypt.
The second factor is the fact that the Arab region has started to think that abandoning Palestine and giving it up to Israel will save it from an impossible confrontation according to their standards, which of course is a possible confrontation according to the resistance. Therefore, the region has abandoned the idea of resistance without having settled on a political alternative. Their only alternative is to surrender Palestine and open the door to Israel in the Arab countries because confrontation and conflict are not in their dictionaries, as expressed by the Arab summit, which adopted “peace” as the most strategic option.
The third factor is Iran’s progress in the context of its regional project of supporting the resistance against Israel and raising the slogan of liberating the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Iran’s progress in this project has revealed the Arab weakness, but this Iranian policy may not necessarily be a victory for Palestine because Palestine is not part of Iran. Moreover, the Islamists did not factor Iran into the equation, and instead became an opponent because they are more extreme in their hostility towards the Shiites than in their hostility towards Israel. Moreover, they themselves are unable to liberate Al-Aqsa, even if they were determined to do so. Only the Islamic countries are able to do so, but there are restrictions on the actions of these countries, unlike the Islamic political movements.
This has put Iran on a point of contact with Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and the Gulf States. Although the differences between Iran and the Arabs have pulled them apart, it was thought that their work for Palestine would unite them; however, neither side has a genuine desire to do so, and any actions for Palestine are in name only. The conflict with Israel is now in Iran’s hands for reasons having nothing to do with the Arabs, but involving the clash between the Zionist and the Iranian projects in Palestine and the Arab arena more generally. This factor has added to the causes of the conflict between the Gulf States and Egypt, and between Iran, especially since Washington is the sponsor of the Arab-Israeli team against Iran.
During Mubarak’s rule, Egypt was against Hamas and the resistance, and closer to Israel and the Palestinian Authority because of Hamas’s relationship with the Brotherhood and because of Mubarak’s closeness to Israel. Israel rightfully considered Mubarak a strategic treasure.
The fourth factor is the connection between the Sinai’s security and the conflict or coexistence with Israel, as the suffocation of Gaza was only possible due to Mubarak’s political and mental biases; however, even if Hamas disappears or is morally separated from the Brotherhood, the suffocation of Gaza would still be an Israeli goal, as was the case before Hamas was founded. It is natural that the bloody conflict in Syria between Iran on the one hand, and the Gulf States and Israel on the other, lead to Hamas’s crisis, whether in its relationship with Iran, in its funding, or even in its headquarters, after the movement was unable to remain in Damascus.
After the events of July and August in Egypt, the horrendous clash with the Muslim Brotherhood, the emergence of the army’s role, and the intensification of the security situation in the Sinai, regular talk of Hamas’s involvement in the Egyptian crisis began, including their role in releasing the Brotherhood’s prisoners from prisons and their role in the Sinai, which is exactly what sparked the direct confrontation between the army in Sinai and Hamas. That Hamas is working with the Muslim Brotherhood and others in Egypt to restore the Brotherhood’s rule is virtually impossible, but these accusations expose a large group of Egyptians who disgrace and go against the entire Egyptian position towards the whole issue. Even if Hamas is helping the terrorism against the army in the Sinai, then that would only reveal unacceptable foolishness, in which case the Egyptian army is on the other side of the equation.
In order for the issue not to turn into a matter of historical foolishness that harms the most fundamental Egyptian interests, as a result of the many claims stemming from every direction and being fuelled, of course, by Israel, which believes that the clash between the Egyptian army and Hamas will save it from having to engage in a similar confrontation, and which will spark a cancerous state amongst all its enemies, as it did in the Syrian arena, we must be aware of the facts, no matter what the moment necessitates.
Egypt is always the largest nation and its best interest is protecting the interests of the Arab nations. Abdul Nasser is praised for applying this formula, because he did not clash with Sudan over Halayib and Shalateen in 1958, and no one accused him of having abandoned Egyptian nationalism. He elevated the united Arab body, which had been divided by colonialism and imaginary borders, with the fire of Arabism that will soon burn again and the body of the nation will be reshaped. That Sadat struck against Libya because, according to him, Gaddafi was a reckless child that needed to be disciplined, is still a major sin attributed to Egypt and its army. It is worth remembering that Libya, full of military bases at the time, was the launching point of the attack against Egypt and its army in 1967, and that the “Libyan revolution” of 1971 was a response to Egypt’s defeat, also following the Sudanese revolution in 1969 led by Jaafar an Numeiri.
Hamas is a legitimate resistance movement and a symbol of the Palestinian people’s rejection of the seizure of their land. We must also realise that, from another angle, it is a part of the Brotherhood’s doctrine and this is their right. This should not be used as a reason to involve it in the current conflict in Egypt. Any Egyptian regime must realise that the victory of Gaza and Hamas is a victory for the truth and for Egypt’s national security. Moreover, Hamas must recognise that this army is the only Arab army that survived the attempts to eliminate it, and has been fighting the enemies of the nation before Israel occupied Palestine, and was the Arab nation’s fortress, defending its causes and watering the Sinai with the blood of its people. Moreover, exhausting the army will weaken Hamas’s strategic capabilities; strategic interests must take precedence over all emotions and non-political considerations.
Hamas must also be aware that any clash with the army is a strategic blow to the movement and is what Israel desires in order to end the resistance in light of the tension it causes, as Israel will be able to prove that Egypt, which supported and backed the resistance, was involved in its elimination, and this is a matter we find unthinkable.
On the other hand, the Egyptian army must keep in mind that it is the only remaining safety net for a rebellious and divided nation with a political leadership and elites trying to cause adversity, while it is facing challenges and exhaustion in the Sinai and all over Egypt. Israel wishes ill-will towards this army, as Israel is hounded by the army’s victories in 1973 because they raised doubts about Israel, and it does not want this epic battle to be Egypt’s best and the source of pride for the Egyptian people and the Arab nation.
Moreover, the Egyptian army must also realise that while its original enemy is known, its current enemy is distraction, exhaustion, and involvement, and its mission in the Sinai is its biggest challenge due to the absence of any other solutions, and this is putting it at the forefront of the scene and at risk. If Hamas was really supporting the terrorism faced by the army, then the army should not distract itself with that nor should it speak publicly about it, and instead, the civil government should deal with it by settling the problem in light of their common interests. The army should not be influenced by the talk about Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamic trends, as the army has specific tasks assigned to it by the political authority, and does not have the authority to take its own actions regarding the case. The army must also acknowledge that the presence of the resistance movement in the form of Hamas is a strong card, and that weakening the resistance by taking measures against it, directly or indirectly, and adding restrictions on Gaza and threatening to strike Gaza in order to hit Hamas, turns the historic Egyptian army from the supporter of its national security and the rightful owners of Palestine to the eliminator of one of the parties in the conflict with Israel and Fatah, which will cause it to involve itself in a horrible conflict between the Palestinians, after it was a supporter of their cause. Moreover, Egypt will subject itself to an international campaign to suffocate Gaza, which Israel may participate in, because Egypt is Gaza’s only crossing to sustain its life.
All the problems involving movement, tunnels, terrorism, and securing the borders can be settled amicably, and therefore, we can avoid making the most foolish mistake in the history of Egypt and the Arabs that will not fade away with time, i.e. appearing in a manner that weakens the resistance and the cause of the Palestinian people, and which instead creates a new vengeance amongst the Palestinians against Egypt, the country that everyone sees as a protective umbrella for them.
Egypt has the right to its security in order to secure its backyard, but we must not fulfil Israel’s prophecy for us, and this is the responsibly of the people, the government, the army, and Hamas. Everyone must know that the demonisation of Hamas merely because it is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood is harming Egypt’s national security the most.
The author is a former Egyptian ambassador and a professor of international law at the American University in Cairo.