I used to think that the defamation and incitement campaign against the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) was limited to a few Egyptian television stations and specific programmes aired on them, supervised by some icons of the former Hosni Mubarak regime. However, the threats made by Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi, reported by Al-Hayat newspaper in London, confirm how wrong such a belief is. Such threats should not be made by a minister of a large allied country like Egypt against the small and besieged Palestinian territory.
Fahmi used unprecedentedly threatening language for the person leading his country’s diplomatic ministry. He should have left the threats to the generals or security agencies. From what I know of him, like his late father Nabil Fahmi has nothing to do with the army in terms of profession and expertise, but everything to do with patriotism, diplomacy and elegant communication skills.
When the minister says that “Egypt’s retaliation will be harsh if it feels Hamas or any other party is trying to harm Egypt’s security”, and, at the same time, points out the “presence of many negative indications”, and hints that “his country’s response would include military and security options”, then it is “a declaration of war”. Such a declaration has not been made against Israel since the October 10, 1973 war, despite all its breaches of international law, the killing of Egyptian soldiers and various violations of Egypt’s sovereignty, so why make one against the Palestinians in Gaza?
Egypt’s suffocating security measures against Hamas and the 2 million Palestinians living under its rule in little more than a prison no bigger than 150 square miles have escalated remarkably since the military coup led by Colonel Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi that overthrew the elected president, Mohamed Morsi. Not even a tenth of these measures were applied during the Mubarak era, who was accused of antagonising the Palestinian people and protecting Israel; in saying this I am not acquitting Mubarak but criticising the excessive measures taken by the current authority and condemning some of its actions.
Since the July coup, some Egyptian TV stations have opened the doors of media hell against Hamas in particular and the Palestinian people in general. They have aired programmes depicting Hamas as the greatest threat to Egypt and its people; the reason for the military manoeuvres in Sinai; responsible for the queues at petrol stations; behind the shrinking of loaves of bread; and profiting from the increased price of tomatoes and onions. The irony of it all is that all of these largely artificial crises were resolved the day after the coup.
The new Egyptian authorities have destroyed all the tunnels and established a one kilometre buffer zone on the border with Gaza. In the process they have destroyed all the homes of the Egyptians living in that area, who were dependent on the illegal tunnel trade. Moreover, the authorities have closed the Rafah border crossing, even for emergency medical cases. They have also prohibited Palestinian fishermen from sailing near Egyptian waters to make their living and feed their children after the Israeli authorities prohibited them from making a living in Gaza’s own territorial waters by means of their oppressive imposition of a 3-mile limit.
The Hamas government, which admitted making mistakes in its opposition to the coup that overthrew their Muslim Brotherhood ally President Morsi, has banned mosque Imams from speaking about internal Egyptian affairs or insulting Colonel Al-Sisi. The government in Gaza has also, prohibited any demonstrations in solidarity with the detained president and in opposition to Al-Sisi and the coup-led government. Moreover, some Hamas officials, Ismail Haniyeh and Mousa Abu Marzouk among them, have praised Egypt and its army on television, thanking them for their grace towards the Palestinian people. All that was left was for them to kiss their hands and bow in gratitude, asking for forgiveness, but they did not receive any; instead the measures against them have become more stringent and arbitrary.
I certainly do not deny that Hamas supported President Morsi and over-sympathised with the protests in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square. It also showed hostility towards the Egyptian army, which was expressed overtly on television channels loyal to the movement. This was expected for two reasons: first, because Hamas is an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Palestine, and secondly because tens of millions of Egyptians sympathise with the Brotherhood, voted for their candidates in the parliamentary and presidential elections, and put President Morsi in office.
Moreover, we are well aware that the Egyptian army is engaged in a fierce war in the Sinai against rebel jihadist groups that established a state within a state, and that some of these groups were behind the violent operations that targeted members of the army and security agencies. I also understand that there are accusations of a link between these groups and some of their counterparts in the Gaza Strip. However, Hamas has adamantly denied the accusations of collaborating with these groups and expressed its willingness to coordinate with the Egyptian army to counter the security threats.
The Egyptian intelligence agencies know each one of the people of the Gaza Strip, whether they are inside or outside the Strip, and therefore know who is with Hamas and who isn’t. As such, why are they humiliating all Palestinians at Egypt’s airports, where they can be held for hours, even days, before being sent back from whence they came? Why would they close the Rafah crossing in such a way that makes the lives of the ill and needy hellish; not all Palestinians are supporters of Hamas but they are all being punished.
It is claimed that Hamas, indeed the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, want to seize Sinai and settle thousands or people there. It has also been said that Hamas stormed prisons in order to free President Morsi and his friends, and that some of its members guarded the Federal Palace when it was surrounded by protestors, as if Egypt were a banana republic and does not have a central security unit of over one million soldiers. This is an insult to Egypt before it is an accusation against Hamas, as well as an exaggeration of its role and capabilities.
When President Yasser Arafat was shown the plans to build Gaza Airport, he noticed that the architects put the terminal building within the Gaza Strip but the runway extended a dozen metres or so across the border into Egyptian territory. He protested strongly and demanded that it be changed so as not to upset his Egyptian brothers. He understood Egyptian sensitivity about their land and sovereignty, a virtue which I envy.
I am at the head of those who demand Egypt’s right to national security; the security and stability of Egypt is the hope of every Arab because it means the security and safety of all Arabs. However, at the same time, I would like our Egyptian brothers, both in the government and the media, to have mercy on the Gaza Strip and its people and not insult and besiege them. The territory is an extension of Egypt, its people and Arabism, to the extent that it rejoices in Egyptian victories on the football pitch as much as, if not more than, Egyptians themselves.
It would be no great honour for Egyptian tanks and US-made F-16 fighters to bomb Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Honourable people in Egypt should, therefore, act quickly to contain this crisis as Egypt has been and will remain the mother of all Arabs and the defender of their national causes as well as their legitimate rights, beginning with the Palestinians and their rights.
The author is a former editor-in-chief of Al Quds Al Arabi Newspaper in London
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.