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Why is Hamas throwing itself in to Egypt’s arms?

July 12, 2017 at 4:27 pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (R) at the Heliopolis Palace in Cairo, Egypt on 20 March, 2017 [Egyptian Presidency – Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Three days ago, a senior official Hamas delegation ended a meeting with senior Egyptian officials held in Cairo. The visit came about ten days after the conclusion of a previous visit of top Hamas leaders to Cairo, including the Chief of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar.

Such visits, as Hamas said, included discussions about promoting Hamas’ relationship with Cairo and led to taking actual measures ahead of facilitating the 11-year-old Israeli, Egyptian and internationally-backed siege on the coastal enclave.

Cairo has previously accused Hamas of spying on it, carrying out flagrant security violations in Egypt and supporting a Daesh affiliate in Sinai. Cairo also blamed Hamas and the countries supporting it including Qatar and Turkey for many of its crises.

Both Hamas and Egypt said that mutual meetings and discussions had resulted in positive outcomes. Egypt started to export fuel to the besieged enclave to run Gaza’s sole electricity plant. Hamas leaders have also said that Egypt will permanently open the Rafah crossing for commercial use as well as to allow passengers to travel in and out of the Strip. The movement also said that a senior Egyptian delegation is planning to visit Gaza to study its needs and start sending aid and experts to improve the Strip.

Read: Abbas arrives in Cairo ahead of meeting with Sisi

Almost all the Palestinian residents of Gaza are cautious about the positive Egyptian measures and plans towards the war-torn region.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (R) at the Heliopolis Palace in Cairo, Egypt on 20 March, 2017 [Egyptian Presidency Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) meets Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (R) at the Heliopolis Palace in Cairo, Egypt on 20 March, 2017 [Egyptian Presidency Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Many believe Hamas has fallen into an Egyptian trap as the movement’s former foe, former Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan and his supporters, will return to the Strip as a result of the Egyptian-Hamas agreement. Hamas blames Dahlan and his supporters for the bloodshed that preceded its control of Gaza in 2007. Many Gazans fear the return of Dahlan will destabilise the security situation in Gaza once again.

Others believe that Egypt is working towards implementing the old-new plan of the alternative homeland of the Palestinians – creating an independent Palestinian state in Gaza and parts of Sinai. Some Palestinians believe Egypt has prepared thousands of tents in Sinai and is waiting for an Israeli war to start in order to open the Gaza border and allow Palestinians to seek refuge there, thus a “new Palestine” would be born.

A third group of Gaza residents believe that the Hamas-Cairo meetings and understandings were ordered by Israel in order for the movement to relinquish its control of the Strip. They believe that the reduction of the Israeli electricity supply to Gaza was not actually ordered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but that it was an Israeli plan which used the Palestinians for cover. They also believe that Israel will continue to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza until they are stopped. Palestinians in Gaza would be oblivious to this, however, as the Egyptian fuel is being pumped in to ensure the electricity plant remains operational and the electricity levels are maintained.

These people also believe that Egypt will open the Rafah crossing, however once it is in full control of Gaza’s main lifelines it will start tightening its grip and start inflicting suffering on the people of Gaza. Its control of the border crossing would mean only the items it wishes to allow to cross would be allowed through and only the travellers it wants to let in and out will have access to Rafah. It would also mean Egypt could suspend fuel supplies at any time.


This would mean Palestinians and the international community could no longer blame Israel for the misery inflicted on the citizens of Gaza.

A very small portion of Gaza’s residents are hopeful that the Hamas-Cairo meetings and understandings are serious and the Egyptians are working to facilitate the life of Gazans. Among those, who believe in this hypothesis, is Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar.

A senior Hamas official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me: “We are dealing with Cairo on the basis of good will, but when it reverts, we will take the needed measures.”

Does this mean we will see Hamas fighting Egypt one day? “No, we know our enemy very well. If Egypt retreated, we will not fight it, we will fight Israel,” he explained.

It appears that Hamas is dealing with Egypt without meeting confident that its neighbour will safeguard Palestinian safety long term or keep to the terms of its agreement. But this, I am told, is “because of the people’s suffering which has reached an unbearable level.”

For me, the new initiative is an effort to move Cairo into the position of the prime mediator in a prisoner swap deal which would meet more of Israel’s conditions than those of Hamas. This would be a similar outcome to the Hamas-Egyptian talks during the 2014 Israeli offensive on Gaza.

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