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Egypt will never be an honest broker for Palestine until facts really change on the ground

A boy is seen with his teddy bear after his home was damaged Israeli air strikes in Gaza on 19 May 2021 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]
A boy is seen with his teddy bear after his home was damaged Israeli air strikes in Gaza on 19 May 2021 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

One week into the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, at least 192 people had been killed including 58 children and the AP and Al Jazeera offices were razed to the ground.

In Egypt authorities issued instructions to the media to turn their spotlight on Israeli violence in Jerusalem and Gaza, to use the term "Palestinian resistance", and to write about this resistance in a positive light.

A Friday sermon by Imam Ahmed Omar Hashim called on Arab and Muslim rulers to break their silence to save Palestine. It was transmitted live across pro-regime TV channels.

The directions took a different tone to a WhatsApp which was circulated by the intelligence to top media editors in 2020 asking them to refer to the so-called 'deal of the century' as a "peace plan" rather than the DOC, which it said was viewed as an American-driven project to secure Israel's interests.

In 2019, state-run media ramped up animosity towards Palestinians to justify increasing security cooperation between Egypt and Israel and spearheaded a smear campaign against Ramy Shaath, founder of Egypt's BDS movement, to justify his ongoing imprisonment.

Over recent days, observers noted that the Egyptian government is indeed steering its rhetoric into a U-turn. Whilst Palestinian solidarity had been tolerated by successive Egyptian governments, it has been widely noted that this has certainly not been the case under the current regime.

READ: Has Gaza changed the world's perspective of Palestine-Israel?

As the dead and wounded poured into Gaza's Shifa Hospital during the Israeli bombardment on Gaza in 2018 the Palestinian Ministry of Health called on Egypt to supply hospitals in Gaza with medicine and send through surgeons and medical crews to transfer the wounded to hospitals in Egypt.

It was Turkey who responded to this call but when their aircraft arrived to transfer the injured Egyptian authorities blocked them from landing in their airports.

Not this time. On Monday, three wounded Palestinians arrived in North Sinai, a journalist on the ground told me. Three hospitals inside North Sinai have been prepared to tend to the injured, there are 50 ambulances in Rafah to transport patients and Egypt has sent 15 cars packed with fuel and 13 loaded with food.

Death toll in Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip keeps rising...- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Death toll in Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip keeps rising…- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

A doctor in the Strip told me that Egypt has allowed 35 surgeons and 17 trucks of medical equipment into Gaza; 1,000 doctors from Egypt have registered to volunteer with the Egyptian Medical Association but none have entered Gaza yet.

Analysts have speculated that Egypt's change in tack is a way for Cairo to consolidate its position as lead mediator in the region vis a vis Israel and Palestine, ahead of Turkey or countries that have normalised relations with Israel, particularly the UAE, with which it is currently at loggerheads.

Ahmed, who lives in Sinai, says this is Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's attempt at staying relevant and keeping in with the Biden administration. "Let's not forget that [Sisi] is in power because of Israel and can do whatever he wants with the Egyptians because he is a partner, ally and friend of Israel."

READ: Israel's Palestinian citizens are key to ending apartheid

Despite the government's rhetoric, several Egyptians have been keen to point out that facts on the ground have not shifted significantly. Last Friday, Omar Morsi told his mother he would join Friday prayers in the Omar Makram Mosque overlooking Tahrir before heading out to the square to show his solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and Sheikh Jarrah.

Security forces arrested Omar as he waved the flag and hours later detained female journalist Nour Al-Huda, who was also carrying the Palestinian flag, the keffiyeh wrapped around her neck. Nour was released hours later but Omar remains forcibly disappeared until yesterday.

Authorities also arrested one of the doctors who volunteered to treat Palestinians wounded by the air strikes, for allegedly disclosing military secrets. Palestinian flags have been confiscated from traders in downtown Cairo by the police.

Whilst Egyptians in schools, universities and on the streets would once hold regular protests and candlelit vigils in support of Palestine, particularly during the deadly bombardments, under the current regime these have been all but stamped out.

READ: Egypt opens Rafah crossing early for Palestinian travellers

The last such demonstration was in 2017 when a small group of activists, journalists and university students gathered on the stairs of the Journalist's Union to protest the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem. They were rounded up and arrested, some held in pretrial detention for two years.

Just across from the Gaza Strip is where the Egyptian city of Rafah once stood. It has been reduced to rubble by the Egyptian army's campaign against the local population, with at least 10,000 people forcibly displaced from their homes. The "resistance fighters" the state-run press have been directed to talk of were not so long ago terrorists who supported the local Daesh affiliate in Sinai on Egypt's side of the border.

North Sinai's fate is a reminder of what the Egyptian government is capable of doing to its own people and raises serious questions over whether the government is overseeing an honest change of narrative. It is when facts on the ground really change that it will be possible to believe Egypt is an honest broker with good intentions.

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

AfricaArticleEgyptIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestine
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