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Why doesn't Sisi want to run the Gaza Strip?

April 23, 2024 at 2:33 pm

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Ittihadiye Palace in Cairo, Egypt on February 14, 2024 [Utku Ucrak/Anadolu via Getty Images]

Israeli and American attempts to get Egypt to have a role in running the Gaza Strip continue. They are trying to plan for the post-war phase and the first day that will follow a ceasefire agreement between the Israeli Occupation and the Palestinian Resistance.

Running Gaza is the biggest concern for many regional and international parties, who see Egypt as an important player that can solve the dilemma of the Strip, which became a major headache for Tel Aviv and Washington after 7 October.

Former Director of Moral Affairs in the Egyptian army, retired Major-General Samir Farag, revealed in a televised interview on Sada El Balad, that President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had rejected an American proposal presented by head of CIA, Director William Burns, during his visit to Cairo this month. The American proposal asks Egypt to manage the Gaza Strip for six months.

The proposal

First, this Israeli American idea regarding running the Gaza Strip is not new. Rather, it was presented more than once last year, and was rejected every time.

Last November, the American Wall Street Journal revealed that Al-Sisi refused an American proposal to manage security affairs in Gaza, aimed at enabling the Palestinian Authority to take over governance of the Strip.

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The new proposal, according to media leaks, is based on moving from the current humanitarian situation to civil administration, with Egypt being the architect of this transformation. Egypt would need to assume responsibility for supervising the running of the Strip and security and military coordination with the Israeli side, which implicitly means removing the Hamas Movement from ruling Gaza.

According to the proposal, Egypt will be supported, security-wise, in running the Strip by local tribal groups, or armed groups led by the expelled Palestinian leader from the Fatah Movement, Mohammed Dahlan, by an international peace force, or by a joint Arab force, for a transitional period.

The proposed plan stipulates ending the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA) and replacing it with a role for the United Nations Development Programme, the United States Agency for International Development, in addition to the Arab League, to meet the living and humanitarian needs in the Strip.

Certainly, according to its vision, Israel aspires to disarm the Palestinian Resistance, destroy the tunnels, end Hamas’s influence in the Gaza Strip and remove it once and for all from the Gaza Strip.

This proposal is based on the precedent of Egypt taking over the rule and administration of the Gaza Strip from 1948 until the tripartite aggression against Egypt in 1956, when Israel occupied the Strip for four months. Egyptians returned to ruling Gaza again in 1957 until the defeat of 1967, after which Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan and Sinai.

Egyptian refusal

The ruling Egyptian regime may agree with the Israeli side regarding the need to end Hamas’s ruling of Gaza for many reasons. The most important reason is the ideology of the Movement, which is in line with that of the Brotherhood group which is opposed to the rule of Al-Sisi. Cairo’s clear rejection of the Israeli proposal, however, has its own explanation.

Cairo’s position stems from the principle of not causing tension and of trying to enhance stability on the Egyptian-Palestinian borders for security considerations, in the first place. Therefore, Egypt believes that the Gaza Strip must be run by Palestinians, away from any foreign interference unless very limited, and as partners and not an absolute authority.

The Egyptian position is supported by several logical reasons that raise Cairo’s concerns about the day after the war. The first of these reasons is anticipation and caution against the repercussions of bearing the burden of running a densely populated region with 2.3 million people, which has its own living and humanitarian needs.

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Secondly, Egypt fears the possibility of getting involved in the Gaza crisis and being thrust face-to- face into a clash with the Palestinian resistance factions which insist that running the Gaza Strip is an internal Palestinian affair.

Third, Egyptian diplomacy believes that excluding any role for the Palestinian Authority, and the absence of a framework for a comprehensive political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, means a trap for the future. The current proposal is merely a sedative and an urgent way out for the Israeli Occupation from its impasse in Gaza after about 7 months of war, without a clear outcome.

Fourth, Egypt’s participation in running the Gaza Strip will enhance the Palestinian division and deepen the state of disagreement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which Cairo does not approve of because of the real threat it entails to the entire Palestinian issue, according to political expert, Mohamed Gomaa.

Fifth, influential Egyptian officials believe that simply accepting presence inside the Gaza Strip under arrangements with the Occupation will provide a pretext to accuse Egypt of complicity and participation in the war on Gaza, which claimed the lives of more than 100,000 martyrs and wounded.

Gaza policeman

There is no doubt that assuming the role of Gaza’s policeman would represent an embarrassment to the Egyptian army, which avoids getting involved in any regional conflicts, like Egypt’s bitter experience of being involved in the Yemeni civil war between 1962 and 1970.

One of the geopolitical risks monitored by a researcher interested in Palestinian affairs, Imad Al-Masry, is that Egypt’s participation in running the Gaza Strip will transform it from an Arab ally, or at least a mediator, into an adversary and party in the confrontation with the residents of Gaza and the Palestinian Resistance. This may lead to a clash with the armed Palestinian factions, which is definitely in the interest of the Occupation.

The danger of this scenario, if the proposal is implemented, is that the administration of the Gaza Strip may turn Egypt into an opponent of the Israeli occupation, especially if there are Israeli violations against the Gaza Strip, on the one hand, or if the Resistance carries out offensive operations against the Occupation under the Egyptian administration. In both cases, Egypt may find itself in a face-to-face confrontation with the resistance groups or with the Occupation.

Egyptian security and intelligence services realise that if Egypt got involved in the crisis in Gaza Strip or if it took on the role of running it in place of the Resistance groups, this may fuel Egyptian masses against the Egyptian ruling regime, especially if Cairo becomes a stumbling block in the way of resistance activities in confronting the Occupation, which is something the regime does not want.

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There are other problems surrounding this issue, in general, which are seen as ticking bombs. These issues include the fate of the tunnels network, the Resistance’s missile force, the prisoners’ file, the possibility of Palestinian elements infiltrating Sinai or Israel carrying out assassinations in the skies of Gaza, all of which are dilemmas that will surround those who think about running the Strip.


Observers confirm that the Israeli American proposal is accompanied by financial, economic and political temptations and privileges for Al-Sisi’s regime, if it accepts running the Gaza Strip as it was doing before 1967. The current regime is suffering from a difficult economic situation.

Attempts at temptation may continue, through offering new benefits related to increasing loans, increasing the volume of gas imports from Israel, obtaining advanced arms deals and a valuable share of the Gaza reconstruction funds.

Major-General Samir Farag had frankly revealed that Egypt was receiving temptations. He said that this was one of the best decisions that President Al-Sisi had made and that he was inspired by God to make such a wise decision, despite all financial and military temptations, and that President Al-Sisi refused the proposal and said that the people of Gaza should be the ones who run it.

Meanwhile, Egypt proposed to undertake other tasks and arrangements related to border monitoring and control, and to train Palestinian cadres to manage security in the Gaza Strip, while restoring the roles of the Fatah Movement and the Palestinian Authority within the Gaza Strip or forming a Palestinian technocratic government to manage the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This was previously rejected by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, through his famous statement: “No Hamastan and no Fatahstan”, (meaning “No to a Hamas rule and no to a Fatah rule”).

The Hamas Movement has been running the Gaza Strip since 2007, after it won the Palestinian legislative elections, which means that it will be difficult to eradicate the Movement, which enjoys a large popular support, and whose popularity has increased dramatically during the war, which has entered its seventh month in a row.

An Egyptian mandate over Gaza is, once again, a scenario that only serves Israeli interests, in exchange for many geopolitical risks and security and strategic losses to Egypt, losses that cannot be compensated by the financial temptations offered to the Al-Sisi regime, regardless of their magnitude.

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