With the signing of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement in Cairo on 4th May, Egypt recorded a historic development in its relationship with the Palestinian cause. The most prominent chapter of this development will no doubt be the about-turn in relations with the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.
During the Mubarak years, especially the past two decades, Egyptian-Palestinian relations were built in the context of normalisation and negotiations with the Zionist occupiers, in opposition to the resistance movement and popular uprisings. This shaped the demands of the Israelis. Despite the increasing influence, popularity and electoral success of Hamas, as well as its participation in government, it was transformed into a fearful bogey, not just for the Zionists, but also for Mubarak's and for other regimes in the region. This was because Hamas represents an "Islamic concept" the success of which could prompt similar models in other Arab countries.
Thus Mubarak and his friend Mahmoud Abbas at the helm of the Western-backed wing of the Palestinian Authority turned a blind eye to the brutal war launched by Israel against Gaza. Indeed, Mubarak's desire to defeat Hamas was dependent on Israel's success in that war; this was made public by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, following his Cairo meeting with Mubarak during "Operation Cast Lead". The Mubarak regime cooperated in the siege against Gaza, citing the international situation and border crossing agreement; it then built an underground steel barrier on the border with the besieged territory in an attempt to cut-off the route of Gaza's supply tunnels.
It was presumed by Israel and Egypt that the Palestinian people would roll over and die in silence under the siege; that Gaza would rot; and that Hamas would melt away, thus opening up the atmosphere for normalisation with Israel and the auction of Palestine. This was the plan but, "they schemed and so did God: He is the best of schemers." (Qur'an 8:30) The Palestinian people remained steadfast in the face of the unprecedented siege and Mubarak's regime collapsed in a way that surprised everyone. In just three months, the siege has been eased, the steel barrier has melted away and Palestinian reconciliation, which was frozen for years under the supervision of Mubarak's Intelligence Chief and close friend of Israel General Omar Suleiman, was agreed. All of this progress has been 100% Egyptian-inspired; for the first time, there hasn't been a whiff of a Zionist role or US intervention apart from the expected angry responses and insinuations. This is a historic transition, with Egypt taking action on the Palestinian issue on its own volition.
Following the January 25th Revolution, we saw the Palestinian rank and file of all political factions falling in with the Egyptian position. Now there is a single Arab front on the Egypt-Palestine border; a border that used to be synonymous with security cells, espionage and the enforcement of the blockade, and which treated Gaza as an unwanted friend. There is no doubt that having this newly-formed front on the border of Gaza at the same time as Palestinian unity makes it possible for it to be even stronger; even more so if other Arab groups offer their support. Nevertheless, there is a nagging fear that the remnants of the official "normalisation with Israel trend" may form an anti-Egypt front obedient to the Zionist entity in order to create mischief and disrupt the Palestinian accord.
In this optimistic and historic atmosphere, there is no doubt that a complete turn-around in Egypt's relations with Hamas will occur in a spirit of understanding and cooperation. However, this will require a number of measures by both parties, on an informational and political level, which remove the debris of deception and distortion created by media campaigns against Hamas during the Mubarak era. It requires Hamas to be presented to the Egyptian public anew through the national media so that the Egyptian people can be acquainted with the reality of the situation. In this way, all levels of Egyptian society should feel able to support the Palestinian cause and its players, including Hamas.
At the same time, Hamas needs to put forward a new strategy for its relationship with Egypt which gives confidence for an enhanced Egyptian role and opens the way for a wider Arab front on the Egypt-Palestine border in support of Egypt's position against the challenges that it will undoubtedly face from the Zionist lobby in world capitals. The Israelis will never sympathise with Egypt over its recent developments and will never give up their machinations against it or stop interfering with Egyptian security, unity, nationalism and the economy. Indeed, Israel will push for international support to persuade Cairo to abandon its new stance on the Palestinian issue.
Egypt has reassumed its historic role as a regional leader, with the great challenges that this entails. The Arab and Palestinian parties, particularly Hamas, will need to realign themselves with Egypt, heart and soul, in order for it to overcome those challenges. Such is the historic moment in space and time in which we stand.