Under lockdown, Palestinians in Gaza fear the worst

Egypt’s military regime is serving up more of the same for Gazans: demonisation, harassment and deportation.

Palestinians shout slogans in front of Egyptian soldiers at the iron gate of a border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza strip
Palestinians are regularly harassed at Eqypt's airports and border crossings [Reuters]

It has been widely reported that the Palestinian Authority (PA), bereft of a mandate in the West Bank, has succumbed to the pressure from the US administration insisting it return to negotiations. However, little has been said of the PA’s counterpart in Gaza. Also lacking a mandate, Hamas has felt the pressure of the Egyptian political turmoil that stripped it of what some had viewed as an ally in the Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

But even less has been said of the ordinary Palestinian women, men and children trapped in Gaza with all links to the outside world effectively sealed. Worse, Gazans have become the target of a campaign of demonisation at a level unseen in Egypt’s contemporary past, culminating in the widespread “accusation” [Ar.] that former President Mohamed Morsi is a Palestinian. But how did this come about?

The Mubarak regime’s policy towards Gaza was generally repressive. It participated in Israel’s draconian siege of the enclave, underway since 2006. Gazans cannot forget the sight of former Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit standing next to his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni when, while visiting Cairo, she declared war on the Strip in 2008.

New hope with Morsi’s election

The transitional rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that took power after Mubarak’s downfall did not lift the siege on Gaza nor changed the Egyptian political approach towards it. When Morsi was elected, many Palestinians had high hopes that a democratically-elected president would end the blockade on the Gaza Strip and revisit the Camp David Accords.

There is no question that the Egyptian people as a whole remain passionately committed to Palestine and its people, despite the best efforts of the feloul.

Yet once in power, it became apparent that the Muslim Brotherhood lacked a clear political vision. On the home front, they failed to make even limited progress in realising the demands of the January 25 revolution. The economy nearly collapsed and security worsened. Radical Islamist Takfiri groups increased their hold in the Sinai and Israel appears to freely wander through the area.

The Brotherhood’s slogans against Israel and the United States disappeared after they came to power and instead it adopted a position well to the right of the political spectrum, with a commitment to international agreements, a special relationship with the US, and loans from the International Monetary Fund.

As for Israel, Morsi sent a very friendly letter to President Shimon Peres describing him as a “dear and great friend”, and expressing his “strong desire to maintain and strengthen the cordial relations” – this while almost all the tunnels to Gaza were being shut down and the Rafah Crossing functioned at a snail’s pace. 

The Morsi presidency took credit for brokering a ceasefire agreement to end the short, violent conflict between Israel and Palestinian factions in November 2012, that killed more than 160 Palestinians, mostly civilians. But it did not hold Israel to its commitments, which included lifting the blockade against Gaza. The Palestinian leadership in Gaza was bitterly disappointed because it felt it had successfully stood its ground against the Israeli onslaught and had expected political gains as a result.

Same old policy

Instead, Morsi cashed in on his “victorious” mediator role to further his goals at home.  Just three days after the war on Gaza ended he issued his notorious Constitutional Declaration giving himself powers unprecedented in Egyptian modern history.

In short, the Brotherhood continued Mubarak’s policy towards the Palestinian cause and especially towards Gaza. It never dared to challenge what human rights organizations and the United Nations have condemned as collective punishment, even though it takes place on Egypt’s border.

The Egyptian military regime, in power since July 3 is now demonising everything Palestinian. The Gaza Strip faces a far harsher blockade affecting all the crossings and the destruction of the tunnels. An unprecedented incitement campaign is underway in several Egyptian media outlets, especially those financed by businessmen affiliated with the Mubarak regime and some Gulf countries hostile to the January 25 revolution. Palestinians are regularly excoriated on Egyptian TV. In the Arab media, some commentators are gleeful over the fate awaiting Gaza’s Palestinians while others assert that Hamas is meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs and call on the Egyptian Army to launch a military attack against the Gaza Strip.

Demonising Palestinians

The Palestinians, being the weakest link in the Arab chain, have once again become the target of the Egyptian authorities’ security complex. They are regularly harassed and deported at Egyptian airports and crossings, even if they are simply transiting to and from Gaza.

This chauvinistic campaign to hold Gaza responsible for most of Egypt’s ills – from the fuel shortages to terrorism in the Sinai – serves the feloul (remnants) of Mubarak’s regime, who are now in full resurgence. 

No evidence has been found of Palestinian involvement in Egypt, including the Sinai. Even if there had been, the collective punishment the Egyptian authorities are applying against the Palestinians of Gaza violates international law. Notice that Egypt never imposed any restraints on Israelis visiting Egypt despite, for example, the killing of five Egyptian soldiers in an Israeli airstrike in 2011.

There is no question that the Egyptian people as a whole remain passionately committed to Palestine and its people, despite the best efforts of the feloul. Several intellectuals and politicians have publicly protested the media campaign targeting the Palestinian people.

We seek an Egypt that is pluralistic and democratic with full sovereignty over its territory, an Egypt that honours the principles for which so many laid down their lives in the 2011 revolution and that does not scapegoat its Palestinian brethren in Gaza. 

Haidar Eid is a Policy Advisor at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network.