The overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak has caused a lot of people to speculate on what the Egyptian revolution means for the people of Gaza.
Under Mubarak’s rule, Egypt was the junior partner in the Israeli/U.S. effort to squeeze the people of Gaza following the Hamas takeover in 2007. Mubarak’s gone now, so what happens next?
The only thing that’s clear is that the situation is in flux.
The Egyptian media outlet Al Masry Al Youm‘s Baudouin Long speaks to analysts on “the future of Egyptian diplomacy in Palestine”:
Following the revolution, several experts believe Egyptian diplomacy in Palestine could shift slightly toward a more balanced approach than the traditional backing of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as opposed to Hamas.
Sayyed Amin Shalaby, executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Relations, is convinced that “Egyptian diplomacy will be more assertive and supportive of the rights of Palestinian people.” He affirmed that “Egypt will be working more for the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. In the new regime, when a democratic government will be elected, the tension with Hamas will decrease…”
For Manuel Musallam, a member of the revolutionary council of Fatah who lived in Gaza for 15 years until 2009, Egypt must open the Rafah border. “It would be the first step to prove Egypt’s real determination to change its approach to the Palestinian issue… We will see if the new regime will open the border with Gaza,” he said.
But a Western diplomat in Cairo said the Egyptian military is not keen on complying with Hamas’ demand to open the Rafah border: “The Military is extremely concerned by the security in Sinai, especially after the explosion of the gas pipeline on 5 February. It won’t be keen on opening the border”.
Given the changing political landscape in neighboring Egypt, Gaza’s strategic importance may become even more vital for regional security. There are emerging indications in policy circles that the Egypt-Gaza relationship and how it may evolve are far more worrisome to the U.S. and Israel than is publicly acknowledged…
The power balance in the region is slowly but inexorably shifting in a manner that does not favor US-Israel dominance (with its acceptance and legitimizing of Israeli occupation and Palestinian dispossession). It is the Arab people — not their regimes — who have always supported Palestinian rights, and they may soon be in a position to insist on them. So, too, will Palestinians.
I interviewed some experts on this topic for a piece I wrote in the latest issue of the Indypendent:
Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies told The Indypendent that Egypt’s rulers fear any further opening of Rafah could provide impetus for Israel to throw Gaza into Egypt’s lap. Egypt occupied Gaza for nearly two decades starting in 1948. Following its sweeping victory over Arab states including Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel began the direct military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among other lands.
Israel has been hoping to rid itself of responsibility for Gaza for “a long time now, and I would think that the military would be very aware of that,” said Hijab. “The military will probably walk a fine line between loosening up the blockade without inheriting Gaza.”
Noura Erekat adds, “Given the considersations that this new regime will have, and the threats that it will face, it can’t [decide to lift the blockade] in a vacuum.” Those threats include Israel’s powerful military as well as the possibilities of strict conditions on or cuts to U.S. military aid. The worst-case scenario, according to Erekat, could be Israeli forces threatening to police the border themselves on the Egytian side.