What is behind Egypt's newfound support for Gaza?
However you interpret the Egyptian regime's recently changed stance on Gaza and Hamas, there are grounds for suspicion.
Egypt and Gaza are not two neighbouring states. If they were, then maybe we could attribute this unexpected shift in the Egyptian position to the fickle and unstable nature of politics - interstate relations can transform in an instant, with deadly enemies suddenly forming alliances and frosty relations normalising fast when circumstances change.
However, in this case, Egypt’s sudden change of heart towards the occupied and besieged people of Palestine seems to have come out of the blue.
It occurs following years of overt hostility directed at Palestinians through policies followed by the Mubarak regime which have been continued by Sisi's government. The latter has displayed an even more belligerent attitude towards the Palestinians, its hateful rhetoric at times so extreme that it has verged on the bizarre. Meanwhile the Egyptian regime has untiringly performed its role as Israel’s faithful assistant when it has come to maintaining and even tightening the blockade on the besieged enclave.
While Egypt has certainly played a major role in coordinating an end to Israel's latest assault on Gaza, and the Egyptian media has by all appearances adopted a more conciliatory tone towards the Gazan people, even a brief glance at Egypt's recent track record will show why Palestinians may have misgivings.
"Even a brief glance at Egypt's recent track record will show why Palestinians may have misgivings"
Without warning, the Egyptian media has halted its criticism of the Palestinian people, including Hamas. It has also stopped condemning Palestinian protests against Judaization and the theft of peoples' homes in Sheikh Jarrah and no longer appears to hold Palestinians responsible for Israeli aggression.
Instead, we have witnessed a wholesale transformation in political orientation with Egypt now appearing to back the Palestinians in their stand against Israeli brutality. The regime seems to have suddenly registered that a resistance movement, through which people are striving to defend their rights, their land, and their lives, should be supported.
Even if this support is somewhat lacklustre and in no way constitutes the levels needed by the overwhelmed Palestinians, it nevertheless signals an end to hostile Egyptian policies which have targeted Palestinians for more than a decade.
Egypt is banking on a $500-million Gaza reconstruction project to shore up its influence in the Middle East https://t.co/L6NxQWBgCj— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) June 11, 2021
These policies went so far as to classify a Palestinian resistance faction, Hamas, as a terrorist organisation (according to legislation passed in 2015 which was subsequently annulled), when in reality it might have been more appropriate to classify Israel's occupation in those terms for its crimes against the people of Gaza.
The difference is stark - Egyptian media downplayed Israel’s devastating attacks on the Gaza Strip in 2014 and 2018 as "volatile situations", but is now calling out Israel's blatant aggression. Likewise, Hamas is now being referred to as "the resistance" instead of "a terrorist organisation".
"Many view this development with unease - particularly Egyptians and Palestinians, but also more broadly across the Arab world"
Many view this development with unease - particularly Egyptians and Palestinians, but also more broadly across the Arab world - for the simple reason that it is hard to believe that those who cheered Israel on as it showered bombs upon the people of Gaza in the wars of 2008, 2014 and 2018 would shed tears now.
Likewise, it is difficult to accept that a regime which aired statements such as, "Israeli planes conducted raids over terrorist positions in the Gaza Strip", and whose entire stance on Gaza was one of open contempt and indifference, has now seen the light and proclaims the "rockets of the Palestinian resistance".
The cynicism is understandable. How can people forget the young Egyptian arrested and imprisoned two years ago for raising the Palestinian flag in Cairo stadium at a football match, or the enforced disappearance of another young man who showed his solidarity with Palestine the same way in Tahrir Square during the latest Israeli assault just a few weeks ago?
Or the Egyptian journalist arrested with her friend a few days before for the same "offence", where both were interrogated over their possession of the flag, as though it were a highly suspicious object found at a crime scene.
Palestine has always held a special place in the hearts of ordinary Egyptians. So in light of the continuing crackdown on those who openly show their solidarity with Palestine, what should people make of the regime's new apparently supportive discourse?
It would be more credible if Egypt's security services had released activists Ramy Shaath and Muhammad al-Masri, coordinators of the Egyptian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, who have been imprisoned for two years now without charge; or if Shaath's name had been removed from the "terrorist" list it was added to a year ago, simply for supporting the Palestinian cause.
Maybe if we had seen Egyptian protests spill out onto the streets to condemn the aggression, like those we saw in many other countries, it might indicate an actual transformation was underway. Or if Egypt had opened the Rafah crossing properly, to allow the flow of aid to Gaza (which would come from the world over if only it were permitted to enter) instead of opening it for just a few hours at a time to allow some of the wounded to cross into Egypt for medical treatment.
"What is important is that the regime's abysmal mismanagement of its own affairs is not repeated in the way it deals with Gaza"
With everyone still recovering from the shock of the Egyptian regime's about-face, it was announced just as suddenly that Egypt would be allocating $500 million for reconstruction in Gaza, on the condition that Egyptian companies would be contracted for the work.
This announcement came even before the ceasefire was called, the Egyptian government briefly reverting to type when its spokesman refused to clarify Israel's culpability in the destruction, instead blandly stating that the initiative aimed to "rebuild the Gaza Strip as a result of recent events".
Many were taken by surprise - not only is it well-known that Egypt's economy is weak and ailing - but many also remember President Sisi's words a few years ago regarding Egypt's refusal to contribute to reconstruction efforts in Syria: "Wasn’t it Syrians who destroyed their own country? Why would I repair it for them? No - I will not repair it for them."
However, in Gaza, he seems only too willing to repair what Israel has destroyed.
Having said all that, the Egyptian regime's current supportive stance of the Palestinian cause has given a sense of optimism to Palestinians who are always in search of a glimmer of hope.
This is the case in spite of those who air their suspicions that the drastic shift is simply a point-scoring tactic by the Sisi regime, one that wishes to recast itself and discard its former reputation, consolidated since it seized power in 2014.
Alongside its antagonism of the Palestinians, the regime's record has also been one of abject failure towards its own people. Egypt’s natural resources - its waters, islands and gas, which should be a source of collective enrichment for the Egyptian people - have been squandered by the regime, alongside the country's regional standing.
Some Palestinians may overlook the significance of the two phone calls Sisi received from President Biden shortly before the ceasefire, after having been given the cold shoulder by the Americans for some time. They may also ignore one possible agenda Egypt is hiding behind this change in stance - to regain the role of regional mediator with the Israelis - a position those Arab states that have normalised relations with Israel are also competing for.
Whatever the motivations behind Egypt's new stance, what is important is that the regime's abysmal mismanagement of its own affairs is not repeated in the way it deals with Gaza and in its handling of matters related to the Palestinian issue more broadly. If this happens, these suspicions will have been justified.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko.
Malek Wannous is a Syrian writer and translator whose work has been widely published in the Syrian, Lebanese and Gulf press. He translated the book "Gaza Stay Human" by Vittorio Arrigoni for the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.
Follow him on Twitter: malek_wannous
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.