Egypt’s Stake In A Gaza Truce

Lina Khatib scrutinizes Egyptian leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s eagerness to broker a ceasefire in Gaza, which she suspects has as much to do with political strategy as humanitarian concerns:

The Egyptian president needs to demonstrate to his own people that he is indeed a leader with clout. He also wishes to assert himself in the international arena. … For Sisi, in addition to strengthening his position within Egypt and confirming the narrative of a “strong Egypt” externally, the initiative would give him the upper hand vis-à-vis Hamas. Further down the line, this would give Egypt greater control over its border with Gaza as well as increase the legitimacy of its measures against Islamist groups within Egypt, particularly Hamas’ ally the Muslim Brotherhood.

The success of the Gaza initiative would also grant Sisi a platform to engage in brokering other deals in the future, such as in context of the Syria and Iraq crises, that would continue to affirm Egypt’s reclamation of its regional leadership. As such, Sisi is heavily invested in the Hamas-Israel deal and cannot afford to see it fail.

The Economist asserts that “Egypt nowadays is simply not well placed to broker peace”:

Since Egypt’s army, then headed by Mr Sisi, ousted the Muslim Brotherhood in a coup in July 2013, official policy towards Hamas has hardened.

Egyptian officials accused Hamas, without presenting evidence, of opening prisons during the revolution of 2011 that toppled Hosni Mubarak. In August Egypt shut its Rafah border crossing with Gaza indefinitely after clashes. An Egyptian court also banned Hamas from carrying out activities in the country. Egypt has lost influence thanks to its terrible relations with Doha, the Qatari capital, where Hamas’s external leadership is based, over the Gulf state’s close ties to the Brotherhood.

Egypt has long enjoyed links with both Israel—with which it has a peace treaty—and Hamas, but that has become more lopsided under Mr Sisi. He appears to reckon that cosying up to Israel and putting the cosh on Hamas will help stabilise Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, where disgruntled Islamists have sought to make mayhem—among other things, by assassinating soldiers—since last year’s coup. The Egyptian media, which obsequiously says what it thinks the regime wants to hear, has been unusually hostile to Hamas, too. Azza Samy, deputy editor of al-Ahram, a state-owned daily, tweeted: “Thanks to you Netanyahu, May God send many of your likes to crush Hamas, agents of the Muslim Brotherhood.” That does not go down too well at home, where many Egyptians sympathise with the Palestinians and grandly consider themselves the Arab world’s “beating heart”.