By Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh:
Is it possible that Egypt deals with Hamas as a strategic asset that serves its top interests and national security; and not as a source of trouble and embarrassment and a burden that it wishes to get rid of?
Hamas, the “Burden”
Since its success in the elections and formation of the government, Hamas has obviously been antagonistically viewed by Egypt as a problem and a burden.
Without undue repetition, Egypt’s attitude towards a series of developments indicated that it has a problem called “Hamas”: viz Egypt’s position towards the siege and Hamas’ control over the Strip, its closure of Rafah crossing, and its attitude towards the resistance project, the Islamic trends, the Palestinian presidency, and, lastly, the Israeli aggression on the Strip.
The leaked news that accompanied the closure of Rafah gateway immediately after the Hamas’ control of Gaza included news about the Egyptian president, saying he expressed to his close associates that he will not allow Hamas’ control over Gaza.
On her part, Hamas viewed the Egyptian regime’s closure of Rafah gateway as part of a grand design to secure the failure of its experience and the downfall of its government. The operations on the frontiers and in the tunnels as well as the incidents related to the departure and arrivals from and to Gaza of the pilgrims and the patients had seemingly all aggravated the tension between the two sides.
Hamas had also interpreted Egypt’s support to the suggestion of sending Arab forces to the Strip as another attempt by the Egyptian regime towards the collapse of its government and to prepare the way for the Presidency to assume control over Gaza prior to the national reconciliation.
When Hamas excused itself from attending the reconciliation conference, the Egyptian verbal response was violent and angry. A week before the Israeli aggression on Gaza, to be exact on 20 December 2008, two Israeli newspapers, Bin Kasit and Ma’arif, leaked news that some Arab states approached “Israel” “asking for undertaking the operation”. These news added, “At least at the time, they encourage us to smash Hamas’ head and to destroy its leadership”. One of the messages had reportedly contained a list of Hamas’ leaders “recommended” for assassination.
During a visit to Cairo just two days before the aggression, Livni declared that the status quo in Gaza will change, and that Hamas’ control over Gaza in not “the problem of Israel alone”. Livni added, “we understand Egypt’s needs, but what we will do tallies with the needs of the region”. Many viewed this statement as an Egyptian green light to undertake the invasion.
A number of specialists had viewed some subsequent developments as evidences of the interest of the Egyptian regime to secure the collapse of Hamas. Amongst them was Egypt’s continuation of the closure of Rafah after the aggression, and its failure to take any action against Israeli massacres in the Strip, not even recalling the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv, or to follow the example of the Venezuelan president by expelling the Israeli ambassador in Cairo. Additionally, were the content of President Mubarak’s address, even the Egyptian initiative itself, and Dahlan’s arrival to Cairo, with many of his aides, just before the aggression.
Other news maintained that during Sarkozi’s visit to Cairo, just few days after the aggression, Mubarak told him of the necessity to end Hamas’ dominance over Gaza, and to secure the Strip’s control by Abu Mazin, adding that some Arab countries support this option. He also reportedly said that Egypt will open Rafah gate only if there are international observers and under Israeli supervision to prevent future smuggling of arms.
Similar news were also released during a visit on 8 January 2009 to Cairo by General Amus, the political advisor of the Israeli minister of war Barak. It said that a senior Egyptian security officer told Amus that the return of Abu Mazin is a guarantee to both parties “to impose stability, security and order”.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian initiative, declared by President Mubarak, had further aggravated Hamas’ worry on the Egyptian role, as it did not condemn the Israeli invasion, never distinguished between the aggressor and the victim of aggression and did not clearly demand the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the Strip. Furthermore, it did not directly deal with the Palestinian defacto ruler and defender of the Strip, as it called both “Israel” and the “Palestinian side” for an urgent meeting to arrange for the necessary guarantees that decisively address the underlying causes of the escalation and prevent its recurrence in future.
By the “Palestinian side”, the Egyptian initiative had surely meant the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah as it is the only Palestinian party which may meet its Israeli counterpart or with which the Israeli side would agree to meet.
The Egyptian behaviour, particularly during the latest period, could only be understood in the light of an Egyptian desire on behalf of the official authorities to exert more pressure on Hamas, who was viewed nothing but a trouble maker and a heavy burden.
Hamas as a Strategic Asset
What about the alternative, that Egypt views Hamas from the other angle, namely, a strategic asset that serves the country’s top national interest? The following factors may be useful to explore this scenario:
First: Hamas is an exclusively national resistance movement that confines its activities in Palestinian lands, and has never interfered throughout its twenty-one year life span in internal Egyptian or Arab affairs. Moreover, its Islamic project is concerned with the liberation of Palestine, and does not threaten the Egyptian or Arab regimes.
Second: Hamas is an independent movement that is not under the pay of any regime or axis; and the Egyptian regime is the first to know the fallacy of the claim that it is loyal or agent to Iran. It accepted and made use of Iran’s support to the resistance programme when all the Arab regimes fought it and closed all the doors in its face. Moreover, Hamas enjoys high dynamism which enables it to positively interact even with the forces with whom it disagrees.
Third: Hamas is deeply rooted in the hearts of the Palestinians of the interior and in the Diaspora, and has become during the past years the vanguard of the Palestinian resistance. It, furthermore, was officially victorious in fair elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Thus, it has become the legitimate representative of the peoples which expresses their concerns and aspirations in those areas, and it would be futile to try to supersede, marginalize or crush it.
The experiences of the last twenty-one years had demonstrated that all attempts to liquidate or seriously strike the movement had drastically failed, and that on each occasion it revived stronger and more popular.
Fourth: It is very well known in strategic planning that in cases where an opponent or an enemy resorts in negotiations to manipulation or refuses to surrender the minimum demands, there should be what is known as a “real threat” to twist its hands. In the peace negotiations with “Israel”, the only available “real threat” in the hands of the Palestinians is the option of armed resistance.
Therefore, the crushing of the Palestinian resistance tantamount to the loss of the only available element of Palestinian pressure, which would, in turn, weaken the bargaining position of the Palestinian negotiator if, of course, he is serious in attaining the Palestinian legitimate rights or, at least, some of them. Else, he is deemed to be subordinated by the occupier who will dictate its terms.
It is a grave pity that the Israeli entity sells itself to some Arab regimes as a partner in the war against the so-called “extremism and terrorism” at a time when it fights Hamas and the resistance forces to continue confiscating and judaizing the sacred land and to humiliate its peoples.
At the same time, these Arab regimes give a blind eye to the fact that Hamas and the resistance movements constitute a symbol for their own honour and dignity, and an advance defense line of the Ummah, even a real banner for its political rights. Both the Israeli and the American sides understand the language of strength and interest. Hence, the presence of Hamas should be dealt with as an added asset even to those who disagree with its path.
Fifth: Without any belittlement to the great Egyptian peoples and their army, which was not given the chance to exhibit its real worth in a real fighting, the Egyptian regime lost Gaza in the 1967 war in one day, while, under the leadership of Hamas, the Strip has not only been steadfast for many years but the huge Israeli war machinery failed to penetrate its towns.
Egypt national security requires that it should look at the positive aspects of the Palestinian resistance and its potentialities. This is particularly so as in cases where the regular armies are unable or unwilling to engage themselves in wars or perform specific duties, the forces of peoples’ resistance are of crucial benefit.
Sixth: Any means to put the Palestinian house in order, be it connected with the Palestinian Liberation Organization or the Palestinian Authority, cannot materialize without giving Hamas its due rights and natural role in such an exercise.
Moreover, Hamas still enjoys solidarity, dynamism and a young leadership versus the dissension, obesity and corruption of Fatah, which has not been able during the last twenty years to convene its sixth congress. Egypt is thus bound, now or in the future, to deal with Hamas, either as the leader of the Palestinian peoples or as a partner in this leadership. Hence, it is in the interest of the Egyptian regime to direct its attention towards interaction with this movement, and to benefit from its capacity in raising the ceiling of the Palestinian demands.
Seventh: The manner by which the Egyptian regime administered its relationship with Hamas engendered the disappointment and anger of the Egyptian, Arab and Islamic streets, even the international opinion. It caused formidable loss to the Egyptian diplomacy and to Egypt prestige and position. Had the regime opened Rafah crossing and resisted the siege, the Egyptian regime would have:
– gained spectacular popularity in the Egyptian street, and strengthened its internal front.
– made the implementation of the siege an Israeli and not an Egyptian problem.
– secured more influence on both Fatah and Hamas, which accelerates the drive towards national reconciliation.
Eighth : The Israeli entity still views Egypt as a probable enemy, and it draws its strategy on the assumption of being engaged in a war with Egypt. It is Egypt’s right and duty to design its strategy on the possibility of an Israeli aggression, especially as Camp David agreements had effectively made Sinai a non-military zone.
Thus, the existence of a strong resistance front will not only be an element for protecting the Palestinians and prevent their exodus, starvation and humiliation but also a frontal defensive line that deters the Israelis from engaging in a calculated or non-calculated adventure against Egypt.
Ninth: The 1952 Egyptian revolution had overthrown the monarchial regime because it failed to protect the Palestinian rights in the 1948 war, and Egypt had subsequently and for long years assumed a leading role of the Umma to liberate Palestine, while its peoples are still full of vigour and goodwill.
It is unbecoming for a state that sent armies to liberate Palestine from the Christian and Tatar conquests to be currently unable to just expel the Israeli ambassador in Cairo or to withdraw the Egyptian ambassador in “Israel”.
However, currently not much is demanded or excepted from the Egyptian regime, just not to be a partner in the siege, and to declare that it is no longer obliged to close Rafah crossing and / or the frontier, as “Israel” had itself disrespected the gateway agreement, even repeatedly bypassed it. Moreover, Egypt should not conclude any new agreement that does not observe all the Palestinian rights and Egypt’s national security.