The repercussions of the military coup in Egypt are not limited to the fears of the Hamas-led government, as a result of the impeachment of a president affiliated to the same Islamist group as Hamas. Indeed, the coup was followed by an unprecedented campaign to destroy the tunnels between the Gaza Strip (GS) and Egypt, and tighten the siege on the Strip, in parallel with a broad incitement campaign in the Egyptian media supporting the coup against Hamas.
If the free democratic process does not return and open up to all factions in Egypt, and if power should be seized, with support from the military, by factions affiliated to the remnants of the previous Mubarak regime, or factions committed to the Western vision for the democratic and political process in the Arab world, then it is more likely that GS would suffer further restrictions.
This would have the goal of undermining and overthrowing the government run by Hamas in GS; and bolstering the Palestinian National Authority (PA) in Ramallah while encouraging the resumption of the peace process. However, this may have direct adverse repercussions on Palestinian reconciliation, and efforts to put the Palestinian house in order
First: The Coup and its Implications on GS:
The military coup that took place in Egypt on 3/7/2013 had a huge impact on GS, particularly Hamas, not necessarily because of Hamas’s bias to one Egyptian party against another – though Hamas does not conceal its sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood Movement (MB) – but because it knew immediately that the dramatic developments in Egypt would have direct consequences in the heart of GS.
The fallout from Egypt can be identified through the following:
1. Most Egyptian media outlets that support the coup began making relentless accusations against some factions in GS, particularly Hamas. This prompted the government in Gaza to issue a number of statements denying these accusations, and denouncing what it described as an organized campaign against it.
2. Near-complete cessation of political and security contacts ensued between the caretaker government in GS and the Egyptian authorities, with the exception of telephone calls with a minimal scope to facilitate some humanitarian issues.
3. The PA in Ramallah took advantage of the developments in Egypt, to demand Hamas to return to the reconciliation process. The PA has acted as though it is the victorious party in the Egyptian developments, and as though Hamas is the defeated party, because of Morsi’s ouster. This sparked a new wave of mutual accusations, undermining the relative calm that was previously in place.
4. Near complete closure of the Rafah crossing, a few hours after the coup was announced, and restrictions on the number of Palestinian passengers in and out of GS.
5. The Egyptian authorities subsequently moved in an unprecedented manner to demolish tunnels with GS, something not seen even under the Mubarak regime at the peak of the tensions with Hamas during the first years of the blockade on GS. As a result, up to one thousand tunnels have been demolished, causing material losses of approx. $230 million.
6. Unprecedented flyovers by the Egyptian air force over the southern GS, especially over Rafah and Khan Younis, without being intercepted by the Israeli air force. This could be understood as having been coordinated between the two sides. While this Egyptian move may be motivated by pursuing militants who might have escaped from Egypt to GS, it casts a negative shadow on the relationship between Gaza and the Egyptian authorities, because the Egyptian move was coordinated with Israel, while the GS government was surprised by it like other Gazzans!
7. In conjunction with the coup, which was welcomed by Israel, some officers and ministers in Israel issued successive statements warning against Hamas’s growing military capabilities, and its ability to manufacture weapons without the need for smuggling which stopped through the tunnels. This has caused concern in Hamas’s ranks, which fear, even if temporarily, that Israel might exploit the coup to resume its recent war, which Morsi’s presence at the helm in Egypt helped stop.
Thus, these escalatory steps have had significant effects, which continue to reverberate in GS, putting additional burdens on the Hamas government, especially as thousands of jobs have been disrupted in those trades that depend on the tunnels with Egypt.
No doubt, the attempt to overpower one faction by another in Egypt, the desire of the party behind the coup to enshrine what happened, and the efforts of the supporters of the deposed president to reinstate him in his post, all have direct repercussions on GS. We will present here a number of possible scenarios expected in the near term:
1. Morsi Returns to the Presidency
Some believe that the man will inevitably return to his post, albeit after certain arrangements or a deal among the various factions in the Egyptian arena. However, this widespread belief, given the measures enacted on the ground and the successive developments in Egypt, does not mean that GS and Hamas will restore their previous status under Morsi – when they enjoyed a great deal of cooperation and warm official relations, before the coup.
Indeed, if Morsi is reinstated, he would have to cope with tremendous internal burdens. His official agenda would be crammed with unending issues, and the GS will not be among its priorities. This means that the maximum he would be able to do, if anything at all, is to reduce the extent of the blockade, and put an end to internal incitement against Palestinians.
2. The State of Polarization in Egypt Continues
This will have a negative impact that will translate into further pressure on GS, with Hamas denied access to Cairo, as the Egyptian army will be too preoccupied to deal with this issue, not to mention its coordination with US policies and the policies of certain Arab countries that are now explicitly hostile to Hamas – not only because it is a resistance movement that opposes peaceful settlement with Israel, but also for its affiliation to the MB, which is now being persecuted in these countries.
3. The Future Roadmap Drafted by the Coup Leaders Succeeds
There is talk about the end of the transitional phase in Egypt in a few months from now, followed by presidential elections, in which a candidate backed by the army is most likely to win, a candidate who could be from the holdovers of the Mubarak regime or a liberal. In this case, Hamas will have to face a replica of the Mubarak regime, more or less, where the Egyptian regime would deal with Hamas solely in the security dimension!
Perhaps the most desirable scenario for GS and its government is for constitutional legitimacy to return in Egypt. However, this does not seem quite likely to happen for the time being. The government led by Hamas in Gaza must adapt to the presence of a hostile regime in Egypt in the coming months. If the campaign against the MB continues, Hamas will be affected in turn, because of its affiliation with the Brotherhood.
Moreover, there are Arab and international actors that will push for more restrictions on Hamas and attempt to tarnish its image, not only because of the situation in Egypt, but also because of Hamas’s adoption of a resistance program and rejection of the peace process, not to mention its control of GS.
Subsequently, some actors may seek to exploit the situation to pressure the regime in Egypt to implement harsh measures against GS, all the way to trying to topple Hamas’s rule there, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, protecting Egyptian national security, and so forth.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Dr. ‘Adnan Abu‘ Amer for authoring the original text on which this Assessment was based.