Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Egyptís turmoil results in demise of Gazan Palestinian image and livelihood

By Emily Mulder - August 20, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Gaza] [Hamas] [The Muslim Brotherhood] [The Sinai Peninsula ]


A man emerges from a smuggling tunnel which connects the Gaza Strip and Egypt in Rafah, Nov. 24, 2012. (Oliver Weiken / EPA-Landov)

Tha’er Abdullah, a resident of Gaza, doesn’t support Hamas’ relations with recently ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) in Egypt.  He doesn’t think he is among a minority holding this belief in Gaza, either. Between the Egyptian military’s current attitude towards Palestinians in Gaza, however, and Hamas’ oppression of alternate views among its populace, voices of Palestinians like Tha’er are not heard, and they are paying the consequences.

Following the ousting of Morsi on July 3rd, Egypt’s military accused Morsi of collaborating with Hamas in attacks on police stations and prison breaks in early 2011. Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has also faced allegations from Egypt’s military of promoting instability in the region, accused of interfering with internal Egyptian affairs and responsibility for militancy in the Sinai.  

Furthermore, with the stated intention of halting the smuggling of fighters and arms in and out of Gaza, and more specifically into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian military has escalated tunnel closures and restricted movement since its overthrow of Morsi.

Turbulence between the Egyptian military and Morsi supporters has resulted in both a backlash against the livelihood of Gazan Palestinians and rampant demonization of Palestinians in Egyptian media.

Effects on Gazans

Egypt’s instability and the growing animosity between the now ruling Egyptian military and Hamas have cost Gazans an indispensable ally and lifeline. The crackdown hits hard against a Palestinian populace already paralyzed by the long-standing hermetic seal of the strip, enforced by Israel since 2006. Goods moved through Israel’s border crossings only satisfy around 30% of the basic needs for survival and economic development of Gazan residents.  

Living in the Gazan town of Rafah, bordering Egypt, Tha’er, using a pseudonym for the purpose of anonymity, has witnessed firsthand how increasing turmoil between Egypt’s military and Morsi supporters is plunging Gaza’s residents into further isolation. Tha’er explained to the Palestine Monitor, “When the revolution came [sic] against Morsi in Egypt, the situation here became more difficult…We have severe problems because of lack of food and building materials. Most of the goods that were delivered through this border we are not allowed to receive now.”

An estimated 80% of tunnels leading into Gaza have been destroyed or closed since June, drastically reducing the smuggling of construction materials and petrol. According to Gaza’s Minister of Economy, Alaa Rafati, $230 million dollars were lost in June alone due to tunnel closures, bringing construction in the devastated area to a near halt. Thousands of workers have been laid off in a population that already holds around 30% unemployment.

The Rafah border crossing connecting Gaza and Egypt has been operating at limited capacity with sporadic closures since Morsi was deposed, and was most recently closed on August 14 when large violent clashes between the military and Morsi supporters broke out across the country. As of July 5, over 10,000 Palestinians were registered and waiting to exit Gaza. Residents seeking urgent medical attention have been turned away, and Palestinians traveling abroad have been stranded at international airports across the globe.

Egypt’s Palestinian scapegoat

From a glance, harsh restrictions on the Palestinians of Gaza may seem the most natural and logical action for leaders in Egypt to take in addressing threats of growing regional instability, particularly within the Sinai Peninsula.   

In February 2013, following a case brought against Hamas for the killing of 16 Egyptian border guards in the Sinai, a court ruling ordered Morsi’s government to completely destroy all tunnels leading into the strip.

An estimated 80% of tunnels leading into Gaza have been destroyed or closed since June

While Morsi was slow to carry out the order due to ties with Hamas, after his July 3 deposal, Egypt’s now ruling military regime was quick to embark on an aggressive campaign of tunnel closures. The fingers of Egypt’s military point with ease to the relations between Egypt’s Ikhwan and Hamas as rationale for its actions; however, be they deliberate or not, systematic tunnel closures are consequently punishing the entire Gazan population. A report by Al Monitor suggests that the Sinai’s long standing instability reflects a much more complicated situation, starting with the 1979 Israel/Egypt peace agreement.

The overwhelming negative portrayal by the Egyptian military of Hamas in particular, and by extension Palestinians in general, as a threat to security suggests a stronger desire to demonize the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian popular opinion, rather than an attempt to address legitimate security threats.

In an Egypt saturated with violence and instability, such actions by the military easily incite Egyptian fear of the 1.7 million Palestinians living across the border. The recent increase in restrictions on Palestinians in Gaza has paralleled an increasingly negative portrayal of Palestinians in Egyptian media.

A fatal false perception

Rumors detrimental to the Palestinian image run rampant in Egypt. Depictions of all Palestinians as Islamists who intend to take over the Sinai, in conjunction with recently popular accusations that Morsi is of Palestinian descent, highlight the negative stigma attached to Palestinians that accompanies the Egyptian military’s quest for legitimacy to rule.

The reality of Palestinian intentions in Gaza is further clouded by Hamas’ crackdown on media outlets critical of its rule and its involvement with Morsi’s Ikhwan. Tha’er reflects:

“Contact between them [Hamas and the Ikhwan] makes Egyptian media think that all Palestinians are against the revolution and against Morsi.  They think that all people in Gaza are like Hamas. When they think Hamas has set a fire in the Sinai, all of the opinions and public opinion there come against the people in Gaza.”

While pro-Morsi Palestinians have been outspoken, Tha’er believes this isn’t the viewpoint of all Palestinians, and is troubled by the growing fear among Egyptians of an imminent Palestinian threat.  For Tha’er, “People in Egypt they have the right to have their own President and their own situation without any interruption or attack from outside world.  Egyptians have to make their own decision… the leaders of Hamas here in Gaza are in favor of Morsi governing Egypt, and this makes the Egyptian army come against us, because they think that all people here in Gaza are with Morsi.”

The increasingly negative portrayal of Palestinians in Egypt and the policies which result from these perceptions are both dictating and limiting the lines of survival for Palestinians in Gaza, removing the chance for many Palestinians to control how they are perceived by the Egyptian and international community in the face of a rising regional conflict.

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