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What awaits Cairo and Hamas after 'terrorism' ruling

The fate of Egypt-Palestine relations is unclear after a court in Cairo labeled Hamas a terrorist group

Salma Shukrallah , Wednesday 4 Mar 2015
Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya
Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya (Photo: Reuters)
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Palestinians have begun talks on the possible impact of a Cairo court ruling that designated Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, a terrorist group.

Leading Hamas member Ismail Haneya said in a public statement in Gaza on Tuesday that Palestinians have been in touch with Egypt to discuss the possible consequences of the recent court decision.

A delegation led by Palestinian Islamic Jihad is currently visiting Cairo to discuss Egypt-Hamas relations.

Leading Jihad member Khaled El-Batsh told Turkey’s Anadolu news agency that the delegation is discussing the future of Palestinian-Egyptian relations, the situation in Gaza with the continued closure of the Rafah border, as well as Egypt's role in inter-Palestinian reconciliation negotiations.  

The court decision has raised questions on the future of Egypt's relations with the Gaza Strip as well as its broader role in ongoing peace negotiations.

Hamas leaders have described the ruling as "shameful."

The verdict was also met by criticism and skepticism from others.

Court verdict a 'disaster'

Ramy Shaath, a member of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) in Egypt, said the decision is a "disaster."

Talking to Ahram Online, Shaath said: "[The court decision] reshapes Egypt's strategic vision in the region in accordance with an internal conflict with the Brotherhood.”

He added: "The decision has created new enemies for Egypt and will have a great impact on its role in the region.

"The decision is a disaster for the people of Gaza," he said, adding that it will also impact Egypt’s role in mediating peace talks.

"Egypt's relationship with Palestine has been guided purely by security concerns and that has reflected on all relations with Palestinians."

"Palestinians cannot own property [in Egypt], are not given residence permits, are not allowed to invest [in Egypt] etc." Shaath said the recent court decision continues to widen the rift and hence compromise Egypt's role in mediating the Palestinian conflict.

Egypt has not only been the main mediator in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, but has recently represented itself as the main mediator in the Palestinian reconciliation negotiations between Hamas and the PLO.

Last year, rival Palestinian factions met in Cairo to continue reconciliation talks which Egypt has been trying to broker since 2011.

In April 2014, Hamas and the PLO finally announced the reconciliation agreement, a step which Egypt welcomed.

Israel, however, condemned the agreement, slamming the PLO's Mahmoud Abbas for reconciling with Hamas, which it views as a "terrorist" group.

Now that an Egyptian court has also ruled Hamas ‘terrorists’, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, "It reverses the equation, making the occupation a friend and the Palestinian people an enemy.”

Verdict unlikely to change relations with Gaza or Hamas

Mohamed Gomaa, an expert on Palestine affairs at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, believes, however, that the court decision will practically change nothing.

"Egypt has been for some time trying to deprive Hamas of the role of the Palestinian representatives… Hamas members came to Egypt as part of a Palestinian delegation headed by the PLO… Islamic Jihad members were present so that Hamas is not the sole representative of Palestinian armed groups."

A Cairo conference held in October 2014 to raise money for the reconstruction of Gaza saw Mahmoud Abbas of the PLO representing Palestinians while no members of the Hamas group were present. 

While the verdict might have a symbolic impact, Gomaa further opined, it will have little impact on relations with Gaza due to geographical determinants and is not likely to have an impact on Egypt's role in Palestinian affairs.

"Egypt works for its national security interests and accordingly will not end relations with Hamas… Hamas know that Egypt is the only exit for Gaza to the outer world so it will not end cooperation with Egypt."

The relationship between Egypt's authorities and Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s sister organisation in Gaza, soured after the ouster of Egyptian Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

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