Nasserist figure and political commentator Abdallah El-Sennawy has told Ahram Online in interview that several factors that should be taken into account regarding Egypt’s relationship to Hamas, the situation in Gaza, and Egypt’s security crisis on the border with Gaza in the Sinai Peninsula.
“Hamas has two faces. One is its relation with the Muslim Brotherhood and the other is its resistance to Israel,” said El-Sennawy, explaining that while Hamas’s relation to the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood is problematic, its role as a resistance force against Israel and as an important political player on Egypt’s borders should not be overlooked.
“When you accuse Hamas of being terrorist you are not only repeating Israeli rhetoric, but putting hurdles in front of security agreements [between Egypt and Hamas] in Sinai, amid the war on terrorism,” said El-Sennawy, slamming a Cairo court verdict designating the Palestinian Hamas — the effective government in the Gaza Strip — a terrorist organisation.
Egypt has been fighting a decade long Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that over the past year alone has left hundreds of security forces killed. Believing that militants are infiltrating Sinai through the border with Gaza and smuggling weapons through cross-border tunnels, Egypt has created a buffer zone in the area, evacuating residents and destroying all tunnels, which for years helped the besieged Palestinian Strip survive.
“I'm not saying that Hamas did not make mistakes,” added El-Sennawy, explaining that the Islamist group’s relation to the Muslim Brotherhood has gotten it too involved in Egyptian politics, affecting as a consequence Egyptian-Palestinian relations.
“I believe there are militant organisations inside Gaza to which Hamas turns a blind eye and they infiltrate through the borders,” said El-Sennawy, arguing nonetheless that cooperation between Hamas and Egypt is the only solution for both sides.
“I call for security and political cooperation between Hamas and Egypt, the opening of the Rafah border in accordance with international law to allow the movement of people and trade, and a complete end to the siege on the people of Gaza who are not just Hamas.”
“Whoever thinks that besieging Gaza is besieging Hamas is wrong … This is a siege on the Palestinian people and this is harmful for the security and strategic interests of Egypt, and its role in Palestine and the Arab world,” the pan-Arabist figure opined.
El-Sennawy further argued that the court decision has not only made this cooperation more difficult, but has put obstacles in the way of Egypt re-establishing its traditional role as a mediator in inter-Palestinian reconciliation talks.
“The whole world agrees that Egypt plays a vital role in the Palestinian reconciliation process, so its like giving up this role … [The court verdict] is a dangerous decision and a destructive one in light of the current war on terrorism,” El-Sennawy said.
However, El-Sennawy added there are positive signs that the Egyptian government is making efforts to end the current crisis, referring to an appeal filed by the cabinet against the court decision labelling Hamas terrorist.
“The appeal is positive and shows that they’re keen on security cooperation with Hamas when it comes to Sinai … This decision also shows Egypt's interest in continuing mediation efforts between the Palestinian factions,” he said, adding: “But I call for dialogue that goes beyond security.”
The Egyptian lawyer that filed the case against Hamas eventually dropped the lawsuit, explaining that he would not want the verdict to be "an obstacle to Egypt’s reconciliation efforts."
The current state of relations between the Egyptian authorities and Gaza's rulers, El-Sennawy further argued, “does not represent the desired level of Palestinian-Egyptian cooperation, but only the necessary minimum, and if it goes below that minimum, this will harm both sides.”
As for popular Egyptian solidarity with Palestine, beyond the state and its calculations, El-Sennawy recognises that it is expressed less than it was before.
Uprisings in the region, many argue, have taken attention away from Palestine, for years the centre of Arab politics. Now with all eyes on Yemen, as the Saudi-led joint Arab military force combats Houthi advances, many argue Palestine has become now even more overshadowed.
Nevertheless, El-Sennawy believes that the generation that protested en masse in Egypt’s streets in solidarity with the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 is the same one that took the streets in January 2011 to oust Hosni Mubarak, arguing that it is a sign that solidarity still exists, even if dormant.
“The protests in Egypt [in 2000] included political activists, intellectuals and many angry people … The real heroes were the schoolchildren who drew the Israeli flag on their undershirts and burned it … This generation is the one that came out in January 2011,” El-Sennawy said.
“The core [of the revolution] was those who stormed the Israeli embassy … I don’t agree with the act because there are international laws, but this was an expression of anger against Camp David (the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty) and Israeli oppression, and that started with the school protests in 2000 … This spirit is still there, but dormant.”
“Maybe in 2014 (the Israel summer war on Gaza) expressions of solidarity [in Egypt] were less, and I think that’s due to the accusations against Hamas and its involvement in violence and bias towards one side of Egypt's political divide (the Muslim Brotherhood) … In short its involvement in internal politics, which was a very big mistake for Hamas,” El-Sennawy said.
El-Sennawy, however, points to growing international solidarity with the Palestinian cause, naming several European countries where parliaments have discussed recognition of the State of Palestine.
On Wednesday, Palestine officially joined the International Criminal Court after years of campaigning for recognition as a state in international bodies — a move that has given hope to some for possible prosecutions of Israelis for war crimes.
El-Sennawy added that the absence of strong political groups is another problem in the case of Egypt.
“Democratic transitions need a political class,” he said adding: “Despite the intellectuals’ role in January and June (the ouster of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi) they have now withdrawn [from political opposition] … Many of them have reservations and fears that are not expressed, so that these would not serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Speaking of reservations he holds himself while talking about the Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) held mid-March in Sharm El-Sheikh, El-Sennawy said that while it gave a positive image that the state was strong, its economic and political vision gives reason for concern.
The EEDC saw the participation of over 2,000 international investors as well as high-level economic and political figures, despite daily militant attacks in Sinai and that also reached the capital.
A longtime opponent of toppled president Hosni Mubarak, El-Sennawy argued that “Mubarak’s businessmen” dominated the EEDC scene.
“Their statements showed that they believe that whatever they couldn’t achieve with the Gamal Mubarak project they can achieve now … And that is by complete removal of subsidies and selling off the public sector,” he said.
“A lot of money is coming in, but there is one group that wants to take everything and another (the poor) that should pay the bills of these reforms.”
“Some people will get everything now and others in 15 years, by 2030, and that doesn’t work. It threatens the stability of country. A lack of social justice is dangerous at the moment and threatens security,” El-Sennawy concluded.