Egypt, the multitasking mediator

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 14 May 2024

Egypt is determined to end the war in Gaza, intensify efforts to stop any escalation, refuse Israeli attempts to displace the Gazan people, and deliver humanitarian aid to them, writes Azza Radwan Sedky


The Hamas and Israeli delegations departed from Cairo last Thursday after yet another two days of talks on a possible ceasefire in Gaza without reaching a deal.

Simultaneously, a comprehensive invasion of Rafah is underway after the Israeli army carried out air strikes on areas east of the city.

Earlier, Israel had asked the residents of Gaza to flee yet again, this time from Rafah and to evacuate the eastern part of the city, which is home to approximately 100,000 Gazans. The city of Rafah has sheltered more than a million residents to become the only semi-safe haven for displaced civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Now, even Rafah is under siege. Egypt and other mediating countries have consistently reiterated that a major assault on Rafah would have catastrophic consequences, but Israel has remained adamant in its intention to do so.

When Hamas earlier agreed to the Egyptian peace proposal on the war on Gaza, many Gazans assumed that things were about to get better. Euphoric, they celebrated on the streets. However, Israel rejected the proposal and immediately seized the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing, meaning that no humanitarian aid or food can cross into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing.

Thus, we are back at square one: there is no ceasefire agreement, a ground invasion of Rafah is underway, and famine is enveloping Gaza.

So, where is Egypt in all this? Egypt borders the Gaza Strip to the south, and this proximity manifests Egypt’s vital role in the Strip in times of peace and war. Today, Egypt remains steadfast in its efforts to bring peace to Gaza via its extensive political, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts.

Egypt’s determination to bring about an end to the war, to continue to intensify its efforts to stop the escalation, to refuse Israeli attempts to displace the Gazan population, and to deliver humanitarian aid make it a multitasking mediator.

First, there is no doubt that Egypt is perturbed at the assault on Gaza and is afflicted by all new developments in the war. However, it must continue to show self-control in the face of the Israeli aggression in order to maintain a strong hand in the negotiations and mediation. Were it not for Egypt’s poised and self-restrained stance, matters would have worsened and maybe escalated further in the whole region.

Egypt’s role as a strong and stable mediator must continue as it calls for peace and a permanent ceasefire and pressures the rest of the world to demand an end to the conflict. As a mediator, Egypt continues to host delegates from Israel, Hamas, the US, and Qatar on an ongoing basis in the hopes of reaching an agreement, containing the situation in Rafah, and reaching a comprehensive truce.

This is quite a task since the two sides, Israel and Hamas, remain far apart.

Second, despite the economic and political pressures it is burdened with, Egypt has not stood idly by, and its humanitarian efforts have been enormous. It has launched huge aid convoys to deliver vital relief supplies and provide immense amounts of food, water, and fuel to Gaza.  It has also evacuated and then treated hundreds of wounded Gazans who have arrived across the border with their escorts.

Egypt has had no problem welcoming refugees from more than 62 countries. Today, there are nine million refugees in Egypt, and they live safe lives amongst the wider population. None of them live in tents or refugee camps.

However, the matter is more complicated when it comes to the residents of Gaza. Egypt’s refusal to allow millions of Gazans entry into Egypt is due to the fear that Israel intends to expel them permanently, as it did with previous generations of Palestinian refugees. This is unacceptable since it could end the Palestinian cause and give Gaza to the Israelis on a silver platter.

It was clear from the start of the war that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government wanted to rid themselves of the Palestinian headache by dumping the responsibility on Egypt in particular. Netanyahu lobbied the US and the EU to pressure Egypt into accepting the Gazan refugees, while Israeli military operations continued to push fleeing Gazans towards Egypt’s border in Rafah.

The Israeli lobby in the US promoted the same outlook. Former US presidential candidate Nikki Haley, when asked where the Gazans should have gone to escape Israeli bombardments, responded simplistically that “they should have gone to the Rafah Crossing, and Egypt would have taken care of them.”

To preserve the rights of the Palestinians to their land, Egypt has maintained its objections to such a move from the start, and it still does so.

Egypt and Israel have been able to live side by side in peace since they signed the Camp David Accords in 1979. But the situation today is fraught with dangers, especially if the Israeli attack on Rafah causes a breach in the border. Once borders are crossed or destroyed, treaties and agreements can disappear.

For this reason, Egypt has raised its level of military preparedness in North Sinai in anticipation of the escalation of events. Today, with the Israeli attack on Rafah, Egypt has mobilised its forces stationed across the border further. There is no doubt that the security services in Egypt constitute a force to be reckoned with, and it is this force that Israel must heed.

What Egypt is doing is strenuous but pertinent. Egypt is prepared for all scenarios and has strong and effective control over its borders. However, it will not risk fighting any war that it did not initiate, and it will not take upon itself the liabilities of others, which could destabilise its security and destroy its development efforts.

Egypt will remain a strong and stable mediator in the conflict, a provider of humanitarian aid and medical support, and an alert protector of its land. On the one hand, Egypt negotiates, while on the other, it provides aid to the Gazan population. It is determined to safeguard its territories.

Egypt remains the heart and mind of the Arab world and the Middle East alike, and it will continue to provide support to beleaguered Gaza and send humanitarian aid while doing everything in its power to negotiate a peace settlement.


The writer is a former professor of communication who is based in Vancouver, Canada.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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