Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood pushing for end to Gaza siege
The Muslim Brotherhood aims to open the Egyptian border with Gaza to commerce, a shift that would transform life for 1.7 million Palestinians strangled by a six-year Israeli siege, but faces resistance from powerful remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest party in Egypt’s new parliament, but not in government, have been seeking ways to ease the impact of the blockade imposed by Israel and Mubarak’s Egypt on the territory run by Hamas, an ideological offshoot of the Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood recently lobbied the Egyptian government to conclude a deal to supply fuel for Gaza’s sole operating power station to reduce electricity blackouts.
Gaza’s three other power plants were destroyed in previous Israeli airstrikes and the siege has prevented Hamas from importing material to reconstruct the stations.
However, the blackouts still plaguing Gaza several weeks after a deal was declared show that changing Egyptian policy is easier said than done, where the government is still largely run by remnants of Mubarak’s regime.
“It’s the continuation of the Mubarak method in dealing with the Palestinian issue,” said Gamal Hishmat, the deputy chair of the Egyptian parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and a Muslim Brotherhood MP.
The fuel has yet to arrive because of a dispute over how it should be delivered, according to Hamas and Brotherhood MPs familiar with the details.
Hamas wants it to come across Gaza border with Egypt, a precedent that could lead to broader trade through the only Palestinian frontier not controlled by Israel.
Egypt had initially backed this, but then said it should go via Israel, Hamas and Brotherhood sources said. Officials at the Egyptian oil ministry could not be reached for comment.
Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979 and Mubarak was a key US ally and Israeli ally during his 30-year autocratic rule.
Mubarak’s Egypt joined Israel in its blockade on Gaza in a bid to erase Hamas, fearing an Islamist leadership on its doorstep could instigate Islamists at home.
Under international pressure, Israel eased some import curbs on Gaza in 2010, but for the most part businesses cannot export.
Protests organized by Hamas at the border this week over the power crisis have signaled growing impatience with restrictions Palestinians feel should have ended with Mubarak’s rule.
Egypt’s ruling military led by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi eased restrictions on the passage of travelers last year, but the change fell short of what Palestinians were seeking.
“The Field Marshal of Egypt and the government of Egypt and the whole world stand silent as Gaza remains under blockade,” Mohammed Ashour, a local official in Gaza, told a rally, his voice booming from loud speakers across the frontier.
Commerce has been forced underground into tunnels under the border, but the Brotherhood is pushing to have ties normalized with Gaza.
“I want the crossing to open completely, so that whoever wants to travel from Gaza can come to Egypt,” said Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood. “We support opening the crossing for imports and exports.”
Hamas wants the same. “When the crossing officially opens, we will be the ones to close down the tunnels,” Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas figure, told Al-Akhbar.
For the Brotherhood, the first justification for opening the crossing is moral. The Gaza blockade is one of the most emotive issues in the Arab world. There would also be an economic benefit for northern Sinai, one of the poorest parts of Egypt.
For Israel, the idea does not appear a cause for concern.
“The Israeli foreign minister has suggested that we do everything we can to help Gaza stop depending on Israel for anything and instead deal directly with Egypt,” an Israeli diplomat said.
He added that checks would be needed on the Egyptian side to prevent arms reaching Gaza, but said the fuel deal did not raise any alarm.
The Egyptian position has long been shaped by a concern that Israel would relinquish all responsibility for Gaza were the border with Sinai opened.
A diplomat familiar with Gaza policy said Cairo’s worry was now that yielding to Hamas demands would weaken Egypt’s leverage over the group and undermine efforts to nudge it towards reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Zahar did not expect any serious change in policy until Egypt elects a new president, completing the transition from army rule at the end of June. “In this interim period I do not believe fundamental changes will happen,” he said.
- Egypt’s rulers resist Muslim Brotherhood’s push to open Gaza border (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Gaza to be connected to Egypt’s power grid: Egyptian envoy (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Muslim Brotherhood wary of Egypt IMF loan (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- ‘Egypt will show unity with Palestinians’ (altahrir.wordpress.com)