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Court ruling shows strains on Egypt-Hamas relationship: experts

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Cairo Court for Urgent Matters banned activities of the Palestinian movement temporarily

A Hamas policeman stand on sand bags along the border with Egypt on September 1, 2013 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, as smoke rises (L) in the Egyptian side of the border following an explosion at a smuggling tunnel dug beneath the Gaza-Egypt border.  (AFP PHOTO SAID KHATIB)

A Hamas policeman stand on sand bags along the border with Egypt on September 1, 2013 in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, as smoke rises (L) in the Egyptian side of the border following an explosion at a smuggling tunnel dug beneath the Gaza-Egypt border.
(AFP PHOTO SAID KHATIB)

The decision to ban the activities of Hamas inside Egypt is a foregone conclusion and does not bring anything new, said Mohamed Gomaa, an expert on Palestine Affairs from Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, as reactions to the Tuesday decision continues to ripple inside Egypt.

The court’s decision, which is rejected by Hamas, is the latest blow to ties between Cairo and the Palestinian Resistance Movement, more commonly referred to as Hamas.

Gomaa believes that “there are significant indicators even before the court’s decision that confirm that the Hamas regime in Gaza has moved from a non-allied entity to a semi hostile entity.”

Issues of contention between Egypt and Hamas are likely to become more heated and understandings between them less sustainable, Gomaa added. The current disagreements between Hamas and Egypt go beyond past differences, he said, in that they have gone from differing points of view on issues like Palestinian reconciliation or the conditions of the truce with Israel to a view in official circles in Egypt that Hamas is implicated in the shedding of Egyptian blood.

This view is “more than just media propaganda”, Gomaa said, as Hamas is “at least indirectly” responsible for such acts.

Gomaa believes that there is an “ambivalent relationship” between Hamas and Salafi Jihadi groups in Egypt, with the relationship oscillating from coalitions with some Salafi Jihadi groups to outright confrontations.

“It is in the interests of Hamas that North Sinai remains its backyard,” Gomaa said, adding that this guarantees the continuation of tunnelling activity and the smuggling of weapons and even goods; the interests of Hamas are in direct collision with any strong presence of an Egyptian state in that region.

Gomaa did, however, rule out the possibility of a military confrontation between Egypt and Hamas.

The ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi was also followed by media reports linking Hamas to internal strife in Egypt and insurgency in Sinai, which put further strain on Egypt-Hamas ties. Hamas has denied any involvement in the recent surge in militancy that has taken place in the Sinai Peninsula or in Egypt’s internal affairs.

 

Gomaa added that he does not believe that the court’s decision will affect Egypt’s role as a mediator between rival Palestinian factions: Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which is an off shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been ruling the Gaza Strip since 2007 since its takeover following a battle with Fatah.

Gomaa also expressed doubts over the possibility of reconciliation even without the court ruling, which he attributed to a “lack of a will” by the two rivals. “They are both [Hamas and Fata] careful to talk about the reconciliation, but this is no more than public relations campaigns,” Gomaa added.  During Morsi’s government, he said, “Hamas only publicised intentions for the reconciliation but really thought, why offer concessions to Fatah when my ally in Cairo is leading the scene? And today Fatah is playing the same role.”

On Tuesday morning, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters decided to temporarily ban all Hamas activities inside Egypt and the activities of all associations and groups that branch from the Palestinian group r receive financial assistance or any other form of support from it. The court also ruled to confiscate the headquarters of the Palestinian movement.

The ban is temporary until the ruling on two ongoing trials in which ousted president Mohamed Morsi is a defendant. In both the prison break and espionage cases, Hamas is accused of involvement. The group, some of whose members are defendants in the prison break case, described it as an “absurd farce and utterly politicised”.

 

Hamas strongly condemned the ruling, describing it as “unjustified” and “based on fabrications and false news.”  It considers the decision a political one.

“We are surprised at the wording of the decision, since there are no activities for Hamas inside Egypt and no official headquarters, not before the revolution, during or after,” the movement said in a statement.

The decision, which comes after increasing strains on ties between Hamas and Cairo, has garnered mixed partisan reactions.

Acting Muslim Brotherhood spokeswoman Wafa Al-Banna said the decision is part of ongoing “farce and absurd drama” and adding that “it is very clear that these are [political] manoeuvres.” Hamas, which is an acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya condemned the ban and said it represents “a dangerous threat to national security and affects the credibility of justice in Egypt.”

“The issuance of a ruling from a court that has no jurisdiction to ban the activities of a movement that resists the Israeli occupation, while [at the same time] the Israeli Embassy in Egypt enjoys full freedom and is carrying out various activities is an insult to every patriotic Egyptian,” the group said in a statement. “It sends the wrong  message that Egypt embraces Israel and stands against the resistance.”

The Free Egyptians Party was however welcoming of the decision and said in a statement that the “historic decision is an important step in the war on terror and extremist groups which work against the interest of Egypt and its people.” The party said the ruling is a milestone in the struggle of the Egyptian people against foreign plots and said Egypt will no longer yield to “pressures or threats from extremists groups and gangs.”

It added that the historic ties between the Egyptian and Palestinian people will not be affected by Hamas’s “terrorist practices.”

The period following the ouster of former president Morsi was followed by disruptions in the operation of the Rafah border crossing, with Egyptian authorities often keeping the border crossing shut longer than a week. The disruptions have hampered the mobility of Gaza residents since the border crossing is considered the primary entry and exit point of the strip.

 

The last few months also witnessed an intensified crackdown on the illegal underground tunneling activity, which adds more restrictions to movement, and also hampers the entry of goods to the strip, including food, medicine, fuel and building materials.

 

These illegal smuggling tunnels are a vital lifeline for citizens of the Gaza Strip, who have lived under a land, air and sea blockade since 2007, when Hamas gained control of the strip.


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