Hassan Khader
Al-Ayyam (Opinion)
January 8, 2010 - 1:00am

Translated by ATFP

Four factors govern Egypt’s policy towards the Gaza Strip:

1. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the upholding of which is a key priority for Egyptian national security.

2. Concerns triggered by Israel’s desire to transfer responsibility for the Gaza Strip onto the Egyptian state, especially in light of Israel’s redeployment from the strip, and its attempts to rid itself of the obligations imposed by international law on the occupying power.

3. Concerns arising from the de facto rule in the Gaza Strip by the Muslim Brotherhood, which poses an additional threat to the Egyptian national security. This threat results from the well-established ties between the Gaza Muslim Brotherhood and its banned mother organization in Egypt, and the special relationship linking the Brotherhood generally with Iran, Syria, and other radical Islamist organizations in different parts of the Arab world.

4. Its ongoing efforts to end the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict through negotiations that would lead to a Palestine state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while simultaneously preventing Egyptian adoption of any positions that contradict its peace treaty with Israel or that would jeopardize its relations with the United States.

These factors are all interrelated, and under certain circumstances some issues become paramount, while at other times different concerns become priorities. Three overriding facts are most determinative of this process: first, that the Gaza Strip shares a border with Egypt; second, that Egypt is a big country; and third, the historical relationship between Egypt and Palestine.

The border connecting Egypt and the Gaza Strip makes it possible for militants to infiltrate into the Sinai, and launch attacks against Israel from Egyptian territory. The border also raises the possibility of Egypt’s loss of control over the security in Sinai in the event of cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood on both sides of the Gaza border, concerns exacerbated by the fact that the special relationship between Hamas and Iran has now created a de facto Iranian presence on Egypt’s borders.

The Egyptians do not want threats to their national security arising at their own borders. Similarly, the Syrians prevent any attacks on Israel from their territory in Golan, notwithstanding the historic relationships between Syria and countless Palestinian and other radical organizations.

Egypt considers the Palestinian issue to be central to its national security, and regional responsibilities. Accordingly, based on long historical experience, Egypt has formulated a complex policy on this issue. What matters is not whether the Egyptian perceptions are right or wrong, but rather that the Palestinian issue is the prime source that influences Egypt’s national security policymaking. In view of this, and because the policies and stances of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority coincide with Egypt’s positions, any recognition of the legitimacy of Hamas rule contradicts Egyptian interests. Because it is the only way to achieve their national goals, the Egyptians have tried in various ways to unite the Palestinian polity, which would ultimately have to entail the integration of Hamas into the Palestinian political structure, and enable the Palestinians to adhere to a unified stance that is consistent with regional and global realities.

Hamas conduct on the border with Egypt constitutes an open challenge to core Egyptian policies. One example to this confrontation has been shooting at Egyptian soldiers, recently resulting in the death of one of them. This suggests that Hamas leaders fail to comprehend the reality of their situation, and the realities of Egyptian politics.

Under any circumstances, the results will not favor Hamas, even though the Egyptians have found themselves forced into making difficult decisions such as buidling a wall along their side of the border with the Gaza Strip. As for the humanitarian catastrophe befalling the people of Gaza, the responsibility does not rest on the shoulders of regime in Cairo, that would show no mercy to anyone if threatened, but on the shoulders of those who do not assess the political situation with the kind of calibrated scale used for measuring gold.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017