(photo credit: REUTERS)
They had hoped this Ramadan would be different.
RELATED:Egypt reopens Rafah crossing after Palestinian breach
But many Palestinians who find themselves again penned into Gaza for the holiday are blaming Egypt, the neighboring Arab power which, after toppling President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11, had pledged to free up travel across the shared border.
The dismay reflects the misgivings of many Egyptians about the prospects for reform under Cairo's caretaker military rulers, who appear beholden to US largess and in no rush to reverse Mubarak's unpopular Palestinian policies.
Mubarak had buttressed Israel's embargo on Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, an Islamist faction hostile to the Jewish state and ideologically linked to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, dissidents under the old regime and now political contenders.
To great fanfare, Egypt declared the Rafah crossing to Gaza "open" to
passengers in May. But Gazans soon found their dreams of unfettered
travel dashed. Strict quotas and criteria for those allowed to cross
remain, and many Palestinians say they are still regarded as potential
security threats by Egypt.
"Nothing in the Egyptian treatment of Gaza Strip residents has changed," wrote Palestinian columnist Mustafa Al-Lidawi.
Those Gazans who transit Egypt for third countries are subject to
especially heavy scrutiny, he said, an observation recalling Mubarak-era
efforts to help Israel prevent Iranian-trained agents reach Gaza.
"They are still being held in a narrow dark and dirty basement at Cairo
International Airport that lacks the minimal conditions for the
detention for humans," said Lidawi, decrying Egypt's "military
Under Egypt's new admission guidelines, women, minors and men over 40 do not need a visa to enter from Gaza.
But the Egyptians continue to blacklist some Palestinians as "security
threats" and the attendant backlog makes it almost impossible to plan
travel in advance -- for example, for next month's Ramadan. Often, a
Gazan's departure day arrives after visas issued for other countries
have already expired.
Following complaints by Hamas officials including Ismail Haniyeh, the
head of the Gaza government, a leading Egyptian journalist counseled
"Time is needed to filter the list of banned people from entry. Security
conditions in north Sinai are still bad and the roads the Palestinians
use in their journey to Cairo through Sinai are not stable yet," said
Ashraf Aboulhoul, chief correspondent of Egypt's mass-circulation
Rafah was short-staffed because of the disappearance or killing of
Egyptian security men during anti-regime protests that erupted in Cairo
in January, Aboulhoul said.
"There is a sense of bitterness among Egyptian authorities because Hamas
has not appreciated the internal conditions our country is
experiencing," Aboulhoul said by telephone from Cairo.
Mubarak had offset Egypt's status as the first -- and still among the
few -- Arab states to make peace with Israel by trying to broker
reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the formerly dominant secular
faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In what many Egyptians saw as a sign that Cairo, after Mubarak's fall,
was easing terms for Hamas, the factions signed a unity accord in May.
That Israel responded angrily to the pact underscored the sense
Palestinian interests were being served.
Yet implementation of the deal has mired in disputes between Hamas and Fatah on the format of their proposed power-share.
"The impasse is an internal Palestinian matter and Egypt has decided not
to intervene to press either side to accept anything," Aboulhoul said.
"Cairo took a big step in the issue of reconciliation. It revived hopes
among all Palestinians and Arabs and now it's Fatah and Hamas who should
decide how things should proceed."
Hamas official Mustafa Al-Sawaf said he was optimistic that Palestinians would eventually be satisfied by Egypt's policies.
"Hopes remain," he said. "The revolution is still at its outset."