Did Egypt's Sisi really want a cease-fire in Gaza?

Sisi is likely content that Israel is hurting a group that Egypt blames for involvement in the Muslim insurgency in Egypt.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
Egypt’s proposed cease-fire for Israel and Hamas was rejected by the Gazabased terrorist group – but was it meant to be? Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is likely content that Israel is hurting a group Egypt blames for involvement in the Islamist insurgency on its own soil, and some experts question how genuine his wish for a cease-fire was.
“Sisi does not want to negotiate a cease-fire. He wants to look as if he is negotiating a cease-fire,” tweeted Nervana Mahmoud, a blogger and commentator.
Demonstrating Egypt’s hostility to Hamas, Dina Ezzat, writing in Ahram Online on Tuesday, quoted an Egyptian official stating: “Let us be clear about one thing: Hamas might deny it all it wants, but the fact of the matter is that 1) Hamas had been involved in destabilizing security in Sinai in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were ousted by the will of the Egyptian people and 2) Hamas leaders have declined to heed our advice to avert the onset of hostilities a few weeks ago and decided to take the risk at the expense of unshielded Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”
“I could say that there is more willingness on the side of Israel to pursue a cease-fire than on the side of Hamas,” the official said.
Another Egyptian source pointed out that “the vast majority [of Egyptians] has been blaming Hamas,” but that such sentiment would not last.
Reports indicate that Sisi did not consult with Hamas prior to making the proposal, which fails to meet the conditions its leaders say must be included in any deal.
Hamas leaders have said any Gaza cease-fire must include an end to Israel’s blockade of the territory, recommitment to a truce reached in Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day conflict in 2012, and the release of hundreds of its activists arrested in the West Bank while Israel hunted for three abducted Jewish teens who were later found murdered.
Hamas also wants Egypt to ease curbs at its Rafah crossing with Gaza, imposed after the toppling of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo a year ago.
“Even if Sisi’s regime is not enthusiastic to mediate between Israel and Hamas, Egypt cannot separate itself from the events in Gaza,” Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Despite the regime’s deep dislike of Hamas, Sisi cannot ignore the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and pressure from the public to intervene, he said.
Regarding two of the critical aspects of Sisi’s initiative – the lack of reference to an opening of the Rafah border crossing, and Israel’s demand that Palestinian groups be disarmed of their rockets – it appears Egypt’s position is closer to that of Israel than to the positions of Hamas and the other factions, he said.
The outcome of the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, added Meital, will not only determine if the fighting between Israel and Hamas continues, but will also affect the future relations between Egypt and Hamas.
David Schenker, the director of the Program on Arab Politics and a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Post he thinks that Sisi would not mind if Israel’s operations in Gaza would continue a bit longer.
On the one hand, he noted, “Egyptian mediation enhances Sisi’s stature at home and earns Cairo points with Washington.”
On the other hand, “Sisi does not want to permanently open Rafah – a potential cease-fire outcome that would essentially make Egypt responsible for Gaza,” said Schenker.
Eric Trager, an expert on Egypt and a fellow at the Washington Institute, told the Post that Sisi – like the US and Israel – views Hamas “as a terrorist organization and a strategic threat.”
Egypt is working to contain this threat and “consequently is unwilling to make the kinds of concessions regarding the opening of Rafah that could bring Hamas to the table,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.