Egypt is back to square one

The country has no elected leader, and the streets are awash with bitter conflict between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents, as well as a considerable military presence.

Anti Morsi protest 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
Anti Morsi protest 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
The detention of deposed president Mohamed Morsi was extended this week in Cairo. At the same time, details of the indictment against him were leaked to the media, probably intentionally. According to the report, it appears that Morsi is being accused of collaborating with Hamas since 2011 while riots to oust president Hosni Mubarak were taking place.
According to the charge, armed Hamas operatives helped Morsi escape prison on January 30, 2011, and freed thousands of other Muslim Brotherhood prisoners.
Morsi has also been accused of conspiring with Hamas to attack police stations and Egyptian security sites. This accusation, however, is not so straightforward. Besides the fact that it marks Hamas as a subversive organization that is hostile toward Egypt, it includes claims that Morsi committed a crime with the assistance of foreign forces. In Egypt, such an offense results in a sentence of life imprisonment.
Hamas’s reaction was to close down the offices of the Egyptian Al-Arabiya channel in the Gaza Strip, claiming that its coverage of Hamas activity is unfairly biased in favor of Egypt.
Cairo’s attitude toward Hamas has also had its ups and downs over the years. Egyptian governments have consistently clashed with Muslim Brotherhood activists.
Since its creation, Hamas has been perceived as a twin of the Muslim Brotherhood and based on similar ideology. As a result, the Egyptian government has routinely given Hamas the cold shoulder. For example, Egypt sharply condemned the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007 and stood by Mahmoud Abbas, fearing that the relationship between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood would be strengthened and Egypt’s national security could be at risk.
After Hamas took control of Gaza, Cairo led an initiative to mediate between Hamas and Fatah in an effort to bring about a peaceful agreement between them. Egypt’s goal was clear: to maintain calm on its border with Gaza. In June 2008, a truce agreement was reached and both parties felt optimistic.
In early 2009, Israel consented to Egypt’s request to allow it to place extensive military forces in Sinai, as well as along the border with Israel, in an effort to prevent Hamas smuggling activity in both directions.
Egyptian forces were deployed, but the situation did not improve. The Egyptian military failed to take any real action, and as a result smuggling activity not only continued but increased.
Throughout 2011, and after many months of disconnect between the two sides, the Egyptians initiated a round of talks between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo. An agreement was finally signed in May 2011 in which both organizations agreed to form a unity government within a month. Of course, no such government was ever formed, but the move strengthened Cairo’s position as a neutral and moderate mediator. At that point, the atmosphere in Egypt began to change; Muslim Brotherhood activists increased their presence on the streets and the Islamist party began preparations for the planned election.
In August 2012, Mohamed Morsi was elected president. Morsi’s initial declarations were not optimistic. He professed his desire to strengthen Egypt’s ties with Iran and his fullhearted support of the Palestinians (i.e.
Hamas) which was cause for much celebration by Hamas members in Gaza. Morsi also made it clear that agreements which Egypt had signed in the past would be reevaluated – an unambiguous reference to the peace treaty with Israel. These events symbolized a new era for the Israeli-Hamas-Egyptian relationship.
The first cracks in the relationship between the Egyptian military and president Morsi appeared within a few days of the election.
The military forced him to appoint Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi as defense minister.
Later that month, criticism intensified following a severe attack in which gunmen killed a number of Egyptian soldiers in Sinai. Morsi, who had met with Hamas leaders in Cairo just a few days before the incident, took pains not to publicly blame any particular group.
The Egyptian military and security forces, however, stated that Hamas was responsible for the killings and went so far as to publicly blame Morsi since he had met with senior Hamas leaders.
Recent events in Egypt have also exacerbated the dispute between Fatah and Hamas.
While Fatah blames Hamas for supporting a pro-Islamic dictator in Egypt who is intervening in internal Palestinian affairs, senior Hamas leaders blame Fatah for trying to intervene in internal Egyptian politics and for supporting an anti-democratic military coup.
Either way, Egypt has returned to the starting point it reached a year ago. The country has no elected leader, and the streets are awash with bitter conflict between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents, as well as a considerable military presence.
Hamas has lost a strong ally to the south, and there is no one to mediate between Fatah and Hamas. Egypt’s attitude toward Israel remains the same as it has been throughout the years.The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).Translated by Hannah Hochner.