July 24, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1106

Egypt's Position On Gaza Conflict Reflects Conflict Between Its Hatred For Hamas And Its Solidarity With The Palestinians

July 24, 2014 | By L. Lavi*
Egypt, Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1106


The position of the Egyptian regime and its supporters regarding the current fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is characterized by the internal conflict between their hostility towards Hamas and their desire to express solidarity with the Palestinians.

Egypt sees Hamas as responsible for the crisis, because of the June 12 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by its members. It also blames Hamas for the Gaza residents' ongoing suffering, arguing that the movement had abandoned the Palestinian national struggle and instead was pursing power, undermining the unity and interests of the Palestinian people, and serving the interests of foreign elements – chiefly the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Qatar, and Iran. Finally, it blames Hamas for escalating the crisis and triggering an IDF ground assault by rejecting the ceasefire initiative of Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi.

In the eyes of the Egyptian regime that followed the June 30, 2013 ouster of president Muhammad Mursi, Hamas is an enemy. 'Imad Al-Din Adib, columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Watan who is close to the regime, sees Egypt as no longer applying the concept of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" vis-à-vis Hamas. Instead, it views Hamas as a branch of the MB that it considers to be working against the will and interests of the Egyptian people.[1]

However, along with the accusations in the Egyptian media against Hamas, and its schadenfreude at Hamas' misfortunes since Israel launched its attack on Gaza,[2] there have also been calls to not allow these sentiments to deflect Egypt from its decades of commitment to the Palestinian cause and from its efforts to actualize the rights of the Palestinian people. Headlines such as "Palestine is not just Gaza" and "Gaza is not all Hamas" have appeared numerous times on op-eds in the Egyptian pro-regime press since the start of the conflict.[3] 'Imad Al-Din Adib summed up the Egyptian dilemma on this matter as follows: "How can [Egypt] support the [Palestinian] 'people' without paying Hamas back what it deserves for its insane and hostile policy vis-à-vis the Egyptian regime and people?"[4]

In this context, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said, at a breaking of the Ramadan fast with Egyptian journalists: "The Egyptian people are very sympathetic towards the Palestinian people, but they may be outraged at the Hamas leaders' involvement with the MB, because of the ideological connection [between them]. But our brothers in Gaza are besieged and face extermination, and Egypt will never hesitate to support them. The Palestinian people realize that the Egyptian people loves and supports it. Egypt is capable of dealing with Hamas as it [also] preserves both its own rights and the rights of its people." He added: "Whoever opposed Egypt's initiative bears responsibility for the current situation."[5]

The MB and their supporters, on the other hand, have expressed complete solidarity with Hamas, and have criticized the conduct of what they call the "coup regime" in the current crisis, comparing it to that of the Mursi regime during the November-December 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense. The MB presents President Al-Sisi as an Israeli agent, the Egyptian media as the "Zionist lobby," and Israel as the "real enemy" against which Hamas stands alone, as Al-Sisi and other Arab rulers combat their own people. According to the MB, Egypt is no longer capable of mediating fairly between Israel and Hamas – and the "coup regime" is causing the erosion of Egypt's role as the leader of the Palestinian cause, and of the region in general.

Egypt During Operation Protective Edge vs. Egypt During Operation Pillar Of Defense

In official political terms, while during 2012s Operation Pillar of Defense, president Mursi spoke harshly against Israel, recalled Egypt's ambassador, dispatched his prime minister and foreign minister to Gaza to show solidarity, announced that the Rafah border crossing was completely open, and renewed meetings with Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mash'al, Egypt under Al-Sisi has been as harsh on Hamas as on Israel. This harsh tone was expressed in a slew of articles in the pro-government press condemning Hamas and its leadership, described Hamas as "the ugly face of the Palestinian resistance," a "trader in the lives of innocents," and "an accomplice to the elimination of its people."[6]

With regard to declarations and statements, while Egypt has reiterated its commitment to the Palestinian cause, in practical terms it has only opened the Rafah crossing to accept a small number of injured Gaza residents and supplied 500 tons of medicine and food to Gaza.[7] Moreover, in recent days Egypt has stopped convoys comprising hundreds of civil activists from passing through the Rafah crossing into Gaza, and also prevented an airplane coming from Tunis with medical aid from landing near the Gaza border.[8] It is also continuing to destroy tunnels on the border and to thwart Hamas' attempts to fire rockets from the Sinai into Israel.[9]

Hamas senses that the Egyptian ceasefire initiative does not represent Hamas' interests, and that Egypt is no longer an honest broker in the conflict, since it did not directly consult on the matter and furthermore it rejected Hamas' demand to fully and permanently open the Rafah crossing – one of the main objectives for Hamas' initiation of the conflict with Israel.[10] Hamas' assumption that its recent reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority (PA) would remove all pretexts for Egypt to keep the Rafah crossing closed and force it to open it was not realized.[11] Egypt refused, stating that doing so would allow terrorists to infiltrate its territory; currently, it fears that doing so would be considered a victory for Hamas that Egypt did not want to provide. In its ceasefire initiative, Egypt was prepared to allow the passage of goods and people under certain conditions, but at this time it is unwilling to relinquish its control over the crossing and hand it over to international forces.[12]

On the popular level, the current Israel-Gaza conflict has not led to mass protests in Egypt against Israel or Al-Sisi, aside from some pro-Palestinian marches held mostly by MB supporters, which augment the daily anti-regime protests that they have been conducting for months. Popular movements such as Tamarrud and the Popular Stream called for expelling Israel's ambassador from Cairo, recalling the Egyptian ambassador from Israel, nullifying the Camp David Accords, and imposing an economic boycott against Israel. However, these protests, held, for example, outside the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, drew only a few dozen activists.[13]

The longer the Israel-Gaza conflict continues, and the higher the Gaza death toll rises, the more intellectuals and politicians, including former MP Amr Hamzawy and former presidential candidate 'Abd Al-Mun'im Abu Al-Futouh, have called on Egypt to open the Rafah crossing for the welfare of the Gaza residents and not necessarily as a token of support for Hamas' demands.[14] But so far, such calls have remained on the verbal level; there is little actual popular pressure on the regime to change its policy, and Hamas is considered culpable because it could have prevented the death of innocents had it agreed to the Egyptian ceasefire initiative.[15]

The would-be peacemakers (Image:, July 24, 2014)

Explaining The Egyptian Position

There are several central explanations for the official Egyptian position and the reaction on the Egyptian street to the current Israel-Hamas crisis, all of which stem from the ouster of the MB from power in Egypt. These include: a) the anger against Hamas amongst the Egyptian regime and its supporters, and its view of it as a branch of the MB; b) Egypt's own internal problems, first and foremost its struggle against terrorism, its economic situation, and the completion of the process of the transition to an elected regime with the upcoming parliamentary elections; and c) its desire to present itself as the most influential force in the region and to preserve its title of the primary patron of the Palestinian cause, against the backdrop of the competition for the leading role in the Middle East between the axis of Egypt and most of the Gulf countries, headed by Saudi Arabia, and the axis of the MB-supporting countries, that is, Turkey and Qatar, together with Hamas.

1. Egypt's Criticism Of Hamas

Criticism of Hamas has been voiced by the Egyptian military and by opponents of the MB since the beginning of the revolution – that is, January 25, 2011 – with a focus on several central accusations:[16]

a) The jailbreak from Egyptian prisons, in the first days of the January 25 revolution, and the freeing of Hamas and MB prisoners – including Muhammad Mursi himself, who was in Wadi Nathroun prison.

b) The August 2012 terror attack at Rafah in Egypt, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed as they broke the Ramadan fast. The attack was aimed at giving president Mursi a pretext for removing the senior Egyptian military echelons and the regime headed by Gen. Tantawi, and for taking full control of the regime – and that is what he did.[17]

c) The kidnapping of Egyptian police officers from the Sinai at the beginning of the January 25 revolution, and their detainment in the Gaza Strip for use as a bargaining chip to obtain the release of political prisoners, as well as the March 2013 attempt to smuggle Egyptian army uniform fabric into Gaza via a tunnel in the Sinai, for disguising Hamas militants as Egyptian soldiers, and the May 2013 kidnapping of seven Egyptian soldiers in Rafah. Some claimed that the aim of this kidnapping was to bring about the removal of Al-Sisi from his post as defense minister.

d) The illegal entry into Egypt of Hamas members in order to help suppress protests by opponents of the Mursi regime – with snipers, and other means.

e) Damaging Egypt's security and economy by conducting smuggling operations via the Gaza-Sinai tunnels: moving terrorists and weapons both ways, smuggling criminals out of Egypt to avoid punishment, smuggling scarce goods such as fuel from Egypt into Gaza, and flooding the Egyptian market with goods from Gaza.[18]

f) Since Mursi's ouster by Al-Sisi, Egypt has accused Hamas of standing with the MB and against the desire of the Egyptian people; of dispatching its activists to Egypt in order to help the MB in demonstrations of support for Mursi that call for restoring him to power; and of encouraging jihadi terror operations against state apparatuses.

In the eyes of the post-June 30 Egyptian regime, Hamas is nothing but a branch of the MB movement, which it has gone to great lengths to brutally suppress and classify as a terrorist organization. Hamas itself was outlawed by an Egyptian court in early March 2014. Since Mursi's ouster, the Egyptian military has also greatly expanded its activity to destroy Gaza-Sinai tunnels. "We have indeed turned our backs [on what is transpiring in Gaza], wrote 'Adel Na'aman, a columnist for Al-Watan, "because Hamas has paid us back for our kindness by killing our children..."[19] According to Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies researcher Emad Gad, Hamas is promoting "its own interests and the interests of [its MB] parent movement ahead of the national Palestinian interest."[20]

The Egyptians' fury against Hamas boiled over after Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mash'al, who is currently Doha-based, said at the beginning of the Gaza-Israel conflict: "We expect the Egyptian army [to use its] spirit of heroism for the sake of its Arab nation."[21] In response, many writers rushed to Egypt's defense and portrayed Hamas as dragging Egypt into war, or at the very least shaming it before its own citizens and before the world; harming Egypt's central status in the Middle East; and sabotaging its efforts to advance according to Al-Sisi's road map, thus aiming in toto to restore the MB to power. They also claimed that Egypt was doing more for the Palestinians than Hamas' leaders themselves, and more than any other Arab country. "The poor Palestinians are dying; will your plots rescue them? Let the big [guys] act, for this is no time for [mischievous] actions by dwarfs," wrote Al-Ahram in an editorial.[22]

2. Putting Egypt's Own Internal Problems First

Another explanation for Egypt's stance in the Hamas-Israel crisis is its own internal problems. Columnist Hamdi Razaq responded to Khaled Mash'al's criticism: "We are sick and tired, Mash'al, of defending the [Palestinian] cause that you sold cheaply to the MB gang whose path you took, although they had lost their way... We have enough troubles of our own, and enough evil conspiracies by your brothers, the members of your movement. You have bankrupted us. We are now hungry for bread, while you gorge yourselves on delicacies at the ignominious tables of Doha..."[23]

Egypt is preoccupied with efforts to extricate itself from its dire economic straits and to reduce its budget deficit, while at the same time calming public resentment over a series of recent economic cutbacks implemented by the regime. These included hikes in taxes on cigarettes and alcohol and cuts in fuel and energy subsidies, along with the accompanying price increases for fuel, electricity, agricultural produce, clothing, and more – sparking regime fears of an underclass uprising.

Egypt's first priority is also to defeat the terrorism that has spread throughout the country since Mursi's ouster, and which is directed primarily against the police and the military – not only in the Sinai but across the country. At this very moment, Egypt is mourning the deaths of 22 border guards killed by terrorists in the July 19 attack at Al-Wadi Al-Jadeed, approximately 600 km southwest of Cairo, and the killing five days before that of 11 Egyptians, including a soldier and a boy, in terror operations in El Arish.

Egypt's inability to choose between its desire to help the residents of Gaza and the need to deal with its own problems at home was the subject of a column by 'Aadel Sanhouri in the Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi'. He wrote: "[In light of the terror operations in the Sinai], must we defend Gaza and Hamas and leave bleeding Sinai as prey to the terrorism of the MB, the legitimate father of Hamas[?] I know very well that there is a huge difference between Hamas and the Palestinian people, and between Hamas and the Palestinian cause, and that defending Gaza does not mean defending Hamas, but, first and foremost, defending Egyptian national security as well as the fraternal [Palestinian] people that has been fighting and sacrificing victims for over 50 years in order to obtain their legitimate rights to establish their independent state.

"But the simplest of Egyptians, and there are millions of them, face a bitter reality, along wi sights of terrorism, that leave them facing a dilemma between the [Egyptian] home and the [Muslim] collective or the needs of the Sinai and defending Gaza at this difficult hour."[24] Also, "Egypt First," wrote 'Azza Sami, deputy editor of Egypt's official daily Al-Ahram.[25]

Egypt is preoccupied also with preparations for the parliamentary elections, set to begin in November 2014 – which are the final stage in the road map set out by Al-Sisi after he ousted Mursi – as well as with possible alliances among political parties, and fears of a possible return of the National Democratic Party that ruled the country during the Mubarak era.

Even one of Al-Misriyyoun's editors, Mahmoud Sultan, who has been identified with the MB since Mursi's ouster, wrote that the struggle for reforming Arab countries takes precedence over the Palestinian struggle: "Jerusalem's liberation begins here, by liberating the Arab peoples first and foremost from tyranny and from political, financial and administrative corruption. [Liberation] will begin when the Arab individual has value and carries weight in his own country... How can a hungry citizen deprived of health care and proper education, who cannot sleep safely in his own bed, is physically unwell, and who has nothing to feed his children, be asked to become a soldier in the campaign to liberate Jerusalem?..."[26]

3. The Egyptian Role In The Crisis As Part Of Regional Power Struggles

Another factor explaining the Egyptian position in the Hamas-Israel crisis is Egypt's desire to depict itself as an influential regional power, and to preserve its status as the leading patron of the Palestinian cause. In light of the development of the regional struggle following the ouster of the MB regime in Egypt – that is, between the MB axis comprising Hamas, Qatar, and Turkey, and the anti-MB axis comprising Egypt and the other Arab Gulf states, headed by Saudi Arabia – Egypt claims exclusive rights to mediating between Hamas and Israel and dismisses any alternative put forward by the opposition axis.[27]

Since the June 30 ouster of Mursi, Egypt has been boasting of its achievements in restoring its leading role in the regional arena by virtue of its far-reaching diplomatic activity, and it seeks to emerge from the current Hamas-Israel crisis with a boost to its status as the dominant power in the Middle East. For this reason, it has refuted claims from both within it and outside it that it has turned its back on the Palestinians, and claimed in response that it does more for the Palestinians than the Hamas leaders themselves, and certainly more than Qatar and Turkey, whom it is accusing, together with the international MB organization, of torpedoing its ceasefire initiative.

In his column in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, 'Amr Al-Shubaki wrote: "No one should embroil the Egyptian army in any foreign wars that are far [removed] from defending its national land, or to compete with its role and its past. You might have imagined that the Qatari military had, together with its Turkish counterpart, gone to war to liberate Palestine while Egypt neglected [it].

"Egypt's battle vis-à-vis Israel is [on the] diplomatic, legal, and political [level], and is aimed at achieving a halt to [Israel's] aggression against Gaza. It is not [in the form of] moving armies or pretending to fancied heroism, like [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan – who said that Turkey will not turn its back on Gaza, as if he were doing something in the struggle against the Israeli aggression.

"We do not have to fight in Palestinebut at the same time we don't require some of us to keep silent over the aggression against the Gaza residents merely because they are Hamas-ruled, and that the rest of us will rejoice over the martyrs of the resistance because some of them were from Hamas.

"Palestine is a just cause, regardless of how some have damaged it. Its people are brave and glorious, and it is deserving of material and moral support in the struggle against the last occupation state in the world – Israel. We must not reduce Palestine down to the Hamas movement. When the occupier is the attacker, we must all show solidarity with the victim, regardless of its political coloration– because the point here is defending justice and truth, not a [particular] political faction."[28]

*L. Lavi is a research fellow at MEMRI



[1] Al-Watan (Egypt), July 21, 2014.

[3] Al-Jumhouriyya, Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 12, 2014.

[4] Al-Watan (Egypt), July 13, 2014.

[5] Al-Watan (Egypt), July 17, 2014.

[6] Al-Dustour Al-Asli (Egypt), July 13, 2014; Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 16,2014; Al-Wafd (Egypt), July 21, 2014.

[7] Al-Watan (Egypt), July 15, 2014.

[10] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 1104, Why Did Hamas Launch Its Current Rocket Offensive Against Israel?, July 15, 2014.

[11] Following Hamas's 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip, Egypt closed the Rafah crossing, which was considered Gaza's sole lifeline after the closure of its crossings with Israel. The Egyptian regime defended this decision by stating that it could not accept control of the crossings by squabbling factions, and that it would agree to reopen it only after control of Gaza was returned to the PA under its president, Mahmoud 'Abbas. It also appears that the fear that Palestinians would move into the Sinai has been in the minds of the Egyptians since armed Palestinians blasted through the border fence in 2008. Even during 2012's Operation Pillar of Defense, Mursi did not open the crossing completely, likely under pressure from the Egyptian army, Israel, the U.S., and the PA.

[12] The Egyptian ceasefire initiative of 2012 resembles the Egyptian ceasefire initiative of 2014 – both include a cessation of hostilities between the sides and the opening of the border crossings – but Hamas is troubled by a major difference: While the 2012 initiative required the crossings to open for the passage of people and goods within 24 hours of the agreement's coming into effect, the 2014 initiative made the opening of crossings conditional on stability on the ground, and set no timetable. According to, which is associated with the MB, Al-Sisi formulated both initiatives – as defense minister in 2012 and as president in 2014., July 15, 2014.

[13] Al-Dustour Al-Asli (Egypt), July 10, 2014; Al-Watan (Egypt), July 22, 2014.

[14] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 17, 2014; Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 19, 2014.

[15] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 14, 2014.

[16] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1003, Hamas Embroiled In Internal Egyptian Struggles, August 2, 2013.

[17] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 4908, Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi Rescinds The SCAF's Authority, August 24, 2012.

[18] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 936, To Hamas's Chagrin, Egypt Increases Anti-Tunnel Activity On Gaza Border, February 20, 2013.

[19] Al-Watan (Egypt), July 17, 2014.

[20] Al-Dustour Al-Asli (Egypt), July 12, 2014.

[21] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 9, 2014.

[22] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 16, 2014.

[23] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 10, 2014.

[24] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), July 15, 2014.

[25] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 15, 2014.

[26] Al-Misriyyoun (Egypt), July 10, 2014.

[28] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 12, 2014.


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