Egypt seeks to praise President Al Sisi after mediating role in Gaza

Cairo’s paternalism and its rapprochement with Hamas raise controversy in a country that has contributed to the Israeli blockade of the Strip

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi chairs a meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Cairo on May 26, 2021.

Egypt’s successful mediation between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas to forge a ceasefire in Gaza at the end of May , which ended 11 days of Israeli bombardment of the Strip and the firing of rockets from the Palestinian enclave, earned him Cairo a rapid cascade of international accolades. The Egyptian president, Abdelfatá Al Sisi, received in a few days two calls from his American counterpart, Joe Biden, who until then had ignored him, and then welcomed, on May 26, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in his palace. Earlier, Al Sisi had met in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received applause from Berlin and the European Union.

Skillful, Cairo has wanted to continue seizing the moment, which offers it an excellent opportunity to claim its relevance in the region , and try to set the agenda. On the one hand, it has intensified, now more openly, its diplomatic activity with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and shore up the initial ceasefire, mediate on the terms of a long-term truce and once again reactivate the Palestinian reconciliation process. And on the other hand, Cairo has positioned itself as a key actor in the reconstruction of Gaza, having been the first capital to announce its participation, with an investment of 500 million dollars, and having taken advantage of sharing with the Strip the the only border crossing that Israel does not control – that of Rafah – to send humanitarian aid and coordinate that of third parties.

Inside Egypt, the work of the country’s authorities has been praised by the oiled machinery of the regime, which has portrayed Al Sisi as the architect of each and every one of these movements. But the double standards exhibited in its publicized relations with Hamas and in its paternalism with the Gaza Strip have also started to generate unease and raise blisters. “The Al Sisi regime is pragmatic and works primarily for its own benefit, regardless of how different, embarrassing or shocking it is,” said exile researcher Mohannad Sabry, a security expert from the Sinai Peninsula.

Although the improvement of relations between Cairo and Hamas has been in the making for years, after hitting rock bottom in 2013 following the coup by Al Sisi, whose regime considered the Islamist movement a threat because of its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, their rapprochement reached a new level, at least symbolic, earlier this week. Then, the head of Egyptian espionage, Abbas Kamel, traveled to Gaza on the first official visit of this rank since the early 2000s. During his stay, Kamel appeared embracing with Hamas leader Yahia Sinwar, in images that would not have been seen released without your consent.

The portrait of the reestablishment of the relationship with the Hamas leaders, however, spread while in Egypt a high number of people continue in prison for collaborating in different ways with that Palestinian Islamic movement, according to human rights groups. Mohamed Morsi himself, former Egyptian president and prominent leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, deposed in 2013, died in 2019 while appearing before a court in Cairo trying him on espionage charges related to contacts with Hamas.

“The general logic that governs the domestic and foreign policy of Egypt’s leaders is to ensure the sustainability of the dictatorial regime. The relationship with Hamas is just one example, ”says Bahey eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “In this context, there is no contradiction between reestablishing relations with senior Hamas officials, while using the claim to collaborate with Hamas as a justification for jailing dozens of opponents,” he adds.

A “gift” to the Palestinian people

Other images that have also caused controversy have been those of the humanitarian aid convoys that Cairo has sent to Gaza, many run by a fund controlled by Al Sisi, Tahya Masr, or dispatched under direct directives of the president, who has been presented as the great benefactor of the Gazans. To record this, the vehicles have displayed large banners with the name of the fund, which is in turn the slogan of the regime, and photos of Al Sisi, accompanied by messages such as “Gift from the president to the Palestinian people.” Gaza, too, at least during the visit of the Egyptian spy chief, Kamel, was filled with banners of the Egyptian rais in an unusual picture.

In addition to this paternalistic rhetoric with which the Egyptian aid to Gaza has been involved in order to exalt the figure of the president, the publicity that is being granted has also raised criticism because, since 2013, the Egyptian regime has actively participated of the Israeli blockade of the Strip. In 2013, Cairo took a much more aggressive stance on the underground tunnels used to smuggle goods into Gaza on the perception that they posed a threat to national security. In July of that year, the Egyptian authorities destroyed most of the more than a thousand of those underground passages that allowed the inhabitants of the Strip to supply themselves. At the end of 2014, the Egyptian government also decided to close the Rafah crossing almost completely,

“The regime is promoting itself, it is playing the humanitarian card,” says Sabry. “[But] so far, what the Egyptians have sent to Gaza is extremely minimal compared to the destruction of Gaza and the suffering of the Gazans of which Egypt has been a major player,” he asserts.

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