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Gaza Held Hostage To Egypt's Turmoil

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An air of uncertainty is engulfing most matters related to Egypt. Since the Egyptian revolt started over two years ago, the country remains hostage to a barefaced power struggle with many destructive implications that have polarized society in unprecedented ways, perhaps in all of Egypt's modern history.  

While in Egypt nothing is sacred and no one is safe from the massive campaigns of defamation, as demonization and sheer lies are launched by one political camp against the other, Palestinians find themselves in a most precarious position. 

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in particular, are heavily dependent on their Egyptian neighbors. Six years of an Israeli siege, originally imposed to punish Palestinians for electing Hamas in an election viewed widely as transparent and fair, has culminated into a drama with international dimensions. 

This drama of course involved the Palestinians, but also Israel's traditional benefactors -- lead, as always, by the United States -- Arab countries, Iran, Turkey and more. Aside from the vicious nature of a siege imposed to punish a civilian population for making democratic choices, the siege has morphed to acquire multiple meanings. 

On one hand, it further cemented the division of Palestinian political elites, as the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) invested in ensuring the isolation of its Hamas political opponents. Notably, this took place after their brief but bloody encounters in Gaza in 2007. 

On the other, the siege positioned Hamas, whose survival was at stake, forcefully in a regional camp that involved Iran, Syria and the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah. 

The last development in particular was exploited by Israel in every way possible and certainly without much context. It subsequently attacked Gaza at will, killing and wounding thousands in the course of few years, in the name of fighting Middle Eastern radicals hell-bent on erasing Israel off the map. 


Under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt served as a buffer zone for Israel and the US to isolate Hamas from the rest of the world. The Egyptian dictator also had his own reasons for isolating Gaza. Any success in Mubarak's neighborhood for the Islamists, Palestinians or others, would have constituted a threat and would have emboldened Egypt's own Islamists to expect or strive for a greater role in Egypt's undemocratic political institutions. 

Moreover, by tightening the noose, the Egyptian regime at the time had hoped to strengthen its role as a major player in the US Arab camp of "moderates," in exchange for financial and political perks. 

The Mubarak regime justified its incarceration of Gaza as its attempt at preserving Palestinian unity. The logic was flawed, but also clever. Under the auspices of the George W Bush Administration and full Egyptian involvement, Israel and Mahmoud Abbas' PA had reached an agreement on Movement and Access at the Gaza-Egypt border in November 2005. 

Expectedly, the agreement was tilted in every way necessary to reassure Israel regarding its many security concerns. A European mission -- The European Union Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah Crossing Point (EU BAM Rafah) -- was hurriedly deployed to monitor the border. 

Those listed by Israel as "suspects" were either turned back or detained. It was an Israeli operation conducted by Palestinian and EU hands, with full Egyptian cooperation. The Mubarak regime argued that opening the border under Hamas' authority was a violation of the agreement and would have further divided Palestinians. 

When Palestinian militants clashed in Gaza in 2007, resulting in the removal of Abbas' Fatah loyalists from the Strip's entire security apparatus, Abbas found himself on the very camp urging greater clamp-down at Gaza's border, especially with Egypt. 

The latter enthusiastically obliged. As Mubarak erected a barrier and an underground wall around Gaza's 12 kilometer border, Abbas cheered him on. "I support the wall," he was quoted in the Guardian on January 31, 2010. "It is the Egyptians' sovereign right in their own country. Legitimate supplies should be brought through the legal crossings." 

Abbas of course knew well that "legal crossings" between Gaza and Israel were meant to ration food and fuel for Palestinians in the impoverished Gaza, in ways consistent with Israel's position, as reiterated by the then influential Israeli official Dov Weissglass: 

"The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger." As for the other "legal crossing" with Egypt, it had no commercial use, and it was heavily restricted even for individuals with health problems and students. 

Following a lethal Israeli war on Gaza in 2008-9, known by its Israeli name Operation Cast Lead, Egypt moved even closer to the Israeli and PA position of choking Gaza. Gazans didn't expect Mubarak to allow the seriously damaged place to completely recover from a one-sided war that killed over 1,400 people, wounded thousands more, and damaged much of the place's barely subsisting infrastructure. 

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American-Arab journalist Ramzy Baroud is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London), now available at Amazon.com

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The Israeli blockade of Gaza is intended to preven... by Mike 71 on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 9:39:25 AM