Criticism has been levelled against Egypt for four years for its “betrayal” and “participation” in the Gaza blockade, which is something that always concludes any debate about the decline of the Egyptian role. Has Egypt’s role really declined or are we in the middle of a war of words?
Talk about the rise and decline of powers has become widespread, however it is important to remember that it is difficult to disregard Egypt’s role for two reasons; Egypt is the country with the largest population in the region and its geographic location gives the country a fixed geopolitical value. Some regional countries have taken action in order to suggest that they are the heirs to Egypt’s influence, as was the case with Turkey’s attempt to break the Gaza blockade and achieve inter-Palestinian reconciliation in Ankara. Ankara even invited the Egyptians to attend and watch its attempt to implement inter-Palestinian reconciliation, but the Egyptian Foreign Minister declined this invitation, saying anybody who wants to come to Cairo is welcome!
There are those who wonder: why should the [Egyptian] minister refuse to attend this reconciliation meeting? It seems that suspicion over the [Turkish] intentions is behind this. Over the years, the Egyptians have sought to set the Palestinian’s broken bones by putting forward several solutions over dozens of meetings in Cairo; however these all ended in failure. This reconciliation did not fail because the Egyptian mediation lacks creative solutions but because the Egyptian role has become unacceptable, and because Hamas cannot negotiate or form political agreements without first receiving external approval.
Gaza remains a weak spot for the Egyptians who cannot afford to and do not want to ignore it, as the Gaza Strip was once an Egyptian province, and in addition to the geographical ties between the two peoples, the Gazans are also close to the Egyptians in terms of their culture, economy, and politics. However Gaza today in practice belongs to Iran and Syria, and Egypt no longer has any real or conceptual power there. So long as the Gaza Strip remains under Syrian-Iranian influence it is natural that Egypt will not be able to solve this crisis.
It may seem odd that Egypt is losing its influence within Gaza, especially when it is closer to the Gaza Strip than even the West Bank. It is clear that the years of isolation in Gaza – after the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Hamas movement forcibly seized power – caused Egypt to lose some of its influence in this politically-sensitive area where half of Palestine’s occupied people live. However Egypt lost its influence there, and sought to regain this by playing the role of mediator.
The question that must be asked here is; how could Egypt have lost its influence in Gaza when Iran claims to have activists in the Gaza Strip and has managed to gain the upper hand there, and even Israel has significant ties with Gaza, as an Israeli official stated that Israel has 5000 agents working inside the Gaza Strip?
Egypt is Gaza’s victim, not vice-verse, especially as Egypt is facing criticism with people chanting slogans like “Egypt sold Gaza out” and Cairo is “contributing to the starvation of the people of Gaza.” Ironically, what Turkey and Hamas are boasting about with regards to the probable partial lifting of the blockade is something that was previously put forward by Egypt as a solution, and was summarily rejected by Hamas that considered its goods being inspected by international inspectors or pro-Abbas Palestinians insulting. At the time, Hamas responded by saying “we prefer to die of starvation than accept such a humiliating solution.” However today everybody is boasting about the results of the Freedom Flotilla and the partial lifting of the blockade. This means that the goal was not just breaking the blockade, but also destroying the remainder of Egypt’s dignity, prestige, influence, and interests.
There is blatant prejudice in the protests against Egypt’s position. Gaza is not the only territory to have been cut-off by Israel, as there are the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms issues as well. For 40 years their residents have not been allowed to trade with their own people and countries, with the only option being for them to trade via Israel. However no tunnels were dug and no objections were raised. The difference between the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms is that Gaza is politically and military active. Despite this, blame is being placed on the Egyptians for doing nothing more than following the same policy of other Arab governments with regards to their borders, like the Jordanian, Syrian, and Lebanese governments.