More on Hamas' disappointment with Egypt

More on Hamas' disappointment with Egypt

From Nic Pelham's latest NYRB piece:

But Egypt remains the missing piece in Hamas’s regional jigsaw puzzle. With the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s ideological twin, the Gazan leadership anticipated a rapprochement, and on the night of Mohammed Morsi’s election victory, Hamas loyalists cheered in the streets. Hamas ministers prepared feasibility studies for a highway stretching from North Africa’s farthest reaches to Gaza, and appealed to Gulf labor markets to absorb Gaza’s jobless graduates. The Gaza-Egypt border crossing at Rafah “will open fully and Egypt will supply fuel, medicine, and electricity. No one will be refused entry,” mused Mahmoud al-Zahar, a veteran Hamas leader, as we sat in his garden in July on his return from a meeting with Morsi.

But after the initial welcome, Egypt backed off, swayed both by pressure from western powers negotiating an IMF package and by its security forces’ claims that Gaza was complicit in the August 5 attack. In late September, Prime Minister Haniya arrived in Cairo at the head of a twenty-man Gazan delegation only to find his anticipated audience with Morsi declined and his requests for upgrading ties rebuffed. Egypt, he discovered, remained noncommittal on the Qatari fuel it had blocked after the August 5 attack, on boosting Egypt’s supply of electricity and water to Gaza, and above all, on the launch of a free trade zone on the Gaza-Egypt border that would make Hamas a legitimate trading partner. In a further slight, the foreign ministry described Haniya as a visiting guest, not an official.

Passenger crossings between Gaza and Egypt at the main Rafah terminal, which had reached almost quarter of a million since the start of the year, fell back to levels of a year earlier. And at their common border, Egyptian bulldozers began digging up tunnels with a tenacity Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, had rarely shown. Tunnel traffic dwindled to a third of pre-August 5 levels: had it not been for a significant easing of Israel’s closures on Gaza the impact would have been intense. In a huff, Hamas removed the banner of a smiling Morsi and Haniya holding hands against the backdrop of the pyramids from the walls of its Gaza City parliament, and replaced it with a large portrait of Qatar’s Emir.

Pelham also scores an interview with leading Gaza-based jihadist Abu Walid al-Maqdisi.