Egypt supports Hamas
In Egypt, public opinion anxiously follows the situation in Gaza, and shows its solidarity towards Hamas. According to the average Egyptian, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is nothing but a puppet president, and nothing has changed since 1981 when President Anwar Al Sadat was assassinated following his receptiveness towards Israel and the peace treaty of 1979. Many young Egyptians see protesting against Israel, the United States or Murabek as the same thing.
In Egypt, it’s not the authorities or the party in power which support Hamas, but the Egyptian people, public opinion and secular and religious opposition. They support the Islamic Resistance Movement and closely follow the suffering in the Gaza Strip. This could be seen once again in the indignant reaction provoked by the handshake between Mohammed Tantawi, the grand imam of the al-Azhar University Mosque seen as the highest spiritual authority for Sunni Muslims, and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The meeting took place in the United States as part of an international conference, and the photo of the handshake has been all over the Israeli Press, who reported on the private interview in detail. In Egypt it has been reported in independent news sources and in papers of the opposition. Since then the Grand Sheikh has been at the centre of the debate, and caught between some embarrassing and contradictory statements: when trying to defend himself Tantawi declared that at the time of the handshake, he did not know it was the Israeli president standing in front of him, just like he was not aware that part of Palestinian territory was under siege from the Israeli army.
Political analysts reproach the dependency of the high powers of Al Azhar (which is actually a government-appointed role), from political power and its incapacity to take on an opposing view to the Mubarak Presidency. Wahid Adboul Magid, an analyst at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, recently said Tantawi was “too small for his post”. You could argue that it is not only because of Sheikh's gaffes that these times are particuarly tense: ever since a border wall in Gaza was blown up in January 2008 and thousands of Palestinians flooded into Egypt to buy basic necessities, public opinion on the issue has been very sensitive. And it has brought the issue closer to home for those who openly refer to themselves as ‘the brothers of the strip’.
The issue is no longer about Transjordan. Nowadays when people talk about the Palestinian issue they are referring to Gaza being isolated from the world; Hamas, chosen by voters and illegally expropriated by Fatah, and Abu Mazen as a puppet president. This is how your average citizen, from the teacher to the greengrocer, sees the issue. You do not need to agree with the political thought of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ big brother, to have similar opinions to the Islamic Movement regarding relations between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. There is not one Egyptian citizen who does not criticise the political class for its alliance with Washington, and the consequential ‘tolerance’ towards Tel Aviv. Nothing has changed since 1981 when President Anwar Al Sadat was assassinated following his receptiveness towards Israel and the peace treaty of 1979.
In the People's Assembly, the lower house of Egyptian Parliament where deputies in the Brotherhood were elected as independents and gained 88 seats, a treaty defending the Palestinian cause and asking for a revision to the peace agreements is the subject of constant heated debate. There is no hope of being able to influence government foreign policy, but this is strengthening the role of public opinion. Meanwhile, outside of Parliament, the Islamic Movement was recently renowned for organising an aid convoy into Gaza for Eid Al Adha, the second most important Islamic holiday. On 6 December, Egyptian security forces blocked the convoy of trucks loaded with basic supplies from entering the Strip.
Despite this, a court in Cairo recently declared that the organisers were justified and ordered the police and the Minister of the Interior to pay compensation. Judges, lawyers, journalists and politicians were all part of the convoy, showing how much the Muslim Brotherhood, and consequentially support for Hamas, has penetrated Egyptian society. However, whilst Egyptian diplomacy confirms it is dealing with various issues, such as the extension of the truce between Hamas and Israel and Mahmoud Abbas' mandate between Fatah and Hamas, tensions in Egyptian universities remain high, and every day the police arrest young political activists who are often affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. For them, protesting against Israel, the United States or Murabek is the same thing.
Translated by Helen Waghorn