Despite its determination to not be seen as intervening in Egypt’s internal affairs, Hamas has broken its silence on the violence engulfing its western neighbor, with officials criticizing the “coldblooded murder” of defenseless civilians by the Egyptian military.
While the movement’s political leaders — Khaled Mashaal, Mousa Abu-Marzouq and Ismail Haniyeh — remain mum on Egypt in their public statements, preferring to direct their criticism at Israel and rival Palestinian movement Fatah, middle-ranking officials have begun in recent days to condemn Egypt for its violent crackdown on supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi, which has left some 900 Egyptians dead in the past week.
“The continued targeting of defenseless Egyptian civilians and their killing in cold blood constitutes a crime against humanity, and is to be condemned by all standards,” Izzat Al-Rishq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau told his movement’s daily Felesteen on Monday, blasting unnamed Egyptian journalists for “lying and lying until they believe themselves.”
The removal from power on July 3 of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s main ideological ally, has dealt the Palestinian movement a severe blow. Morsi was indicted for conspiring with Hamas to harm vital Egyptian interests in early 2011, while the military-backed regime which replaced him is deeply suspicious of the Gaza Strip, which it regards as a hotbed for terrorists infiltrating the Sinai Peninsula.
On Friday, hundreds of Palestinians protested in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount against the military crackdown, accusing the Egyptian regime of targeting Islamists for the sake of the Jews.
Hamas first spoke out against the Egyptian government in a statement published on its website August 14, following the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins in Rabiah Al-Adawiya and An-Nahda squares in Cairo, calling the bloodshed “a horrific massacre.”
“We in Hamas express our deepest condemnation for the targeting of peaceful protesters by the official authorities in Egypt at the Rabiah Al-Adawiya and An-Nahda squares, resulting in horrific massacres and the death and injury of hundreds of dear Egyptians,” read the statement.
Ayman Shaheen, a political scientist at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, said that Egypt’s new regime is likely to remain in power for the foreseeable future; and Hamas, therefore, would be well-advised to maintain good relations with it.
“Hamas is part of the global Muslim Brotherhood movement, and as such cannot adopt a hostile position to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Shaheen told The Times of Israel. “But the best thing for them would be to remain neutral, to stay away from the details of what is happening in Egypt.”
‘Those who follow Egyptian affairs know full well that Gaza is prone to return to political isolation. This is the biggest fear of Palestinians living in the Strip, following a year of regional and international acceptance’
But that is exactly what Hamas seems not to be doing. An article in Hamas’s official daily Al-Resalah Monday claimed that even if Hamas wanted to maintain good relations with Egypt’s new rulers, an incitement campaign against Hamas in Egyptian media coupled with Fatah’s incessant efforts to undermine Hamas, “will contribute one way or another in creating permanent animosity with Egypt’s new military regime.”
“Indications on the ground show that Cairo… will not allow the Islamic model in Gaza to remain standing due to its ideological ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is being marginalized from the Egyptian political scene at gunpoint,” read the article.
The immediate result of Morsi’s ouster, claimed the piece, was the complete closure of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to Palestinian traffic.
“Those who follow Egyptian affairs know full well that Gaza is prone to return to its political isolation. This is the biggest fear of Palestinians living in the Strip, following a year of regional and international acceptance.”
It was little surprise that Hamas leaders speaking out against Egypt are those based abroad and not those living in the Gaza Strip, Shaheen of Al-Azhar said in reference to the statements by Qatar-based Izzat Al-Rishq.
“Those who live abroad don’t care as much about Gaza’s isolation, but Gaza’s rulers will pay the price for any Egyptian escalation. I think those in Gaza will be more prudent and nuanced when they speak about the new Egyptian government.”