Operation Protective Edge and Hamas’s refusal to accept an Egyptian ceasefire proposal have led to unprecedented levels of Egyptian hostility toward the Palestinian Islamic movement, sometimes morphing into blatant animosity toward all Palestinians.
Keen observers of Egyptian-Palestinian relations have a hard time remembering such high levels of vitriol spewed from both publicly and privately owned TV channels, representing the anti-Brotherhood sentiment currently prevalent in mainstream Egyptian media.
Addressing the nation on the anniversary of the 1952 Egyptian Revolution on Wednesday, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi referred to the crisis in Gaza.
“Egypt sacrificed 100,000 martyrs for the Palestinian cause throughout the history of this conflict,” Sissi said, before tacitly criticizing Hamas’s strategy of armed struggle. “Isn’t it time, after 30 or 40 years of a certain direction, to stop for a moment and consider what has been achieved? To check if we have progressed and succeeded in realizing what we want?”
But while the president was very delicate in his criticism of Hamas, media personalities were much less understated.
“Our people [in Gaza] are one thing and the Hamas movement is another,” said Al-Nahar TV host Khaled Salah on July 9. “People in Gaza must realize that decision-making in such an idiotic way… causes Gaza and the Arab world to pay a high price in fragmentation, humiliation and martyrs.” Another talk show host, Mazhar Shahin of Al-Tahrir TV, said that Egyptians were prepared to continue to die for the Palestinian cause, but not for the sake of Hamas.
“We are unwilling to sacrifice [even] a single soldier’s eyebrow hair for the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, while they ‘wage jihad’ around the swimming pools,” he said. “People are revolted by you. Get lost.”
But not everyone has been making the distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian population at large. Egyptian writer Lamis Gaber went as far as to call for the expulsion of all Palestinians from Egypt and the confiscation of their property.
“We take aid and send it to Gaza and they kill our children,” she wrote on her Facebook page, referring to Islamist terrorism against Egyptian soldiers in Sinai. “And then these traitor dogs hold conferences to support Gaza; the traitors among the Palestinians curse Egypt and its president. The Qatari primitives want the crossings open, and Hamas wants it under international supervision.”
Mira Tzoreff, who teaches Egyptian politics at Tel Aviv University’s Middle East and African Studies Department and the Moshe Dayan Center, said that Egypt’s media was simply picking up the anti-Hamas cues broadcast by President Sissi.
“The Egyptian reactions represent a dramatic change of course,” Tzoreff told The Times of Israel. “This didn’t begin with Operation Protective Edge but with Sissi coming to power, when he clarified who Egypt’s enemy is and what he plans to do with such an enemy… Sissi was exploding tunnels in the Sinai before we [in Israel] ever dreamed of exploding tunnels.”
Sissi’s anti-Hamas stance is intrinsically linked to his hostility toward Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s mother movement, she said.
‘The Egyptian reactions represent a dramatic change of course’
“The identification of the Muslim Brotherhood with Hamas as the enemy is so far accepted by the Egyptian public,” Tzoreff said. “That’s why Tahrir Square is empty [of pro-Gaza protesters].”
Sissi had no intention of intervening in the Gaza-Israel conflagration when it first erupted, she noted. But when he realized that it would impact Egyptian national security he had no choice but to step up to the plate.
“Egypt’s policy toward the events in the Gaza Strip is dictated by Egyptian interests, and them alone,” she added. “There’s no great love between us [Israel] and Egypt, but rather an understanding that our interests converge.”
But Sobhy Essaila, a senior researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said that Egyptian attitudes toward the situation in Gaza have begun to shift following the start of Israel’s land operation and the mounting Palestinian death toll.
“Even as we place some of the responsibility for what’s happening in Gaza on Hamas’s shoulders, we can’t but identify with our brothers in Gaza,” Essaila told The Times of Israel. “Even though Israel avoided [Egyptian] anger to some extent by accepting the Egyptian initiative, it exacerbated the anger through the ground incursion. We knew that a ground incursion would entail a high death toll.”
Not everyone in Egypt is critical of Hamas and sympathetic to Israel, obviously. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have been just as outspoken as their counterparts around the Arab world against the Israeli operation.
On Wednesday night, the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, tweeted about a large gathering in Cairo’s Maadi neighborhood to protest “the military coup [against the Muslim Brotherhood in June 2013], its actions against Egyptians, and its siege of Gaza.”
Voices such as these, however, remain scarcely heard in Egypt’s mainstream media.