Right across Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, civilians in Gaza are facing yet another heinous Israeli military offensive that started on July 8 and has so far claimed the lives of over 265 Palestinians and left a further 2,000 injured. While the hostile political and military stance against Hamas in Egypt is of no surprise, anti-Hamas and anti-Palestinian sentiments have recently emerged among Egypt’s populace and different media outlets.
Since the Egyptian military ousted former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, a punitive campaign against Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, has been escalating on the governmental, military, judicial and media level. As a result, Egyptian fervor for the Palestinian cause has subsided.
Political and social activists are hence finding it challenging to convince the public to participate in solidarity movements amid the hate campaign that has enforced a collective punishment against the Palestinians by branding them all as criminals.
“We recently depicted feelings of antipathy and hostility towards Hamas and Gaza in the Egyptian society,” Hossam al-Hamalawy, an Egyptian journalist, social activist and member of the Revolutionary Socialists and the Center for Socialist Studies told Al-Akhbar. “The support of Palestinians has dramatically waned and the Egyptian silence in the face of Israel’s latest offensive is expected amid an unprecedented and coordinated media smear campaign against Hamas.”
“Thank you, Netanyahu”
“True, there are still many Egyptians and Arabs who sympathize with Hamas, mainly because it is being targeted by Israel. But over the past week, there are also different voices coming out of Egypt and some other Arab countries — voices that publicly support the Israeli military operation against the Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli writer Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in an article titled “Egyptians hoping Israel destroys Hamas.”
Similarly, Roi Kais wrote in the Israeli Ynet news that, “it has become evident that alongside the standard criticism of Israel, Hamas, which has in recent years lost face among the Arab public, has also been taking quite a bit of fire.”
A steadily intensifying anti-Hamas campaign has been adopted by some of Egypt’s state-owned and private media since the beginning of the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip. Even though the media has been already fueling anti-Hamas rhetoric for the past year, the recent negative discourse not only targeted Hamas but Palestinians in general.
Egypt’s cable channel CBC, owned by Mohammed al-Amin who had close links to the former Hosni Mubarak regime and to the current Sisi regime, wrote on its official page on Facebook that “Israeli air force bombarded 12 terrorist sites in Gaza,” deeming targeted civilian neighborhood as “terror sites.” CBC, ranked second in Egypt in terms of viewership, later apologized for the “mistake” after many lashed out against it on social media.
Azza Sami, deputy editor of the state-affiliated Egyptian Al-Ahramnewspaper tweeted: “Thank you (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and may God give us more [people] like you to destroy Hamas, the base of corruption and treachery.”
Sami went on to say that she “loves her country and hates Hamas” and she then thanked “not only Netanyahu but any person who wipes Hamas out of existence.” In response to the people who attacked her she said “there is a Hamas campaign against all those who speak about their [Hamas’] stupidity and idiocy. I’m proud to be one of those.”
Similarly, Hayat al-Dardiri, a TV presenter of Egypt Today told her viewers that “the Egyptian people know exactly who they are facing, and understand that there is no alternative to employing the Egyptian army to strike terror cells in Gaza and destroy Hamas in a military operation. We will never forget what Hamas did.”
More shocking statements were made by Toufic Akasha, the owner of the pro-Sisi Faraeen TV channel, who attacked Hamas and Gazans by hoping that “Hamas and Hamas’ men go to hell.” He then said that “Gazans must rebel against Hamas today. If they don’t, then they deserve to be bombed. If Gazans revolt against Hamas, Israel will stop bombing them and the Egyptian army would support them militarily to eliminate this terror movement.”
In another talk show Akasha justified the Israeli assault on Gaza by saying that “Hamas provoked the Israelis by abducting the three Israeli civilians. Israel merely retaliated.” Likewise, Ousama Mounir, a TV presenter, said that “Al-Qassam Brigades are to be blamed for the Palestinian deaths.”
Moreover, many voices condemned the brief opening of Rafah border crossing last week.
Egyptian journalist and activist Wael Eskandar told Al-Akhbar that “the Egyptian army and state are not being demonized for closing the border, not allowing aid to Gaza and forbidding Palestinians from seeking shelter and treatment in Egypt.”
In his opinion the media is helping the army “legitimize the siege on the Gaza Strip.”
Former MP Mohammed Abu Hamed wrote on his twitter account that “Egypt should treat Palestinians at the terminal and not allow them in.”
While Al-Bashayer newspaper responded to the Egyptian Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi’s decision to dispatch 500 tons of food and medical aid to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by saying that “the standard of living for a Gazan citizen is much higher than that of an Egyptian citizen. The poor in Egypt are more in need than the poor in the Gaza Strip. Let Qatar spend as much as it wants on the Gaza Strip. We should not send anything that Egyptians are in need of.”
The state-media not only sided with Israel but also attacked and oppressed those who dared to comment on Gaza’s humanitarian tragedy.
Amr Adeeb, prominent journalist and TV presenter of Cairo Today who is known for his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, was told by many enraged Egyptians to “shut up” after he called on Sisi to intervene for the sake of Gaza’s residents and open the Rafah crossing.
Adeeb was labeled by the public as “a Hamas affiliated terrorist,” even though Adeeb had said in the past that “Palestinians deserve to be killed and I salute the Israeli leadership.” One of those who criticized Adeeb was Amany al-Khayat, Egyptian TV presenter.
Al-Khayat said that the war on Gaza is just a “joke” claiming that Hamas is playing the role of the victim so that Egypt opens the Rafah border crossing and they can then “smuggle weapons in and out.”
“Close the crossing!! Don’t let them in!!” she declared. “Why don’t Israeli air forces bomb Hamas’s terror sites? Israel knows them very well. Why do they only bomb civilians?” implying that Hamas and Israel are working together under the table.
“It is disgraceful that some Egyptians are publicly supporting the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip,” Egyptian university student and social activist Mohammed Hasan told Al-Akhbar. “For many, Hamas replaced Israel as the country’s enemy.”
In addition, Jaber al-Qirmaty, another TV presenter, also criticized those who demanded the Egyptian military help the residents of Gaza by asking them “where were you all when Hamas was targeting the Egyptian army in Sinai for months? … The Egyptian army is for the Egyptians only. His duty is to protect Egypt’s borders only.”
Likewise, journalist Mustafa Shardi said that the Palestinians should not expect the Egyptians to give more than what they have already given.
“No Arab country has done for the Palestinians as Egypt has. Why doesn’t Hamas go to [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan? Where is Erdogan when you need him? Why is he silent? If he opens his mouth they [Israel and the US] will hit him with a shoe. Hamas should apologize for the 1000 tunnels that were used to smuggle the resources of Egypt.”
Furthermore, several TV personalities portrayed Hamas as more “evil” than Israel. Egyptian journalist Gamal Fahmy said that “the Israeli occupation is better than the rule of Hamas in Gaza.”
Whereas, TV presenter Ahmad Moussa said that Hamas and al-Qassam Brigades “are not our brothers, neither Muslims, they are the enemy…strike every place in Gaza, it is the right of our children.” He even attacked those who want to cross into Egypt for medical reasons by saying “we don’t want anyone of them, those who are dying, let them die there.”
While such hatred against Hamas made many Egyptians distrust Palestinians, others have not been influenced by the media frenzy and consider it to be in line with a planned and systematic campaign spearheaded by both the Egyptian media and the government against Hamas.
“Hatred against Hamas has turned into a justification for the deadly blows delivered by Israelis against Palestinians in Gaza,” Eskandar said. “Egyptians who are in support of the Palestinians are unable to voice their support since there is strong dominance by the security apparatus over media and also public space.”
Political rupture: Palestinians are ‘terrorists’
According to Israeli media, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former military chief who last year led the ouster of Morsi, is trying to stand by his administration’s ongoing battle against Hamas and other Islamic groups in the Sinai Peninsula without bluntly taking a position that favors Israel over Palestine in the recent Israeli assault on Gaza.
Ever since Morsi’s ouster, Egypt’s military has raged a war against Hamas whom they accused of working in tandem with the Brotherhood to destabilize the state, by facilitating terrorist attacks against Egyptian civilians and soldiers and harboring al-Qaeda linked militant groups based in the North Sinai Peninsula. The government also accuses Hamas of being behind the prison break that had set hundreds of Brotherhood members who were imprisoned under Mubarak free.
Consequently, Egypt’s new military government decided to conduct an intensive “counterterrorism campaign” in the Sinai Peninsula. Hundreds of the smuggling tunnels along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt were demolished and access through the Rafah crossing terminal, Gaza’s only gateway to the world that is not controlled by Israel, was severely restricted.
“Closing Rafah has pushed an already dire humanitarian situation in the under-attack besieged Strip to its utter limits,” Hassan said. “Gazans are not terrorists. The state and the media are justifying the closure of the Rafah crossing by portraying all Gazans as terrorists who impose a threat to ‘Egypt’s national security.’ We are participating in this war, in this genocide.”
The anti-Palestine campaign undoubtedly played a crucial role in radicalizing Egyptian consciousness, however many of those who are neither influenced by the media nor the state are still choosing not to participate in any demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine because of the new protest law.
“Amidst a wave of repression against protesters, many Egyptians are hesitant to take part in any solidarity movements,” al-Hamalawy stated. “The crackdown on protests succeeded in instilling fear among those who still feel passionate about the Palestinian cause.”
The protest law fully criminalizes demonstrators’ use of sit-ins and violators could face up to five years in prison. The law also grants security forces complete discretion to ban protests or disperse them using excessive and lethal force.
“The state has been cracking down on journalists, activists and human rights defenders locally to achieve hegemony over every narrative and the Palestinian cause is no exception,” Eskandar added. “The current protest law in place, as well as the indiscriminate arrests and state security threats to dissidents in the public sphere, has inhibited the ability of opposition to challenge state narrative.”
Nevertheless, some Egyptian activists chose to defy the protest law and take the streets in solidarity with Gaza.
“A rally in front of the Egyptian Journalists’ Union in central Cairo triggered a spontaneous march last Sunday,” al-Hamalawy said. “Unfortunately, security forces quelled the rally and clashed with the protestors.”
Also, The Popular Campaign to Support the Palestinian People has decided to prepare a popular aid convoy headed to the Gaza strip on Thursday in support of the Palestinian people.
“The campaign has communicated with the people of Gaza and we have attained a list of the urgent needs,” the Popular Campaign to Support the Palestinian People said on its Facebook page.
However, the limited gatherings and initiatives taking place here and there are very subdued in comparison to past years, when thousands of protesters would not only occupy major squares but were also driven by their anger to break down the barriers between Egypt and Gaza.
“The right to peaceful protest is one of the most important gains of the revolution but it has been taken away from us,” Hassan explained. “We now need a permit to protest and an authorization for-a pro Palestine demonstration isn’t easy, if not impossible, to obtain.”
In 2008, a group of Palestinians blew up the wall separating the Egyptian Rafah side from the Palestinian side. Thousands of Palestinians streamed into Sinai and were welcomed by the Egyptian people before the Egyptian authorities took control and closed the border.
Then in 2011, thousands of Egyptians streamed to Tahrir square to support Palestine and to commemorate the Nakba. And in 2012, about 500 Egyptian activists crossed into Gaza to deliver medical supplies and show support for Palestinians who were facing an Israeli offensive at the time, and thousands gathered in Egyptian cities to protest against Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
“If people in Egypt today are too scared to protest against poverty, price hikes and low standards of living do you think they will protest in solidarity with Gaza?” al-Hamalawy concluded. “Unless the political climate changes and media incitement stops, the Egyptian public will further lose faith in the Palestinian cause.”