Unrest in Egypt is Bad News for Hamas in Gaza

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The election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi in Egypt last year was welcomed with gusto in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian territory is controlled by the Egyptian Brotherhood's ideological ally, Hamas.

But now that Morsi has been ousted from power next door in Egypt, the Islamic militant group Hamas is seeing some negative fall-out already.

Ghazi Hamad is deputy foreign minister with the Hamas government in Gaza. The World's Matthew Bell spoke with Hamad on the phone Monday and the following is a lightly edited transcript.

Q: Since Egypt began this current phase of crisis, what's been the biggest impact in the Gaza Strip?

GH: It's not good. First of all, there's an aggressive campaign in the media against Gaza, and against Hamas, to distort the image of Gaza and to frighten people. They're demonizing Gaza and demonizing Hamas, making Palestinians afraid to identify themselves in Egypt. The Egyptian authorities have closed the Rafah terminal, which is the only passage for Gaza. Now, they're allowing for very limited numbers to cross the border. Also, the Egyptian authorities have started to destroy and crack down on the tunnels, which supply Gaza with some essential needs, like fuel, medicine and food. We are still waiting to see what will be the next step, but we hope that they cannot change the policy. Some people in the (Egyptian) government or the political regime use bad words against the people who live in Gaza. Maybe they are affected by the media, by reports of security over there. But I can say the situation is not good.

Q: With the media situation, who is the worst offender?

GH: We have some documents that prove there are some people in Egypt, and even in the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, participating in this campaign against Gaza. I think there is some cooperation between some Palestinians, some Egyptian media, some channels. They put out fake reports. They try to distort the image of Hamas in the eyes of the Egyptian people. Every moment, they fabricate new stories about Hamas, trying to show that Hamas is a military group in Egypt that supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. They said Hamas tried to plant bombs in Egypt. Every day, there is a massive amount of media against Hamas and we have talked to the Egyptians many times to try to stop this kind of incitement against us. Unfortunately, we feel that it continues.

Q: The Gaza bureaus of Ma'an news agency and Al-Arabiya were closed down. Is this why?

GH: Yes, because these news agencies are publishing news with no credibility or professionalism. They bring accusations against Hamas all the time, against Gaza, against the Palestinians. And many times, we advised them to stop this. We are not against criticism of Hamas or the government, but it has be to credible and responsible. We think they do this on purpose, because they serve a regional agenda. They are against the Muslim Brotherhood. They are against the Islamic trend. They are against the rule of the Islamic movement. We asked them many times to stop, but they did not listen to us.

Q: One thing Mohammed Morsi said when he became president in Egypt was that he would help the Palestinians of Gaza by opening up the border crossing at Rafah. There was a lot of excitement in Gaza about Morsi's presidency. But Morsi never lived up to that promise. His government did not throw open the crossing. It also cracked down on the smuggling tunnels.

GH: Do you imagine that President Morsi controlled everything? In one year, could he take control over a country that suffers from so much corruption, and control all of the the military, security and government bureaucracy? It's not easy. I cannot deny that the situation became better because the political regime and the government was open in the time of Morsi. We met the president. We met with government people in Egypt. During the regime of Mubarak, he dealt with Hamas on the security level. These people (under Morsi) became more open. But this does not mean that Morsi was able to do everything for Gaza. We know that the (Egyptian) security apparatus started to crack down on the tunnels, but I think this was not the responsibility of President Morsi. He did not have full power to do what he wanted.

Q: Are things far worse now, with the crack down on the tunnels? And is this having an impact on the Gaza economy?

GH: I told you that the situation is not good. We expected from our brothers in Egypt that they would try to help the Palestinians. The Hamas government does not love the tunnels. No, we have paid a high price for this. Many people have died. Now, we ask for more commercial exchange above the ground. Not under the ground. But we cannot be under the mercy of Israel all the time, which controls the only commercial border crossing with Gaza. We ask the Egyptians to open the border between Gaza and Egypt, between Gaza and the world. Because Gaza is like a big prison. We need to be in touch with the world. And the current situation is not good, as we're still suffering from unemployment, from poverty, and from a lack of building materials and fuel.

Q: If Gaza's relationship with Egypt's interim military-backed government continues to deteriorate, will relations between Hamas and Iran improve?

GH: There's no connection. You have to understand that our movement is based on values and principles, before interests. We are not in the pocket of any regime. We don't accept political money from anyone. The Syrian regime gave Hamas full support, politically, financially, in all aspects. And when (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) killed his people, we told him, "We want to go. We are not beside you with your position in the Syrian crisis." So, this does not mean we are jumping from square to square according to some crisis or some trouble with this country or that country. We have consistent policies. We are very clear. We deal with all people, all countries, all regimes according to the Palestinian cause. If someone wants to help us to support the Palestinian cause, welcome. Iran, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, any country. No problem. But we are not in the pocket of any regime.

Q: John Kerry has helped re-start the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis. From where you sit in the Gaza Strip, could this be a positive development?

GH: According to our experience, Kerry is playing the same game that was being done by Clinton and Condoleeza Rice. It's kind of a management of crisis. He gives the Palestinians more promises, but he just wants to show that he is successful in bringing Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiation table. The question is, what will be the fruit of these negotiations? He doesn't promise to stop (Israeli) settlements or to give the Palestinians an accurate answer that the occupation should be over and Israel will withdraw from the Palestinian territories. I don't expect there will be more progress. If you ask (Palestinian Authority) President Abbas and even the leaders of (Palestinian movement) Fatah, they will say, "we are sure, 100 percent, that we will get nothing from these negotiations." I believe that President Abbas should focus more and more on (Palestinian) reconciliation and national unity and the Palestinian home. After that, we can develop a new political strategy and we can deal with this conflict with a clear vision. I think Abbas is under American pressure and he wants to show that he's still interested in peace. But I wonder why until now, (the Israelis) did not stop building settlements, which is the main obstacle in the way of peace and negotiation.

Q: Is Hamas under pressure right now too? There are militants in Gaza who want to fire rockets at Israel. Is it getting more difficult for Hamas to maintain security in the Gaza Strip?

GH: This has become part of our life. That's all. We don't deal with the situation on the basis of reaction. We are still interested in keeping the situation calm, maintaining the ceasefire. We are not pressured by anyone to do something against our will.