On March 3, 2014, a Cairo Court banned all activity in Egypt by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and ordered the seizure of its offices and assets.
Egypt designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group in December 2013, and an Egyptian lawyer demanded a ban on Hamas because of its ties to the group. The military-backed government accused Hamas of conspiring with militant groups in Sinai and inside Egypt that targeted the government and the security forces, killing hundreds of people since the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. According to security officials, after crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, military leaders planned measures to undermine Hamas.1
Hamas has denied allegations of interference in Egyptian affairs and criticized the court ruling. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, “The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role toward the Palestinian cause.” Abu Zuhri’s comments were echoed by Amin Makbul in Gaza, the Fatah Revolutionary Council’s secretary, who said that the decision was pitiful but serious. Makbul added that his movement (Fatah) is concerned by the fact that this decision might have a negative impact on the “Palestinian resistance.” More significantly, he pointed at the fact that “Fatah is not aware of the reasons behind the decision of the court in relation to Hamas, but (we consider) Hamas as being a Palestinian resistance movement and a national [one].”
The Egyptian decision is definitely a blow to Hamas and must be seen as a first step towards further action by the Egyptian regime. In the course of the trial conducted against the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadi terrorists, information may surface as to the destabilizing role fulfilled by Hamas in the internal affairs of Egypt since the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.
The court decision illustrates more than any other development the fact that Hamas, the spoiled child and offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has lost its patron and is in the process of being reduced to its actual size. Squeezed between the security blockade on land and sea by Israel, the closure of the border by Egypt, and the destruction of the underground tunnels between Gaza and Egypt which were like the lungs of Hamas, all of these developments have been disastrous for Hamas.
Hamas needs to devise a new survival strategy in the immediate future, but initiating a flare-up with Israel is not an option at this point in time since the Arab world – busy with the survival of its own regimes that are under attack by jihadist forces – has lost interest in the events in Gaza. Moreover, initiating an anti-Egyptian campaign will only worsen Cairo’s attitude towards Hamas. One thing is sure: Hamas is about to change, to transform into something different, a metamorphosis that could bring it closer to the Palestinian political mainstream of today.
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1. For a broader review of Egypt-Hamas relations, see Jacques Neriah, “After the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Is Hamas in Gaza Next in Line?” Jerusalem Issue Brief, October 1, 2013, http://jcpa.org/article/muslim-brotherhood-egypt-hamas-gaza-next-line