If Hamas and Egypt Reconcile, Will It Be on Egypt’s Terms?

If Hamas and Egypt Reconcile, Will It Be on Egypt’s Terms?
Egyptian soldiers watch Palestinian Hamas security forces deployed on the Palestinian side of the border with Egypt, Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, April 21, 2016 (AP Photo by Khalil Hamra).

Last week, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ top official in the Gaza Strip, visited Egypt for the first time since 2013, when Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-aligned former president, was ousted in a coup. Haniyeh met with security officials in Cairo, including the head of national intelligence, Khaled Fawzy, to discuss the ongoing blockade of Gaza and other economic issues in the Hamas-controlled territory, as well as Hamas’ ties with its Palestinian rival, Fatah. Both Haniyeh and Egyptian state media called his visit “successful.”

After leaving Cairo, Haniyeh returned to Gaza after five months abroad in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Back in Palestinian territory, he told journalists that ties with Egypt, which have been severely strained under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, were improving. Hamas, he said, “will continue to develop this relationship and strengthen it.”

But those official lines belied the Egyptian government’s reported demands that Hamas cooperate to rein in militancy in the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for Egypt opening up its border with Gaza. Those demands put Hamas in a bind. Since el-Sisi took power in 2013, the Egyptian military has bombed the tunnels that lead into Gaza and kept the Rafah crossing, the only entry point into the territory from Egypt, mostly closed, while fighting a fierce insurgency by the Sinai affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

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