Thursday, February 03, 2011

what egypt's unrest could mean for hamas

CSM | As Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's grip on power slipped this week, Israelis and Palestinians are sizing up what a change in government in Cairo may mean for the Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority officials fear the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt might prompt Cairo to ease access to Gaza, and help Hamas consolidate its rule there.

Egypt has the keys to Gaza's only border not controlled by Israel. That leaves President Mubarak's successor, whoever it may be, with the option to open up the stifled territory of 1.5 million to trade and civilian traffic, or to continue the restrictions that weigh on the economy and the Islamic militant government there.

While the first option would win Egypt popularity with the Arab public throughout the Middle East and boost Hamas, it would signal a break in Israel's critical alliance with Cairo. It could also tip the scales in favor of Hamas in the three-year rift between Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

“It's a very sensitive point,” says Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University.

“The current Egyptian regime has a strong interest in preventing the Hamas-controlled regime from moving into Egypt,” says Professor Steinberg. “There is an Israeli concern that a different government – an Islamic based government – would allow much more freedom of movement and terrorists across the border.”