Gaza: the interests of Egypt (and others)
Monday, June 25,2007 00:00
By Abu Aardvark, Abuaardvark Blog

With Egypt about to host a summit in Sharm al-Shaykh with Israel, Jordan, and Mahmoud Abbas, Mohammed Salah, writing in al-Hayat, takes a closer look at Egypt’s interests.  While Egypt no doubt is worried about instability and violence across its border in Gaza - especially if it will find itself responsible for dealing with it - Salah points out that Mubarak’s strategy is likely guided as much by domestic considerations.   Since their strong electoral performance in 2005, the government has been waging an unprecedented campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood.   According to a number of Egyptian analysts, Mubarak wants to exploit Gaza to gain support (at home and, more important to him, abroad) for this crackdown.   Placing Hamas under seige in Gaza and placing the Muslim Brotherhood under seige in Gaza are two sides of the same coin, argues Salah.   That’s an important bit of context for making sense of Egyptian strategy in the Gaza crisis.

It isn’t just Egypt, either.  A number of Jordanian writers have argued that the government is trying to use Gaza to hurt the electoral prospects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front in the Parliamentary elections now scheduled for November.   Like in Egypt, the Jordanian regime hopes to discredit the domestic opposition by association with Hamas, while deflecting any international criticism of steps taken to limit their electoral success (no matter how repressive or anti-democratic).    Jordan has been harrassing its Islamists too, if not to Egyptian levels, and clearly wants to find ways to limit their electoral success: keeping the old, much disputed electoral law which was designed to limit Islamist gains;  media campaigns against Islamists and Hamas;  leveraging Jordanian-Palestinian ethnic grievances; and more. 

The importance of domestic considerations to both Jordan and Egypt matters quite a lot when looking ahead to the international response to the Palestinian crisis.  Both Arab states have a clear domestic political interest in Hamas doing poorly in Gaza and in making Hamas look bad with Arab audiences.  This domestic interest in mobilizing anti-Islamist sentiment may even outweigh strategic interests pointing in the other direction.  Of course, this attempt to focus attention on Hamas and Gaza could backfire spectacularly if the Arab mood shifts in favor of Hamas - something which many Islamists and other Arab writers expect, and which those regimes no doubt fear.  Something to think about as things develop.