The Calamity Next Door
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Most Egyptians are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians as Israeli forces devastate the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian government, meanwhile, is no friend of Hamas, which massacred Israelis on Oct. 7 and has launched missile attacks on Israel over the past month.
The conflict may be across a border, but analysts are now worried that the war next door may spill into Egypt and destabilize this regional power.
As historian Adam Tooze recently noted in a Foreign Policy magazine podcast, Hamas, which is designated as a terror group by the US and the European Union, is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, the militant group that successfully vaulted Mohamed Morsi to Egypt’s presidency in 2013. The current regime under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, an ally of the US, ousted Morsi a year later.
But a wave of refugees from Gaza could revive the Brotherhood and also rekindle Egypt’s conflict with the Bedouin in the Sinai – long marginalized by the country’s rulers – and who have waged a decade-long rebellion against the central government, briefly linking up with jihadists from the terrorist group Islamic State, and killing hundreds of soldiers, the Economist noted. Egyptian officials claim at last to have quelled their revolt, but the Bedouin are protesting again.
Egypt is also suffering economically as of late. Moody’s recently downgraded the country’s credit status, reported Al Jazeera. Record inflation, massive government debt payments, and an increasingly weak currency have led more Egyptians to attempt to migrate to Europe and elsewhere to find better opportunities. Fears of increasing instability could further damage the economy.
This host of problems is why el-Sissi has stationed Egyptian forces on the North African country’s border with Gaza. He wants neither the economic burden of Palestinians refugees who have been trying to escape the violence, nor the risk of letting Hamas militants into Egypt so they might destabilize his country.
“The more unstable things are economically, the easier it is for bad actors in the region to stir the pot,” Christopher Swift, a former US Treasury Department official told Fortune. “Politics, economics and security go together very closely.”
Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David Accords in 1978, bringing an end to hostilities between the two countries and cementing one of the bedrock diplomatic successes of the current Middle Eastern order. But this current crisis is testing that deal. Ordinary Egyptians disapprove of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, argued Middle East Monitor columnist Mahmoud Hassan. And the Egyptian leader, who unlike Jordan has not recalled his ambassador to Israel, has called the Israeli strikes on Gaza “collective punishment.”
Now, Israel has allowed Egypt to send “limited” humanitarian aid to Gaza, the PBS NewsHour reported. This aid is widely viewed as inadequate, however. People have raided aid warehouses containing flour and other staples in Gaza, too, in a sign of civil breakdown in the region that suggests no amount of aid will help until the fighting stops, the Guardian added.
Israel has made diplomatic flubs regarding Egypt, too, since the Hamas attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu floated the possibility of relocating the 2.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip to the Sinai peninsula, for example, an idea that the Palestinians rejected and Egypt panned, the Associated Press reported. Netanyahu even lobbied European leaders to pressure Egypt to accept the transplants, the Financial Times wrote.
Israel has the right to defend itself, Israel’s supporters say. But Egypt’s collapse is not in Israel’s national interest, or the region’s.