CAIRO -- For the Islamist Hamas rulers controlling the Gaza Strip, the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement is a “nightmare” situation.
Hamas, which began as the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, celebrated Morsi’s election to office last year, becoming a key Islamist ally and supporter in the Arab world.
“What happened in Egypt is a nightmare for Hamas which it did not expect,” Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said in an email to reporters.
Hamas’ leadership has remained conspicuously quiet about the military’s ousting of Morsi, releasing a statement that it did not meddle in Egyptian affairs. Protesters who took to the streets against Morsi complained often that his Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government gave preference to Gaza.
“They send things to Gaza which we do not have in Egypt. We want to get rid of Morsi and get a new leader who puts Egypt first,” said Ala Mafrouk, a 23-year-old student who took part in the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The anti-Palestinian sentiment in Egypt was a turnabout from just two years ago, when protesters in Tahrir chanted “Free Gaza” along with “get rid of Mubarak.” When Morsi emerged as the victor of Egypt’s first free elections in 30 years, many in Gaza celebrated what they thought would be renewed ties with Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.
“We believed that this would mean a complete renaissance for Gaza, a complete opening of the Rafah border between Egypt and Gaza, trade deals, no travel restrictions. We imagined that we would finally be connected to the rest of the region,” said one Hamas legislator, who asked to speak anonymously because Hamas has refused to comment on the ongoing turmoil in Egypt. “Instead, there were only small changes. Now there is this, and the mood in Gaza is very dark. We feel we are stranded.”
That feeling was bolstered when Egyptian authorities announced this weekend that they were closing the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza indefinitely because of violent attacks against Egyptian security forces across the Sinai Peninsula. For most Palestinians, Rafah is more than a crossing – it is a symbol for the isolated Gaza Strip’s contact with the outside world.
One of the first announcements made by Morsi when he rose to power in Egypt was that he would fully open the Rafah crossing. The announcement would have meant that for the first time, Gaza’s population of 1.6 million could freely travel to Egypt without the bureaucratic red tape that previously had ensured that the number of people traveling between Gaza and Egypt was kept to a trickle. Although Morsi never fulfilled his promise, he did loosen restrictions. Over the past year, officials from across the Arab world, including the emir of Qatar, visited the coastal strip for the first time.
Over the weekend, after the Egyptian military ousted Morsi from power and arrested several hundred members of his party, the military announced it was closing the Gaza Strip until future notice.
Several Palestinians in Rafah told McClatchy that they were stranded on either side of the border, unable to cross to be with their loved ones as the holy month of Ramadan approaches.