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Egypt and Hamas—Cooperation in the Works? – By Omar Shaban

By: Omar Shaban

 Egypt, which enjoys friendly relations with both the Palestinian Authority and Israel, understands that it must normalize relations with Hamas to be able to act as a mediator between the three parties. The Egyptian government, which has yet to achieve convincing results in the fight against terrorist groups in Sinai, is also in need of Hamas’ cooperation in this area.

It is within this context that we can understand the recent positive signals being exchanged between the Egyptian government and Hamas. Last month, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi stated that Egypt was ready to broker reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, which followed a surprise visit in March by a Hamas delegation to Cairo. The visit launched an effort for normalizing relations after years of hostility and Egyptian accusations of Hamas masterminding, aiding, and participating in terror attacks in Sinai and other parts of Egypt.

Forcible Reconciliation

The signs of a rapprochement have raised speculation and suspicion from observers. Some analysts believe it was a sign of conflict between Egyptian security agencies over how to deal with Hamas and to what extent it may be coaxed. Other analysts claimed the visit reflected a desire by Cairo to replace hostility against Hamas with cooperation, especially in the context of fighting terror groups in Sinai and pushing forward intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Another possibility is that the outreach to Hamas was to preempt any Turkish role in Gaza ahead of the expected restoration of Turkish-Israeli ties, or that the visit was part of Saudi efforts to strengthen the Sunni alliance against Iran, or all of the above combined.

No doubt, the Egyptian government, which has been locked in a bitter fight with Salafist jihadist groups in Sinai for several years without achieving full success, has started to consider coopting Hamas in return for granting the latter some form of legitimacy. Meanwhile, Cairo’s leading role on the Palestinian issue requires it to maintain channels with Hamas in order to be able to mediate with the Palestinian Authority and Israel regarding the issues of reconciliation and truce with them respectively. In brief, Egypt’s motto at present seems to be ‘keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.’

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