By Ibrahim Barzak
and Mohammed Daraghmeh
GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP: Egypt’s new government has imposed the toughest border restrictions on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in years, sealing smuggling tunnels, blocking most passenger traffic and causing millions of dollars in economic losses.
Some in Hamas fear the movement is being swept up in the same Egyptian military campaign that earlier this month toppled the country’s democratically elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi — like the Gaza rulers’ part of the region’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s military has said the Gaza restrictions are part of its security crackdown in the Sinai Peninsula and has not suggested it is trying to weaken the Hamas government or bring it down in the process.
Past predictions that Gazans fed up with the daily hardships of life under blockade will rise up against Hamas have not materialized.
However, the new Gaza border restrictions are tougher than any enforced by Morsi’s pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, a foe of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Gaza residents and Hamas officials.
And an ongoing border closure is bound to further weaken Hamas’ popularity in Gaza, as the economy takes a new hit and Gazans are once again unable to travel.
“It’s getting worse every day,” Gaza City taxi driver Khaled Jaradeh said of the shortage of cheap Egyptian fuel caused by the closure. Jaradeh was waiting in a slow-moving line outside a gas station, with about 30 cars in front of him.
“Even when Mubarak was president, we used to get fuel through the tunnels,” Jaradeh said.
At the time of Morsi’s ouster, some officials in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, Hamas’ main rival, privately expressed hope that the Hamas government would be next.
Authorities in Egypt moved quickly against the Brotherhood after Morsi’s July 3 ouster.
Hamas leaders have been careful not to criticize Egypt’s border clampdown in public, for fear of being accused of meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs. However, Gaza’s top Hamas official, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, has complained that Egyptian media reports “about Hamas interference in the Egyptian affairs in support of President Morsi are not true.”
Some Egyptian media outlets have described Hamas as a troublemaker aiding Muslim militants in Egypt’s lawless Sinai, next to Gaza. Morsi is believed to have held back on security clampdowns for fear of angering more radical supporters.
Speaking privately, a senior Hamas official who frequently deals with the Egyptian authorities stopped short of saying Egypt’s military is intentionally trying to weaken Hamas rule in Gaza through the new restrictions. However, he said he views the Gaza clampdown as part of an attempt by the Egyptian army to justify its continued campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.