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Gaza-Egypt Border Opens as Muslim Brotherhood Shifts Tactics

  • Heather Murdock

Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt at Rafah crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip, Aug. 24, 2013.

Palestinians wait to cross into Egypt at Rafah crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip, Aug. 24, 2013.

The Egyptian government is reopening its border with Gaza Saturday for the first time in five days. Some activists say the move is a sign that the crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood is successfully quieting opposition to the military-led government. Muslim Brotherhood supporters, however, say the struggle is just beginning, and that they are planning new rallies Saturday night.

The border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip is one of the only ways Palestinians in Gaza can access the outside world.

For days, thousands have been waiting to enter Egypt - for school, or to go the hospital - and hundreds more are reported to be waiting to get back to Gaza to go home.

However, it’s no great surprise that Egypt’s military-led interim government is keeping a tight watch on the crossing. Gaza’s 1.7 million people are governed by Hamas, an ally of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which wants the Egyptian military to step aside and reinstate Morsi.

Some analysts say the fact that the border has reopened, even if just for limited hours, could be a sign that tensions are easing after this month's military crackdown on Islamist protests and mass arrests of the Brotherhood leadership.

“The Muslim Brothers, they are not going to give up easily, but they lost their sympathy on the streets, so their only way is to cause problems,” said award-winning artist and long-time political activist Mohammad Ablaa.

The Brotherhood, he added, had its chance to rule under Morsi, but failed to work with government agencies and promote the democracy it promised. Although the Brotherhood says it was the specific target of the government crackdown, Ablaa said the extreme bloodshed that resulted from the fighting - estimates of the carnage range from hundreds to more a thousand dead - has damaged the Brotherhood’s appeal.

After days of silence, Brotherhood rallies across Cairo Friday that called for Morsi's reinstatement were marked by new tactics to avoid violence and attract new supporters.

At this demonstration in southern Cairo, before the military-imposed 7 p.m. curfew took effect, thousands held signs and chanted as they marched through residential neighborhoods. When leaders sensed trouble, they steered crowds in another direction.

A media representative of the National Committee for Legitimacy, an organization that works with the Muslim Brotherhood to stage protests, text-messaged reporters Saturday to explain the new strategy. The plan is to hold more rallies in smaller groups, in the hope of attracting “a broad spectrum of Egyptian revolutionaries from all the diff[erent] factions.”

The media representative, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an earlier interview that if all Islamist protests are suppressed, he would consider that all political activism in Egypt is under attack. This, he added, would return the country to the repression Egyptians suffered under Hosni Mubarak.

“I am convinced 100 percent that the liberals who are not on the streets, [who] think they are safe, they are not safe," he said. "Once [the military is finished with Islamists, they will turn [on] them. Anyone who was an activist before will pay.”

In the final days of the 2011 uprising that forced Mubarak out of office, activists in Tahrir Square said they could not give up, even if they wanted to at the time, because if the protests failed, everyone faced likely arrest. Many Egyptians who took an active part in the revolution that ousted Mubarak say they now realize Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were never fit to lead the nation.

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