An Egyptian court on Tuesday outlawed all activities by the Palestinian Hamas faction inside the country, the latest move in a campaign to isolate the terror group, which has been waged by Egypt’s army – and later by the country’s army-backed government – since well before the July 2013 overthrow of the country’s then-President Mohammed Morsi.
Islamist militants based in Egypt’s Sinai region, which has a border with Gaza, have killed hundreds of police and soldiers since Mursi’s political demise. The insurgency has spread to other parts of Egypt, the most populous Arab country. Since seizing power, Egypt’s military has crippled Gaza’s economy by destroying most of the 1,200 tunnels that had been used to smuggle food, cars and weapons to the coastal enclave, which is under an Israeli blockade.
Egyptian officials say it could take years to undermine Hamas. But they believe working with Hamas’s main Palestinian political rival, the Western-backed Fatah movement, and supporting popular anti-Hamas activities in Gaza will weaken the group, several security and diplomatic officials have said.
The ruling comes months after senior Hamas officials had already begun publicly bemoaning how Egypt’s army-backed government had left them politically and economically “sentenced to death.” The inauguration of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Morsi had been seen as a boon for Hamas, which describes itself as the Brotherhood’s Palestinian wing.
The Egyptian army, which blames Hamas for facilitating the movement of jihadist equipment and personnel into the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula, soon launched a media campaign to consolidate public sentiment against Hamas and began acting against the group while sidelining Morsi. The army’s campaign to target Hamas’s smuggling tunnels, which link the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Sinai, quickly picked up pace after Morsi’s ouster, alongside efforts by Egypt’s subsequent army-backed government to decapitate the Brotherhood’s leadership hierarchy. By last January senior Egyptian security officials were telling Reuters that they were ready to focus more of their resources on targeting the Gaza Strip.
The reemergence of an Egyptian government sympathetic to Hamas currently seems unlikely. Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi signaled on Tuesday that he will compete in upcoming presidential elections, in which he is widely expected to glide to victory.
[Photo: AFP news agency / YouTube]