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Egypt's military ratchets up the misery in Gaza

The military-led Egyptian regime, which yesterday banned the Muslim Brotherhood as well as its political wing which won last year’s elections, is also ensuring that Palestinians cannot escape from the biggest prison camp in the world.

We are talking about Gaza, where 1.6 million people – most of them UN-registered refugees – live in a tiny enclave, with its borders controlled by Egypt and Israel. It’s never been easy getting in and out but things have taken a turn for the worse since the Egyptian army deposed Mohammed Morsi as president and then butchered thousands of his supporters.

The military regime accused the Hamas government in Gaza of being in league with the Muslim Brotherhood government. This slender allegation has been used as a pretext to impose draconian controls on the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. Tunnels formerly used to bring goods into Gaza – they have been a lifeline – have been collapsing on top of the smugglers.

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says only an average of 150 people per day have been allowed to cross into Egypt after its authorities closed the Rafah crossing following the July coup. This was just 15% of the number of people allowed to cross in June.
One of the consequences of the Egyptian-imposed blockade is that money is running short in Gaza and, as a result, importing goods from Israel has also slowed to a trickle. Gazans requiring medical treatment in Egypt have also been affected by the closure.

The Egyptian crackdown has sent the Islamic-inspired Hamas government into a tailspin. It is desperately trying to avoid a confrontation with the Egyptian military. Initially, Hamas condemned the “terrible massacres” in Egypt following the overthrow of Morsi.

Since then, backtracking has been the order of the day. Earlier this month, Gaza's prime minister Ismail Haniya condemned "attempts to draw the resistance into sideline battles away from the [real] enemy [Israel]". He added: "The government is not steering the people towards fighting Egypt or towards aggression against any state, regardless of the unprecedented pressure and circumstances the Palestinian people are under."  

Adnan Abu Amr of Umma University in Gaza, said: "Hamas faces a crisis and strangulation that is forcing it to step back and minimise the chances of a clash with Egypt. (They hope) this will stop any unexpected Egyptian moves... (The situation) requires that Hamas appear flexible. Standing up to the Egyptian army is not in their interest."

For ordinary Gazans, the situation remains bleak. As students all round the world settle down for their new year, spare a thought for Manar Alzray, 23, an honours graduate in English language and education. She had planned to continue her education in Canada, where a foundation generously granted her $62,000 to take up a place at Trent University.

But the closing of the Rafah crossing prevented her from completing all the formalities at the Canadian embassy in Cairo. Her online application hit some technical problems and the term has started without her.

 “Yet, I have not lost hope,” says Alzray, who has received some of the best grades and test scores in Gaza. “My application to Edinburgh has been pushed to next year, and I am currently applying to Oxford University and the University of Cambridge as well. Next year, I am determined to be in Britain. I will have a pocket full of money and I will hold my head up high. I will be happy, and so will my parents. In 10 years, I will be telling my children this story and laugh at the hard times.”

Let’s hope she’s right. But with the Israeli government continuing to block any movement towards an independent Palestine with its settlement programme and the US-backed and financed Egyptian military regime engaged in its own crackdown, optimism is in short supply.
Paul Feldman
Communications editor
24 September 2013

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