Hamas' Khaled Mashaal, President Mohammed Morsi
By Dr. Reuven Berko
The results of the Egyptian presidential elections will serve as a milestone and have sparked anticipation in the two rival Palestinian camps, the PLO and Hamas, whose reconciliation talks have reached a dead end.
Until recently, activists affiliated with the PLO speculated that the best outcome for them would be if Egypt was to elect Ahmed Shafiq (an associate of deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak) as the president of a secular, civilian, Western-influenced Egypt. This assumption was based on the hope that Shafiq's rise would lead to Egyptian pressure on Hamas to align itself with Egyptian policy on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making the PLO's strategy central and dominant and paving the way for the PLO to assume power over the Palestinian people.
However, it appears that Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, is likely to be announced the winner of the Egyptian elections. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, thinks that Morsi's rise will prompt Egypt to support Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood's sister organization. Hamas believes that Egypt's support will facilitate its leadership over the Palestinian people, make the PLO unnecessary, and push Egypt into a clash with Israel that will ultimately fulfill the vision of “liberating Palestine.”
When Hamas and its subsidiaries fired rockets into Israel from Sinai – before the rockets started coming from Gaza as well – there were those who thought that the rocket fire was initiated by internal Egyptian groups, in cooperation with Hamas, who wanted to create a provocation along the border with Israel. Their aim, some thought, was to prompt Israel to attack Sinai, which would in turn compel many radical constituents in Sinai to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood and create the much-anticipated crisis between Egypt and Israel.
It is hard to believe that an orchestrated crisis with Israel was in any way a part of Morsi's presidential campaign. There is room to speculate that a new regime, under Morsi's leadership, facing complex constitutional issues, social and economic problems and a delicate relationship with the army, would want just the opposite: calm with Israel. Millions of destitute people, who voted for Morsi in desperation, expect him and the Muslim Brotherhood to fulfill their campaign promises. This is a complex challenge that could jeopardize the brotherhood's reputation.
Indeed, Morsi has already announced that he intends to create a welfare state and institute equality among Muslims and Copts, and he will most likely need the help of the U.S. and the West if he plans on feeding the millions of hungry citizens and rejuvenating Egypt's economy. In addition, Egypt's internal problems and the burgeoning crisis with Iran and Syria will likely put Sunni Egypt and its sisters in the Persian Gulf in the same trenches with Israel and the West.
In this light, it is certainly a possibility that Hamas, which is daring to fire rockets into Israel from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, will be the one to have its hopes dashed. The fact that Syria and Iran no longer support Hamas has provided Egypt with leverage it could use as a straitjacket to subdue Hamas in the future. It is clear that the rockets fired by Hamas and its affiliates are an effort to impose a delusional agenda on Israel, Egypt and the West. This agenda is not in line with the general interests of this region, where the blood of Syrian civilians slaughtered by Hamas' former patron flood the streets.
There is no doubt that Egypt's new rulers will have to invest serious efforts into foiling Sinai terror, for Egypt's sake. Sinai, however, is where Morsi enjoys wide support among the Bedouin. The Israeli fence being erected along the border, aimed at stopping these mercenaries, is supposed to prevent drug trafficking, prostitution, migration and terror, all of which pose a threat to the new Egyptian regime. These activities could lead to clashes and local or global pressure at an inconvenient time for Egypt's rulers.
Israel must continue with the painful retaliations against Hamas, exacting a price for its aggression. Just like Pavlov's dog, who displayed a conditioned response by salivating at the mere sound of a bell, Hamas needs to be conditioned by the realization that Israel will not be provoked into a confrontation with Egypt, and that even if rockets are fired from Sinai, only Hamas in Gaza will bleed. There is a well-known Bedouin cure for ailments: Whenever it hurts somewhere, hold a white hot iron to another part of your body – it will make the original pain go away instantly. Hamas needs to internalize this message, and stop shooting. From Sinai as well.