The death of Egyptian soldiers at the hands of terrorist groups in the Sinai has incurred the wrath of the Egyptian people, who were even more furious given that the “identity of the enemy” has yet to be uncovered. Amid confusion and mixed reactions, Egyptians angrily blamed “the Palestinians,” of being members of these groups. These accusations were further highlighted by the media that has been covering the full details of the incident over the past few days.
It seems that each party across the Egyptian political spectrum has exploited the incident according to their best interests and political vision, ignoring the truth of what happened and diminishing the sanctity of the innocent Egyptian soldiers’ blood, who fell defending Egypt’s honor and dignity. Sure enough, amid all the media propaganda surrounding the incident, President Mohammed Morsi did not attend the funeral ceremonies.
To compensate for his absence at the funeral, Morsi took drastic decisions by sacking some influential military leaders. These included his Head of Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Murad Mowafi, who was an assistant to the former spy chief, was vice president under the late President Omar Suleiman, and the head of the Republican Guard. This is clear evidence that Morsi has seized the opportunity to tighten his grip on the reins of power and to fully convert the government into an Islamist-tinted one. Some considered this move as a step forward on the road to cleansing the country of the old regime’s remnants. Others saw Morsi’s move as a coup against the Brotherhood’s partner in rule, that is the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and its allies.
It is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood president wanted to insinuate that the intelligence apparatus was to blame for the “security failure,” which resulted in the soldiers' deaths. It is not as if he had not opened the Rafah border crossing [with Gaza] following his meeting with Ismail Haniye, Hamas’ prime minister. Hence, Morsi has managed to kill two birds with one stone; he is no longer under suspicion of a security failure and, on the other hand, he has tightened his grip on the reins of power.
However, Morsi would not have taken such a step, regardless of the retaliation that might beckon, were it not for the military council that agreed to deal a stinging blow to the tunnels [between Egypt and the Gaza Strip]. The blow came despite all the efforts of the government of Gaza/Hamas to contain Egypt’s anger by expressing gratuitous condolences and prayers for the sake of the deceased soldiers. Palestinians have gone as far as to help the Egyptian authorities to shut the tunnels to slow infiltration and prevent further crimes.
Nevertheless, what concerns us the most is the future relation between Gaza and Egypt. Should the Egyptian government — with both its power components, the presidency and the military council — continue to destroy the tunnels in Rafah, this would decisively shake the political future of Gaza. Gaza would be linked to Israel at the economic and foreign policy levels, which is very unlikely since Israel refuses to be economically realigned with Gaza. This is particularly true in spite of the fact that the trade exchange between Gaza and Israel amounts to roughly $2 billion per year.
What’s more, Israel does not wish to return to the Rafah crossing to secure the border, monitoring those who come and go. This return would thwart Israeli efforts to separate Gaza from the West Bank and prevent the formation of a sovereign Palestinian state. Moreover, [even without returning to Rafah], Israel is still able to control security in the Sinai. This was evidenced by the recent attacks, when Israel swiftly dealt with terrorist groups trying to infiltrate the border to kill Israeli soldiers or even kidnap them.
Another scenario could play out. Egypt could open the crossing for legal traffic and goods, which would pave the way for the separation of the crossing from the West Bank, making it no longer part of the Palestinian national project, which struggles for freedom and independence. Egypt could also open the crossing for [Palestinian] travelers alone, while destroying the tunnels would stop the flow of Egyptian goods smuggled into Gaza. Gazans would have to wait for Israel to lift the blockade to receive goods from Egypt, which is unlikely as we have mentioned above.
The Rafah incident has created a major bone of contention and has presented Morsi with a challenging dilemma. Morsi has been put in a difficult position, as he has to find a swift solution to this matter. According to Egyptian pundits, the government is likely to reopen the Rafah crossing once the cloud of public anger has passed. However, the destroyed tunnels might hold the magical solution for Egypt, since their destruction could accelerate the Palestinian reconciliation. The government of Gaza would either reject such a solution, or it would wait until Gaza is refilled with Egyptian goods before beginning to dig new tunnels. In the meantime, the shortfall in goods could be covered by in-kind aid, which would enter in cargo trucks through the Abu Salem crossing. This would be an easy task for the Muslim Brotherhood, given their expertise and savvy in this regard.
Nevertheless, the Rafah incident has highlighted the conflict of interest between the forces in the equation, whether on the Egyptian side of Rafah or in the many cities of northern Sinai. Many wealthy traders have been dealt a stinging blow by the closure of the tunnels. Moreover, Egyptian citizens were also affected, suffering from a lack of goods in their towns and markets, given that goods are usually smuggled to and from the Gaza Strip.
In light of the political tension, Morsi and his presidential team will have to forge a domestic and foreign policy that is fraught with danger. It is still unknown whether or not Morsi can rise to the challenge. However, the People’s Assembly elections are on the horizon. Egyptians will face another challenge in the political arena, which will determine to large extent the new Egyptian political system — including the future of the president. Morsi may turn out to be nothing more than a transitional president.