GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Many Palestinians expressed sympathy over the death of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi during his trial in Cairo on June 17. Some took to social media to express condolences; Palestinian factions such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad issued statements in this regard and former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal accepted condolences over Morsi’s death in Doha.
Sympathy for Morsi came as a tribute to his positions toward the Palestinians, specifically in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. This is because Hamas has an ideological relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, one of whose leaders was Morsi. He played a major role in stopping the Israeli military operation against the Gaza Strip in November 2012, and allowed the Rafah crossing to be opened for days at a time for Palestinian passengers during 2012 and 2013; in the years before his rule, it would open only for a few days.
Some Palestinians took it upon themselves to open so called "mourning houses" — sites where Palestinians would offer condolences to mark his death — in several cities in the Gaza Strip.
As for Hamas, it simply issued an official statement expressing its sorrow while Hamas’ politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh contacted Morsi’s widow to express condolences June 18, as the movement seems to have wanted to make sure it stays on good terms with the current Egyptian regime.
In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority leaders remained silent about Morsi's death. Meanwhile, the PA security services prevented citizens from establishing mourning houses for him, fearing a strained relationship with the Egyptian regime, not to mention the hostility between the PA and the Brotherhood as Morsi was accused by President Mahmoud Abbas in October 2014 of trying to harm the Palestinian cause by offering to grant a part of Sinai to the Palestinians.
Maan News quoted anonymous Palestinian security sources as saying June 18 that the PA issued a decision to prevent the establishment of houses of mourning for Morsi in the West Bank.
The sources threatened to take strict measures against those who contravene that decision. “The Palestinian cause is in a critical stage. We will not allow the compass to be turned against national targets and to be dragged behind side differences,” they said.
Al-Monitor tried to contact PA security officials but they refused to comment. On June 18, security services spokesman Adnan al-Dumairi issued a press statement denying that there was a decision to ban such houses in the West Bank.
Yet several Palestinian activists in the West Bank told Al-Monitor that the PA did indeed prevent them from holding houses of mourning.
Karim Ayyad, a leader in the Dheisheh camp in Bethlehem, told Al-Monitor, “I responded to an initiative by the youth movement in Dheisheh camp June 18 to accept condolences for Morsi as a humane attitude toward the president who stood by the Palestinian cause. I made sure to provide the hall of the Foundation for the Support of Families of Martyrs and Wounded in the camp to hold condolences there, but the security services asked us to stop everything we were doing.”
Palestinian lawyer Tariq al-Hazzam told Al-Monitor that he and a group of young people in the city of Nablus launched a Facebook initiative June 18 to receive condolences for Morsi in the city and that Hani al-Masri, a trader from Nablus, provided a hall. Yet Hazzam was immediately contacted by an officer in the Preventive Security Service who asked him to stop the initiative and remove the Facebook post.
He said the officer who spoke with him justified his request by saying that there was a political decision in this regard so as not to cause tensions with Egypt. Hazzam suspended preparations and posted an apology for canceling the condolences on Facebook.
Masri told Al-Monitor he also received a phone call from an officer in the Preventive Security Service who told him to put an end to this.
The hostility prevailing over the relationship between the PA and the Brotherhood is an extension of the differences that became apparent with the emergence of Fatah and the PLO factions in the 1960s and 1970s regarding political agendas and armed action against Israel. The situation escalated when Hamas was founded in 1987, which represented the Brotherhood branch in the Palestinian territories.
Fatah leader Abdallah Abdallah told Al-Monitor that the PA and Fatah have decided not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, noting that Morsi’s death was an internal Egyptian affair.
“However, we did not prevent anyone from expressing their feelings about Morsi's death,” he said.
Media sources close to Hamas said June 19 that Palestinian security services in the West Bank arrested 11 Palestinians for expressing condolences for Morsi or commenting on posts talking about his death.
Nayef Rajoub, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a Hamas leader in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, told Al-Monitor, “The PA has not only prevented holding houses of mourning in the West Bank, but has intimidated people and suppressed freedoms by arresting many activists for expressing sympathy in their posts about Morsi.”
After the PA took such action in the West Bank, some activists and bloggers challenged the decision and posted on their Facebook pages that they had decided to open their own homes for people to offer their condolences.
Alaa Rimawi, director of Al-Quds Center for Israeli and Palestinian Studies in Ramallah, told Al-Monitor, “I posted on my Facebook page June 18 that I opened my own home to hold condolences for Morsi after the PA shut down houses of mourning in several West Bank cities. I wanted to show that we Palestinians recognize this president who helped the Palestinian cause during his rule.”
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