Sisi's Egypt is built on Israel's security

Sisi's Egypt is built on Israel's security
Comment: Tight control of Gaza has been paramount in the relationship between Cairo and Tel Aviv, and Sisi's need for US funding is strengthening their friendship, says Samer Jaber.
5 min read
26 Apr, 2015
Gaza's borders are frequently closed, locking in 1.9 million Palestinians [Anadolu]
Egypt's internal stability and national-regional security have a direct impact on the Sinai Peninsula, and Gaza's border with Egypt.

Sinai is the main passage for the smuggling of weapons and ammunition - as well as food and domestic goods - into Gaza.

It is a burgeoning business which it seems no one can stop.

The smuggling threat

Although business can slow down depending on the security situation, the financial gains allied to nationalist motivations give momentum to the smugglers.

In a bid ostensibly to deter smuggling, the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi eradicated neighbourhoods in Rafah, under the banner of "security needs".

Around 1,200 family homes have been razed to the ground to create a buffer zone next to the Gaza border, displacing thousands of residents in the process.

Sisi blighted these communities as a gesture towards Israel and the US, demonstrating his willingness to curtail the Palestinian resistance in Gaza.

Smuggling provides individuals and groups with the means to earn a living, as well as giving legitimacy to those who profess nationalist motivations.

Any attempt to target this in Sinai is certain to affect the livelihoods of a wide range of social groups - it has led to sporadic confrontations in the past and will lead to new ones in the future.

Such confrontations, open or latent, create unstable security conditions for the Egyptian state.

The history of confrontation between the militias of the Egyptian state and local social groups in Sinai is disguised as confrontation between legitimate order and terrorist groups.

Such entities have social interconnections and historical defence alliances against foreign threats, including the Egyptian state.

Egypt provides the local population in Sinai with only limited services, making its dependence on security services fragile.

Security provisions are fragile for a number of reasons, though it is arguably the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that is pre-eminent among them.

The treaty also effectively means that the Sinai should be a de-militarised area with a limited police presence, which contributes to this precarious situation.

The political stance of the Egyptian regime towards Palestinian resistance is not conducive to the country's strategic interests. This is based on the premise that the security of Gaza is an essential part of Egypt's own stability.

Cairo's political stance towards Gaza and the security operations in Sinai are determined by factors both domestic and foreign.

The regime's continuous and open antagonism towards the Muslim Brotherhood, both inside and outside Egypt, explains how Sisi came to power.

Sisi's military coup, ousting Morsi's regime, was a continuation of the long-standing political persecution and exclusion of the Brotherhood from the political arena that marked the reign of the former president, Hosni Mubarak.

The policy of excluding the Muslim Brotherhood has extended to other Egyptian Islamist and non-Islamist opposition groups.

Egypt's institutional bureaucracy and administrative traditions have always had a strong influence on the way internal and external policies have been managed. 

     Egypt's culture of exclusion, domination and refusal to acknowledge other approaches is pervasive.

Although there have been three regimes in Egypt in the past four years, the country's institutional tradition has remained intact.

The security apparatus, the army and the intelligence service have all continued to deal with Palestine as a security matter, not a political issue.

The military junta needs to be aware that, without power-sharing, Egypt will not enjoy political or economic stability.

Monopolising power and economic benefits might serve the interest of the regime's moguls, but the country's economy is already stagnated and a new wave of privatisation and austerity measures will not lead to any economic improvement - even by neo-liberal standards - in a country that depends on remittances and foreign aid.

Instability in Egypt means that its 88 million people are on the verge of a civil war, which could prompt a massive wave migration to Europe via the Mediterranean.

Wooing Israel

It could also have an effect on the passage of 4.6 million barrels of oil that pass through the Suez Canal each day, and the SUMED pipeline - the second most important passage of petroluem products after the Straits of Hormuz.

This could affect world energy prices and cause economic instability in other countries, contributing to an overall deterioration of global stability.

The continuation of the regime to view Hamas simply as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood prevents it from understanding the role the group plays in leading the Palestinian resistance in Gaza.  

It will also fail to comprehend that Hamas' political legitimacy stems from its role in Palestinian politics rather than its relationship with the Brotherhood.

Cairo will also not grasp that Hamas' strategy in the Palestinian struggle positioned it towards a regional bloc that has a radical political position towards Israel as a colonial state.

On the regional level, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have strong influences on the regime in Egypt, being among the top courtiers who pledged to support the Egyptian economy during Sisi's investment conference in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Since the coup, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both been providing financial support for Egypt's failing economy through deposits to Cairo's central bank, grants and investments.

This support comes with conditions, one of which is the exclusion of Muslim Brotherhood from the political process.

While the UAE is deeply antagonistic towards the Muslim Brotherhood, the new ruler of Saudi Arabia is developing a new approach towards both the Brotherhood and Hamas as Riyadh's military campaign in Yemen develops.

Such a change will have an impact on Sisi's regime.

Shifting sands

Egypt's relationship with Israel has an effect on Sisi's policies in two ways:

First, Egypt has obligations to Israel under the Camp David Accords. Under the agreement, the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 - the West Bank and Gaza Strip - are considered part of Israel's sovereignty. 

This means that Egypt has to negotiate with Israel regarding any arrangements concerning border crossings with Gaza. 

This makes Cairo a direct partner with Tel Aviv in the closing of borders and enforcing Israel's siege of Gaza. 

But Sisi's regime has gone even further, by tightening the siege in order to extract concessions from Hamas.

Second, good relations between Egypt and Israel are important in terms of maintaining the support of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac.

Sisi, anxious to secure US aid, including vast military assistance, has pursued a policy of improving relations with Israel in the hope that Aipac will push Washington for policies favourable to Cairo, reports say.

The regime's approach seems to be based on an equation in which more security coordination with Israel equals more support from Aipac - which ultimately means more support from the US.