Hamas shaken and cautious after Egyptian upheaval

Mon Jul 8, 2013 10:26am EDT
 
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Just a year ago, tens of thousands of Hamas supporters took to the streets of Gaza for a noisy celebration of the election of fellow Islamist Mohamed Mursi as Egypt's president.

Stunned silence among Hamas officials in the Palestinian enclave, which shares a border with Egypt's lawless Sinai peninsula, greeted his overthrow last Wednesday by the Egyptian military.

A shaken Hamas - an offshoot of the deposed leader's Muslim Brotherhood - is cautiously watching the scenes of street battles between pro- and anti-Mursi demonstrators in Egypt's cities and pondering how the turmoil will play out and what it means for its own rule in the Gaza Strip.

Egypt holds the key to many aspects of life in the territory, from control of its only border crossing with the outside world to mediating Palestinian unity efforts and brokering truces with Hamas's Israeli enemy.

It also has a chokehold over an extensive network of tunnels through which weapons and commercial goods are smuggled to skirt an Israeli blockade of the impoverished enclave and Egyptian-imposed border restrictions.

The tunnels are a vital conduit for Gaza's Hamas government, which opposes the existence of the Jewish state and whose Israeli and Palestinian foes could be emboldened by the weakening of its Muslim Brotherhood ally.

Hani Habeeb, a political analyst in Gaza, said Hamas has weathered change before and could forge a working relationship with whoever governed Egypt.

"Hamas had a strong base in Syria and it quit that country," Habeeb said, referring to the group's closure of its Damascus headquarters and exodus of its leaders as the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad gathered speed.   Continued...