Exchange of gunfire between Egyptian border guards at the Gaza Egypt frontier and Palestinians from Gaza never ceased throughout last week, following Egypt’s resealing of the border last Sunday. This in turn had followed a 12-day breach during which well over 800,000 Gazans had poured into Egypt to purchase urgent supplies after the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip deprived them of such basic commodities as food, medicine, fuel, and cement. Palestinian gunmen had used explosives to blast holes in the border fence that separates Gaza and Sinai and, later in the day, a Hamas bulldozer levelled a section of low concrete wall topped with barbed wire, opening a gap for cars to cross the border.
The Palestinian stampede into Egypt came as a shock to many Egyptians and threatened to place both the Egyptians and Palestinians in an all but impossible to solve border dilemma. Many Egyptians saw this act as a threat to national sovereignty and a prelude to a de-facto settlement of Palestinians in Sinai Peninsula.
CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman said the incident brought to mind the old Arab dream of unity as during the Ottoman Empire when borders were open and there were no restrictions to crossing over. On the level of political Islam, there is a strong current calling for resurrection of the Islamic Caliphate and rejecting the existence of borders between different Islamic countries. These concepts and demands might sound totally unrealistic to outsiders, Wedeman said, but they are very popular in Islamic countries which suffer from corruption and despotism.
Opinions printed in Egyptian newspapers varied widely as to the border events. Magdy al-Daqaq, editor in chief of the Cairo monthly magazine al-Hilal wrote in al-Ahram describing the event as part of the Israeli plan to drive Gazans out of their land. But Hamas, Mr Daqaq wrote, was also pushing in the same direction, using its bulldozers to storm the border, and having its armed, bearded policemen pour into Sinai. That Egyptian Islamists demonstrated and tried to rally public support for the Palestinians, he wrote, proved that the border storming was pre-organised between the leaders of Hamas movement in Gaza and Islamists in Egypt.
Egyptians are all for relieving the humanitarian crisis of the Gazans but, Mr Daqaq pointed out, no-one appears to have questioned how their huge spill-over into Sinai served to reduce supplies and raise their prices. Once this becomes clear, he wrote, many Egyptians will ask Gazans to go back home. As for sharing the land between Sinai, Israel, and Palestine—the so-called Greater Gaza Strip—it is absolutely rejected by Egypt.
In al-Wafd newspaper Salah Eddin Ibrahim wrote condemning Arab inactivity and describing Israel’s blockade of Gaza as a crime against the Palestinian people and a step in a scheme to resolve the Palestinian issue in favour of Israel, with the total backing of the Bush administration.
“Palestinian State in Sinai: A Rehearsal” was the title of Adel Hammouda’s editorial in the Cairo weekly al-Fagr. Hammouda expressed his shock at the Palestinian cries of “Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest)” which accompanied the Palestinian penetration of the Egyptian borders, “as if they were invading lands of non-believers,” he wrote. But even worse was al-Jazeera’s coverage of the incident and the attitude it adopted, blaming the Egyptians and supporting the Palestinians as though Egypt were responsible for their displacement. Hammouda wonders: “Are we required to allow Hamas to raise the Palestinian flag in Sinai and so fulfil Israel’s goals? Overall the Egyptian press tackled the crisis through two divergent views. The first focused on Arab unity and how Arabs should support one another whether right or wrong; accordingly Egypt should give up its national right if it conflicts with the interests of the bigger Arab homeland. The second, however, stressed the great threat to Egypt should Hamas easily penetrate the Egyptian border, especially that Hamas has threatened it can do that “and more”. This means that Egyptian sovereignty would be subject to Hamas will, which is absolutely rejected by Egypt. But Egyptian authorities never quite explained how they intend to deal with such a situation should it arise.