Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

While Happy for Egyptians, Many Gazans Fear the Unknown

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

While Happy for Egyptians, Many Gazans Fear the Unknown

Article excerpt

As the repercussions of Egypt's revolution reverberated throughout the Middle East, the Palestinians trapped in the coastal enclave of Gaza collectively held their breath. Many wondered who the Egyptians would allow to take over from departed President Hosni Mubarak-or if the Egyptian people would have any say in the matter at all. "Will the Egyptians settle for another U.S.-Israeli-controlled leader?" a young Gazan barber asked skeptically.

Due to the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza after Hamas won free and fair Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006, Gaza's seven-and-a-half-mile border with Egypt has been closed for most of the past five years. Admissions by Israeli officials and disclosures released by WikiLeaks have confirmed that the blockade and isolation of Gaza since then indeed are intended as collective punishment.

So Gazans watched with admiration and concern as Egyptians demonstrated for their right to democracy and self-determination, and were inspired to see people from all walks of life join together to claim their political freedom through people power and the will to say "Enough!" to an oppressive regime. The people of Gaza hope that, unlike themselves, their Egyptian neighbors will be allowed to choose their leaders without fear of punishment and that the world will honor their choices.

Not all Gazans wanted to see the Mubarak reign end, however-even though it is Egypt that enforces the blockade at the Rafah Border Crossing. Some even feared Gaza's situation might become worse, since in several instances Egypt demonstrated leniency and eased the blockade. President Mubarak walked a fine line, they argued, ignoring some issues while cooperating with Israel in enforcing the blockade and disrupting weapons-smuggling into the Gaza Strip via tunnels.

"Egypt knows all the tunnels, is aware of all our activities and is sensitive enough to ignore the ones carrying basic essentials like food items, drinks, clothes and fuel. Tunnels which they know concentrate on smuggling arms are usually shut down soon after they are discovered," said Abu Abdelrahman, 43, who runs a cross-border tunnel which winds through the no-man's-land called the Philadelphia Corridor. "We are just people trying to live in dignity and feed our families-no more, no less. Fighting is for those who want it, but not us. Egypt has always been the only support for us during the Israeli blockade; it has been the tunnels through to Egypt that have kept us alive and standing until today."

Gaza's population of 1.5 million people, of whom nearly 70 percent are below the age of 18, depends upon international aid to survive. This has not always been the case, however. Prior to June 1967, when Israel launched the Six-Day War and conquered the West Bank and Gaza, Gaza was a bustling self-sufficient Mediterranean enclave of small businesses, fishing, textile and agricultural industries. But today an estimated 80 percent of Gazans live below the poverty line, struggling to survive on less than $2 a day and handouts provided by UNRWA. Many in Gaza are concerned about how a new Egyptian government will affect them. Change, after all, has not served the region well in recent decades.

Indeed, Egypt shut the Rafah Border Crossing with Gaza in late January as demonstrations broke out in Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere. This naturally caused Gazans great concern, since it meant their lifeline had been cut off. It was almost a month before the crossing was partially reopened.

The absence of Egyptian security forces in Sinai had a similarly disastrous effect on Gaza. …

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