Cornelis Hulsman, co-founder of Arab-West Report, is planning to return to The Netherlands in September 2009, and therefore decided that from now on editorials will be written together with the English language editor. All editorial texts, however, will need to be approved by him.
Gaza has cast a shadow across many of the articles in this week’s issue of Arab-West Report. A number of the Christian institutions in Egypt have issued statements concerning the attacks on Gaza. Article 11 is the full text of the declaration from the Community Council of the Coptic Church which denounces the attacks and supports the Palestinians in their struggle for their land and peace but also believes in the "extreme wisdom" of President Mubārak. While, in article 12 the patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church condemned the massacres that have claimed the lives of innocent civilians and children. Moreover, in his sermon during the mass on the occasion of the Coptic Christmas on January 7, Pope Shenouda condemned the brutal Israeli attacks and expressed his compassion for the people of Gaza [article 17].
However, official statements aside, opinions within Egyptian society have been much more diverse. Of course the deaths of hundreds of civilians and children have been universally condemned but below the surface in Egypt, just as in other countries around the world, views on the war on Gaza are more complex and multi-faceted.
In article 6 in this issue Karam Jabr, writing in the government oriented paper Rose al-Yūsuf, takes a highly defensive stance, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood guide of declaring war on Egypt and within Egypt and trying to attack the country and its people. He states that the Iranian and Syrian governments as well as Hizbollah have acted in a similar way and says that at the end of the day Hamās will have to resort to Egypt because Syria will just sit back and watch and Iran is only trying to divert attention away from its nuclear issue. He further continues this damming attack by commenting that Hamās has no national program for Palestine and that it puts the needs of the Gazan people below its desire to create an Islamic state. At first glance this may seem like something that an Israeli newspaper could write but when taken in light of the Egyptian government’s fear of Islamist groups it is perhaps more understandable.
Furthermore, speaking at the Azhar-West conference the Minister of Religious Endowments Dr. Mahmūd Hamdī Zaqzūq also took a somewhat defensive stance criticizing the double standards of the West toward the different causes of the Middle East, citing the example of the current situation in Gaza [article 8].
It seems that the regime was (perhaps understandably) worried about the public’s reaction to events in Gaza, in particular the perception, both in Egypt and abroad, that the Mubārak regime had taken a lack of definitive action against it. This fear may have been the stimulus behind the Ministry of Religious Endowments’s decision to instruct imāms not to refer to Gaza in their Friday sermon on January 9. Riot police were stationed outside some of the central mosques in the Egyptian capital and they successfully managed to foil attempts to organize any large-scale demonstrations.
While the 22-day bombardment on Gaza conveniently ended just two days before President Obama was sworn in to office the region is still dealing with the repercussions of the devastating offensive. At an official level, Egypt is trying to broker a deal between the different sides and ensure a lasting ceasefire but with the West watching closely and the divisions among the different Palestinian factions as evident as ever it will be an uphill struggle. On a final note, and one that will anger many Islamist groups in Egypt and possibly other states in Middle East, the Egyptian government has today (February 5) announced the closure of the Rafah border. The border is the only one into Gaza that is not controlled by Israel and was briefly opened to allow medical supplies and aid in during the offensive.