With pressure building on Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip, Egypt finds itself in the uncomfortable position of continuing to help enforce the siege while watching Turkey outflank the region's traditional Sunni Arab heavyweights in championing the Palestinian cause.
Egypt, the only nation aside from Israel to control a crossing into Gaza, has its own domestic political reasons for wanting the strip to remain closed. It views Hamas, the radical Islamist group that controls the territory, as an ally of Egypt's foremost opposition movement: the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian officials worry that any opening of the territory could have negative political repercussions for President Hosni Mubarak's government.
But since May 31, when Israeli commandos killed nine activists in a melee aboard a Turkish aid flotilla that was bound for Gaza, Egypt's stance has become increasingly awkward as calls have intensified for the blockade of the narrow coastal strip to end. Even as Turkey's popularity in the region has skyrocketed following its denunciations of Israel's tactics, Egypt, Jordan and other Sunni powers have come under attack for not doing more to help the 1.5 million Palestinians living under siege in Gaza.[...]
Meanwhile, Egypt continues to construct an underground wall to block tunnels used for smuggling, which is a mainstay of the Gazan economy. An Egyptian diplomat said it will be completed by the end of the summer.[...]
Gaza, a narrow strip of territory sandwiched between Israel and Egypt along the Mediterranean Sea, has long been subject to the whims of neighboring powers. Egypt controlled Gaza for most of the period from 1948 to 1967, when Israel seized control of the territory in the Six Day War.
In 2005, Israel withdrew 8,000 Jewish settlers from the territory, and a year later Hamas defeated Fatah in Palestinian elections. In 2007, Hamas sent most of Fatah's leaders fleeing to the West Bank after a bloody internecine battle; the move prompted Israel to intensify the closure of Gaza.
Amid the impasse in reconciliation talks, Faisal Abu Shala, a Fatah member of the defunct Palestinian legislature, is under his own kind of siege in Gaza. Hamas treats him and the few Fatah members who remain in Gaza more as members of an outlawed organization than as political rivals. On Sunday, two of his colleagues were summoned to a Hamas intelligence center for interrogation.
The Arab states "left us for a long time," Abu Shala said. "They left us split and they left us suffering in Gaza."