There is an urgent need for serious and active move from all countries to stop the war. The risks of a widening war are increasing. The burning fire must be extinguished before it turns into a regional or international war, a worst-case scenario that nobody wants to see happen, writes Nourhan ElSheikh.
The recent crisis in Gaza was totally unexpected and confusing to the entire world, which was not prepared for the greater magnitude of escalation in the strategic region. The impact of the conflict was more severe for North African countries, as they are already experiencing worsening economic and political crises. The region is struggling, with instability in Libya and chronic tension between Algeria and Morocco. Egypt has suddenly found itself facing a war on its borders, as it neighbours the two sides of the crisis, the Gaza Strip and Israel.
In line with Arab sentiment and their historical stance, the North African countries have declared full support for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian cause enjoys indisputable Arab and Islamic support. President Putin truly expressed this when he stated that “the Palestinian issue is in the heart of every Muslim...”
However, they have slightly disagreed about the details concerning this support. Some countries, including Egypt, support an immediate ceasefire and a peace settlement of the crisis. Tunisia and Algeria, however, have voiced their absolute support for the Palestinians and have declared their complete condemnation of Israel. This discrepancy first appeared around the time a statement was issued at the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting on developments in Gaza on October 11. It called for “an immediate cessation of the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip” and condemned “the killing of civilians on both sides.” The positions of Tunisia and Algeria differed from those of Egypt, Libya and Morocco, as both countries had reservations about that final statement, based on their refusal to equate the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to establish a sovereign state with the 1967 borders, with Israel’s policies, which violate international conventions and international legitimacy resolutions. They confirmed that the Israeli aggression against Gaza must be condemned and stopped immediately.
Tunisia reconfirmed its position by abstaining from the UN General Assembly resolution, presented by the Arab group on October 27, calling for an immediate and permanent humanitarian truce. Tunisia criticized the resolution as it didn’t meet the expected demands and failed to include “a clear and strong condemnation for war crimes and genocide committed by the Israeli occupying forces.” This was preceded by the absence of both Tunisia and Algeria from the peace summit in Cairo on October 21, in which Libya and Morocco participated, in which the priority was given to sending humanitarian aid into Gaza and a ceasefire.
Such attitudes among North African countries can be explained in light of the large demonstrations and widespread “popular movement” they have witnessed in support of Gaza. Thousands took part in massive marches to express their solidarity with the Palestinians. The authorities hope to calm the streets with clear and unambiguous positions. The Tunisian and Algerian positions can be justified by their desire to prevent the strong Islamic opposition in the two countries from having the opportunity to outbid the official stance and exploit the developments in Gaza to incite people to take arms against their governments. The Algerian government fought a historic confrontation with Islamists. Likewise, the Tunisian government is still struggling to dissolve the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood that controlled the joints of the Tunisian state in the wake of the revolution in 2011. In this context, the official positions of the North African countries have succeeded in absorbing much of the popular anger and creating national and Arab consensuses to support the Palestinians. It also succeeded in achieving an international consensus, as reflected in the widespread support for the UN General Assembly resolution.
On the other hand, Cairo was distinguished from the rest of the North African countries by its clear focus on rejecting the process of displacing Palestinians from Gaza, given that Egypt shares a border with the enclave. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi warned that the “displacement” of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula could cause the same thing to happen to Palestinians from the West Bank, who would face displacement to Jordan. Doubtful of the true motives behind that displacement, he mentioned the Negev Desert in Israel as a logical alternative. He has stressed that Egypt would never allow such a displacement for many reasons. Among most important is that displacement presents a danger for the Palestinian cause itself. Displacing the Palestinians from their land would mean the complete liquidation of the Palestinian cause and the loss of any opportunity to establish a Palestinian state. This is a historic position for Egypt. It has refused to grant Egyptian citizenship to those displaced from Palestine over the past century in an attempt to preserve their Palestinian identity and their right to return to their homeland. In addition, displacing Palestinians to Sinai would undermine the peace between Egypt and Israel, as it would entail transferring the fighting, turning Sinai into a base from which operations against Israel could be launched. That could risk dragging the two countries into military confrontations and harm the stable peace between them.
Moreover, displacing the Palestinians would mean transferring the idea of resistance from Gaza to Sinai. This entails a direct threat to Egyptian national security and political stability, with fears that extremists and terrorists will flow into Sinai under the pretext of “jihad”. Hamas is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered a terrorist group in Egypt. It led terrorist operations deep inside Egypt and attacked the Egyptian police in support of the Muslim Brotherhood and freed its members from prisons in 2011. Accepting it in Sinai would undermine security, represent great support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and have repercussions that cannot be predicted or fully controlled. The popular anger and accusations may also be directed at Egypt’s leadership for accepting the “Deal of the Century” and abandoning Egyptian land to serve Israeli expansionist goals at the expense of the Palestinians. This popular rejection was clearly reflected in the demonstrations that explicitly raised slogans denouncing the “Deal of the Century” and emphasizing adherence to the Palestinian land.
The North African countries policies’ helped spoil the “Deal of the Century” and thwart the Israeli-American project to liquidate the Palestinian issue by displacing the Palestinians and completely occupying their lands. However, they did not have enough influence to issue a Security Council resolution demanding a ceasefire or the lifting of the Israeli siege on Gaza in accordance with international humanitarian law. They have been able to push for the entry of increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza since October 21, even though what enters falls far short of meeting the basic needs of the people in Gaza.
In this context, Egyptian efforts continue along with those of various regional and international parties to guarantee the entry of a growing amount of humanitarian aid, and to impose a humanitarian truce and ceasefire. Egypt and its fellow North African countries cannot realize this alone. There is an urgent need for serious and active move from all countries to stop the war. The risks of a widening war are increasing. The burning fire must be extinguished before it turns into a regional or international war, a worst-case scenario that nobody wants to see happen.