A steady stream of reports in recent weeks has suggested that Egypt is burying the hatchet with Hamas. The Washington Post saw an “unlikely alliance” between the two, Al-Monitor floated the prospect of “reconciliation,” and Haaretz suggested that Cairo is offering the group “another chance.” In short, the reports suggest the two sides are setting aside decades of animosity to confront the shared threat posed by Sinai Province, the affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula. If it sounds like a stretch, it’s because it is.
The first notions of a budding Egypt–Hamas rapprochement appeared in March, when Cairo welcomed a rare delegation of Hamas political figures from the Gaza Strip, which the group controls. Egypt also reportedly began tamping down on anti-Hamas rhetoric in official media. The following month, Hamas deployed forces to Gaza’s border with Egypt in a bid to show Cairo that it is serious about stopping smuggling of arms to Sinai Peninsula fighters.
Egypt and Hamas have a long and acrimonious history, and contrary to reports of an imminent rapprochement, their relationship remains icy. Hamas has fostered a black-market tunnel economy in Gaza for nearly a decade, ever since Egypt and Israel blockaded the Strip after Hamas seized power there in 2007. That smuggling network, in turn, has simultaneously enriched and armed Sinai Province, whose insurgency has killed hundreds of Egyptian servicemen since the 2011 ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Since the military’s 2013 ouster of Mubarak’s Islamist successor, Mohamed Morsi, the military has waged a fierce campaign against the tunnels, destroying as many as 2,000 and creating a half-mile long “buffer zone” between Israel and Egypt. In this case, “buffer zone” is a euphemism for razing thousands of homes to make life difficult for would-be smugglers. In talks to end Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas, it was Cairo that took the strongest position against allowing Hamas to build a seaport to Gaza or easing the blockade on the Strip.
Moreover, Hamas acknowledged offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian army’s decades-long nemesis, which it removed from power along with Morsi before jailing tens of thousands of its members. Egyptian officials have described the Brotherhood as the “mother” of all other extremist groups, and tend to view ISIS, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood as three heads of the same terrorist beast. Cairo labels Hamas’ military wing a terrorist organization, and has accused it, in league with the Muslim Brotherhood, of the June 2015 assassination of its top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat.
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