Egypt has finally taken some measure of action amid an escalating Israeli military offensive in the neighboring Gaza Strip. On Thursday, authorities told the state news agency that Egypt had opened its Rafah border crossing with the Hamas-controlled enclave in order to allow injured Palestinians to seek treatment on the Egyptian side of the border. The move comes as the new government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi faces increasing domestic pressure to take a stand on the growing conflict.
The decision to allow Palestinians through the border, which has been closed since the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, is a good first step for the leader. However, it will be far from enough to quell growing criticisms of his response to the crisis— not to mention unfortunate comparisons with his ousted predecessor.
If there was one victory Mohammed Morsi could point to from his otherwise lackluster presidency, it was his successful mediation of a similar outbreak of violence between Hamas and Israel in late 2012. The now-imprisoned leader’s Muslim Brotherhood has had long standing ties with fellow Islamists Hamas. This connection coupled with unusually savvy communication with the Israelis helped Morsi broker a truce between the two sides which brought an end to an eight-day-old Israeli military offensive.
Sisi, however, is in an entirely different position, particularly where Hamas is concerned. His military government has made a point of vilifying the Islamist group as part of its political campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies in Egypt and abroad. However, as outrage grows within Egypt about the Israeli offensive, which has already resulted in the deaths of at least 78 Palestinians as of Thursday, Sisi may find himself in the highly awkward position of negotiating with a group his government has been explicitly blaming for terrorism within Egypt.
As unsavory as this possibility may be, Sisi is nonetheless facing a prime opportunity to flex Egypt’s diplomatic muscles in order to reassert the country’s geostrategic significance. It is an opportunity Sisi cannot afford to pass up as doubts continue to swirl around the viability of his government. Overcoming the political cognitive dissonance may be uncomfortable but Egypt has certainly pulled it off before.