Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi pledged $500 million to rebuild Gaza after it was devastated by the 11-day offensive that caused multiple fatalities, and massive destruction to infrastructure in Palestine. The president emphasized Egypt’s efforts to secure regional stability and prolong the Gaza ceasefire in his first call with Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new leader who took office two weeks prior to their call. Egypt has proved to be a successful middle power in maneuvering between Israel and Palestine in an attempt to strengthen relationships with both. The country’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel paid a visit to both Israel and then Gaza for the first time since 2017 demonstrating Egypt’s clear intention to not take sides. Since the start of the conflict, Egypt has played an important role in ceasefire implementation, demonstrating its usefulness to the U.S. and strengthening the two countries’ alliance.
According to Alaa Tartir, policy adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, “The pledge to help reconstruct Gaza is merely a card being played.” There are a number of potential reasons for the generosity of the Egyptian president. It could be a diplomatic strategy in disguise that Sisi is using to play a middle power role in the conflict. “The Gaza reconstruction card will be instrumentalized again in an attempt to contain and silence Hamas by offering them economic and financial incentives,” Tartir further commented with the reference to a long-term endeavor to end the 12-year-old Israeli sea, land, and air blockade of the Gaza territory. Meanwhile, he also sees the “US-Israeli-Egyptian plan as a short-sighted strategy that is doomed to fail.”
Nonetheless, one of the strategic reasons for Sisi’s outstanding involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to lure the attention of a bigger global player. His strategy to gain political support from the U.S. was conceived in light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Earlier president El-Sisi’s planned participation in the ceasefire was praised by Washington which marks the two countries’ mutually beneficial relationship. The advantage that both parties receive from their cooperation is essential for their survival in the region. While the U.S. has necessary control over the aid that they send to Egypt and can end under no conditions, they equally rely on the Egyptian regime’s survival to continue to stand firmly on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The Egyptian regime wishes to illustrate to the Biden administration that they can still handle the ‘Palestinian file’ and that they are willing to follow the U.S. guidance in this regard,” Alaa Tartir told Al Jazeera. Egyptian overt demonstration of its power and its diplomatic victories is an effective way to shift the international community’s attention away from its domestic human rights abuses. “That also means that Egypt is now actively engaged in efforts to prevent a renewed confrontation, conclude a prisoner exchange, and play a central role in further associated arrangements,” Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, told Al Jazeera.
Ever since president El-Sisi took office, a number of human rights abuses including political activists’ imprisonment, widespread tortures, and detentions have been reported by various human rights organizations. There is no doubt that Sisi’s presidency is marked by a significant decline in democratization and the disappearance of basic civil liberties. While the majority of the international community including the U.S. strongly condemns human rights abuse, the economic and military aid that the U.S. sends to Egypt makes the country complicit in Sisi’s horrendous crimes. Egypt’s economic aid to Gaza might be beneficial to rebuild devastated infrastructure. However, the political reasons for covering the country’s own poverty and declining civil society should be recognized and deterred.
Ending U.S. economic and military aid to Egypt will stop feeding Sisi’s dictatorship. It should become a priority of the Biden administration if their withdrawal from the Middle East signifies a more neutral attitude to the regional players.