Hamas finds itself in an uncomfortable predicament following the ouster of its longtime allies, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The terrorist group’s leaders worry that a wave of popular demonstrations similar to those that pushed Egypt’s military to depose Morsi could threaten their hold on Gaza. They are also worried that Egypt’s military rulers may try to reassert the sovereignty they held over Gaza prior to the 1967 Six-Day War.
The presence of Egyptian military helicopters over Gaza’s skies as part of Egypt’s crackdown on terrorists in the Sinai is particularly spooking Hamas. In addition, Egypt’s destruction of Gaza smuggling tunnels is crimping the economy.
“Even [former Egyptian president] Hosni Mubarak did not starve the Gaza Strip,” a Hamas official told Reuters. “By destroying the tunnels without providing an alternative, the Egyptians are punishing the entire population of the Gaza Strip and deepening the humanitarian and economic crisis.”
Al-Monitor reports that numerous social media sites calling for similar protests in the Palestinian territories spurred Hamas’s worries. As a result, it has moved to stifle public gatherings in Gaza regardless of the reason.
Repression of dissent is nothing new for Hamas, which has used harsh measures to keep opponents under wraps since it wrested Gaza from the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority following the 2007 civil war. It has repeatedly moved to breakup any demonstrations by opponents.
Hamas even intervened in a recent planned protest against an Israeli bill that opponents say would displace thousands of Bedouins. Hamas security forces moved in and interrogated Ibrahim al-Talaa, 24, the creator of a Facebook page against the plan.
The interrogators wanted to know if he had connections with the Egyptian Tamarod, or “Rebel,” movement that prompted Morsi’s ouster. Al-Talaa said he didn’t, but told Al-Monitor that “I spent the whole day of the demonstration” being questioned.
Palestinian Facebook pages have been popping up calling for demonstrations against Hamas and Fatah, as well as against the division between the two factions, Al-Monitor reports.
A Facebook group calling itself “You Palestinian, Rebel” formed by young Palestinians in the territories and abroad is calling for the overthrow of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and the end of Israeli control. A Gaza spokeswoman said the online movement was influenced by the events in Egypt.
But some observers say an Egyptian-style street protest movement against Hamas’ control of Gaza is unlikely because the conditions in Gaza are different from those in Egypt.
“I believe that what happened in Egypt will absolutely affect life in Gaza at least in the long term, especially if Hamas isn’t wise enough to deal with all these changes in Egypt,” Atef Abu Sef, a lecturer at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor.