Back in 2011, following the ouster of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, relations between Egypt and Israel were at a low point. Things reached a nadir on the Sept. 9, 2011, when a violent clash at Israeli Embassy in Cairo forced Israel's ambassador to leave the country. There appeared to be growing dissatisfaction in Egypt with what many perceived as years of accommodation with Israel under Mubarak, heightened by a deadly clash at the border, when five Egyptian border guards were accidentally killed by Israeli troops.
One key aspect of the changing relationship between Egypt and Israel was the Egyptian government's rapprochement with Hamas, the Palestinian group that grew out of Egypt's own Muslim Brotherhood movement. When the Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi became president, Egypt began to open its borders with Gaza, and helped broker a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in 2012 that surprised many international observers.
Flash forward to today: the comparison of Egypt's relationship with Israel and Hamas then and now looks like night and day. While Egypt's new president, Abdel Fatah el-Sissi, may be a key player in cease-fire talks in Gaza, he appears to be mainly dealing with Israel. And while Sissi has said that Egypt would "be standing next to our Palestinian martyrs as we have always done," some have called him out for his lack of criticism of Israel.
Sissi may be circumspect in what he says publicly, but the shift is particularly stark when you look at Egypt's media. A video, compiled and translated by the Washington D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), shows some other criticisms of Hamas from Egyptian TV hosts:
It should be noted that MEMRI is criticized for a pro-Israel stance, though it's hard to deny the power of these clips. Here's one particularly passionate segment from the popular Egyptian TV Host Osama Mounir, who, while not exactly sympathetic to Israel, says that the Hamas' demands are "deranged" and that they belong in an "asylum."
Over at the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar newspaper (sometimes criticized as pro-Hezbollah by critics), Rana Harbi argues that not only is the media's anti-Hamas rhetoric clearly evident, it sometimes comes across as more broadly anti-Palestinian. Harbi zeroes in on a variety of recent comments in her post, but those made by Toufic Akasha, the owner of the pro-government Faraeen TV channel, stand out:
“Gazans must rebel against Hamas today. If they don’t, then they deserve to be bombed. If Gazans revolt against Hamas, Israel will stop bombing them and the Egyptian army would support them militarily to eliminate this terror movement.”
The comments have spread on social media too. For example, there's a tweet from Azza Sami, co-editor of the partially state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram, which thanks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for taking on Hamas:
The scale of the Hamas' isolation in the Egyptian media really does seem quite remarkable. As David Kirkpatrick has noted at the New York Times, the televised criticism of Hamas has been so fierce that Israel has been broadcasting them into Gaza.
And it's certainly a change from 2011. For example, just months before the chaos at the Israeli embassy in 2011, Al-Ahram was publishing photographs of the arrested Israeli-American Ilan Grapel and touting him as a "Mossad officer who tried to sabotage the Egyptian revolution" (Grapel was later released and many disputed the allegations against him). Even Mubarak, whose tolerant attitude to Israel was a source of anger by many ordinary Egyptians, put up a more critical front: He was publicly warning of the "danger of the latest Israeli threats" in January 2011, just weeks before he was ousted.
The logic behind Egypt's shift is pretty obvious. For Sissi and those who support them, the Islamists in Hamas are just a little too similar to the those in the Muslim Brotherhood, the people they only recently forced from power and banned. What's really remarkable, as noted by Kirkpatrick at the Times Thursday is that this distrust of such Islamist groups isn't confined to Egypt either: We're seeing similar things in Jordan and Saudi Arabia too.