Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Blog

This guest post is part of our ongoing national Arab American conversations about unfolding events in Egypt, Syria and Palestine. Learn more, and get involved.

By Lama Al-Arian

Summer 2013 Intern

On 3 July 2013 recently elected president Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a military coup d’etat by General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, after millions of economically and socially frustrated Egyptians took to the streets in a mass demonstration. The effects of Egypt’s failed democratic process, which resulted in the polarization of the country and a major sectarian divide between Islamists and secularists, has recently crossed Egypt’s borders into Gaza.

For the second time this summer, the Rafah border crossing, which is the only exit available for the 1.8 million people living in Gaza, has been blocked off by the Egyptian military due to political turmoil within Egypt. This time around 900 Palestinian immigrants are also stranded in third party countries like Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian authorities have also issued a ban restricting any Palestinian travelers from Gaza to enter Egypt, while deporting the ones who have already arrived in Cairo back to the country they flew in from, and at their own expense.

The tunnels between the border have also been closed since the June 30 demonstrations, creating a severe climate of economic disparity, especially because of a shortage in fuel and cement.

Residents in Gaza are currently forced to use Israeli gas instead of the cheaper Egyptian alternative, (which costs two extra shekels for every liter).

“Mohammed al-Abadla, spokesman for the oil companies’ syndicate, told Al-Monitor that there are over 300 gas stations in all of Gaza’s districts, but only a few have Egyptian gas from previously stored reserves. He confirmed that the Egyptian crisis had a huge influence on the entry of gas from tunnels and halted the motion of 30% of cars in the Gaza Strip. If this were to go on for another week, the streets would be half empty.”

Al-Abdala also mentioned that Gazans use about 350,000 liters of gasoline to serve all the facilities in the sector and 900,000 liters of diesel.

The oil shortage also impacts Gazans access to healthcare. Among those affected are “38 patients hooked up to machines in intensive care, 110 children whose lives are dependent on electricity and 679 patients in need of 1,800 dialysis sessions per week.”

According to Reuters, “the price of cement in Gaza has soared from 350 shekels ($95) a ton to 800 shekels ($217). Palestinians who bought relatively cheap petrol smuggled from Egypt now have to pay for fuel imported from Israel selling for double the price.”

Hamas spokesman Ehab Al-Ghaseen told Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram that the Egyptian army has initiated a campaign to close tunnels to Gaza for “specific political reasons.” The suspension of smuggling activities has led to a serious gas shortage, added Al-Ghaseen, who underlined the tunnels' importance to the Strip.

Yesterday, Egyptian border guards, in conjunction with the engineering branch of the SCAF, destroyed 23 plantations used to store petroleum tanks for Gaza, 16 of which contain a total of 140,000 liters of diesel. The military spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) posted on his official Facebook page pictures of the Egyptian army alongside the destroyed oil tanks.  Hamas has not commented on this yet.

With all the turmoil and instability that has plagued Egypt during the last 3 weeks, one wonders why the SCAF has decided to so diligently focus its efforts cracking down on Sinai and the people of Gaza. There have been a number of attacks by militant groups in Sinai since the ousting of former President Morsi. However, in an article in Mada Masr, featuring an on the ground investigation of Sinai, the author interviews Marei Arar, a Sinai based Salafi Sheikh and acting mediator between government officials and militant groups, who said that the attacks are not unusual for the area and their severity is often exaggerated.

From the military to the Islamists and secularists, Sinai is being used as a tool in a power play, currently at the expense of the people of Gaza. Mada Masr mentions how many in Sinai believe the reports are deliberate exaggerations by the military to justify their consolidated grip on power.

Arar went on to mock news reported earlier on Sunday that the gas pipeline running from south Arish to Jordan had been bombed. “The bombing was happening just as military Apaches were hovering in the sky,” he says. A year ago, the pipeline supplying gas to Israel from Sinai was bombed over a dozen times.”

“This is a media campaign by the military,” Arar contends.

The people of Gaza can rest assured that the crackdown is nothing personal- they are just mere collateral in a game of political power grab. Apparently there’s just no time for pan-Arabism.

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