Egypt finds itself under growing pressure from Europe and other international organizations to fulfill a more major role in helping the residents of the Gaza Strip, and even opening up the Rafah border crossing to potentially receive hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has himself dismissed out of hand the possibility of taking in Palestinian refugees. The Egyptian leader said, "Why can't Israel transfer the refugees to the Negev desert until the armed groups in Gaza like Hamas and Islamic Jihad are dealt with."
The international pressure has been expressed in a series of visits by European leaders to Cairo, in secret European talks with Egypt as well as in public statements by senior European officials in recent days. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, through its representatives in Europe, is also drawing public attention to the fact that Egypt can "facilitate and assist" the citizens in the Gaza Strip.
The visit of the German Chancellor and the chance that it will have an impact
After German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's visit to Israel yesterday, he traveled on to Cairo for a meeting with El-Sisi, which will take place today. The relations between Germany and Egypt are considered particularly close due to the great dependence of Berlin and German industry on the Suez Canal, billions in aid that Egypt receives from the EU in exchange for preventing illegal immigration by the millions of displaced people in its territory, as well as large infrastructure projects and massive arms deals between the two countries.
So far, Egypt has strongly opposed any possibility of the civilian population moving from Gaza to Sinai. According to a report in the British newspaper "Financial Times" this week, an Egyptian official told a European official who proposed the idea: "You want us to take a million people? Then we are going to send them to Europe. If you care so much about human rights, well you take them."
This is currently a sensitive issue for Europe. The number of illegal immigrants entering its territory this year is expected to exceed one million, a phenomenon that changes the political map, strengthens the right and threatens centrist parties.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has told the media that forcibly uprooting the Palestinians in Gaza is not a solution.
Egyptian officials made it clear to representatives of the EU and countries interested in helping the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with humanitarian shipments that this may be possible, but Egypt will not accept Palestinians from Gaza. Aid flights from Germany and other countries has been directed to El-Arish airport by the Egyptian authorities.
The message that Egypt should open the Rafah crossing to accept Palestinian refugees has been heard in recent days from commentators and also some senior European officials. "It is essential that Egypt opens the Rafah crossing to allow the Palestinians to leave Gaza," Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto posted on X (formerly Twitter), during a visit to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, "Egypt can demonstrate its leadership in the Arab world because Israel is waging a war against Hamas only," he added. "The Economist" also called on Egypt to "open the crossing to Egypt, in order to save Palestinian lives in the Strip."
Can Egypt permit itself one million refugees?
Egypt's current economic situation could be a reason to avoid dealing with a new refugee problem, certainly one that includes more than a million people. This, in addition to the security problems and instability that such a situation entail for Egypt in general and the Sinai in particular. The Council on Foreign Relations, a USA think-tank, added that the connections between extremist elements in Gaza and ISIS in the Rafah area and on the Egyptian side also worry Egypt and make it reluctant to allow the free flow of Gazans to Egypt.
The Egyptians are currently not even opening the Rafah crossing to foreign passport holders, despite reports of a deal being reached on the matter with the US administration. New checkpoints have reportedly been set up at the border to prevent a mass attack by fleeing Gaza residents. "The Egyptians say they would be willing under certain conditions to transfer humanitarian aid to Gaza, but under no circumstances would they be willing to let those who do not have dual citizenship move from Gaza to Egypt," a European official told "The Financial Times."
Shoukry added that at the current stage Israel is the one not responding to Egypt's requests. "We have been in contact with all world leaders, most recently the UN Secretary General. They wondered if Israel had responded to the proposals to allow the introduction of humanitarian equipment, but unfortunately, as we have explained to them so far, we have not received any answer." Until now, Israeli-Egyptian relations have been characterized by increasing cooperation, especially in the security field, following Israeli assistance to Egypt to successfully combat the presence of ISIS in Sinai.
Meanwhile, perhaps in an attempt to take the lead in efforts to calm the situation, and to protect its interests, Egypt announced that it plans to hold an "international summit" on Saturday in an attempt to reduce the violence. Turkey has announced that it will participate.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 18, 2023.
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