When Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip joined the celebrations of millions of Egyptians. Mubarak, after all, was the enforcer of Israel's siege on Gaza and allowed Tzipi Livni, then Israeli foreign minister, to initiate "Operation Cast Lead" from the heart of Cairo.
Under the now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi, conditions in Gaza got slightly better: travel through the Rafah crossing became easier and less humiliating than under Mubarak, activists who had long been denied entry to the coastal enclave by Egyptian security forces were finally able to cross, and high-profile visits also became possible. These changes, however, were relative: Palestinians in Gaza still waited, without reason, for hours in order to be let into Egypt, and Mubarak's policies of destroying tunnels and restricting travel for men under 40 continued. These factors, in addition to the Palestinians' spontaneous allegiance with the Egyptian people's demands, explain why many Palestinians criticised Morsi and supported his ousting.
What no one considered were the implications of a military coup. This time the change does not seem to bode well for the Palestinians. The border with Egypt has already been closed by the armed forces, Palestinians landing in Cairo airport are being deported back to the countries they flew in from, tunnels have been demolished, and army-instigated anti-Palestinian propaganda is rampant across Cairo. The situation in Egypt has become an obsession and wherever one goes in the Strip, grim predictions are made about a return to a Mubarak-era blockade.
This scenario is made more likely by the fact that Egyptian liberals and secularists previously opposed to the blockade are now being fed news of Palestinian armed groups sent by Hamas to aid the Muslim Brotherhood and conduct "terrorist operations" against the Egyptian army. Interestingly, such news is often published citing anonymous sources and without evidence of the arms claimed to have been seized by the Egyptian police.
One liberal group that enjoys high credibility and facilitates the armed forces' efforts is the National Salvation Front. The NSF is spearheaded by Mohammed ElBaradei, who is widely respected and seen as a capable technocrat. The group made no secret of its support for the military coup and ElBaradei appeared with the armed forces' chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi as he delivered the speech that unseated Morsi. The NSF fig leaf gives plausibility to statements such as that made to the BBC by an army general claiming that Morsi's good relations with Hamas was a driving factor behind the coup.
Hamas is indeed in trouble. In a very short time, it has lost major regional allies. Iran, Syria and Hezbollah no longer support the group, because of its position on Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood, which lifted Hamas's years-long international isolation, is gone from electoral politics.
If a more secular government takes over, Hamas will be fought against and undermined: secularists and liberals already see Hamas as an enemy given the group's perceived support for and relations with the Brotherhood. But beyond these agendas they must recognise that close by sit 1.7 million people whose lives continue to be determined by political conflicts in which they have no hand.