7 Reasons Why the Egyptians Won’t Accept Palestinian Refugees and Don’t Want to Take Over Gaza

Why won’t Egypt accept Gazan refugees or take a role in Gaza? After all, they share the Arabic language and the Muslim religion, Egypt controlled Gaza in the past, and Gaza shares a border with Egypt with a border crossing at Rafah south of Khan Yunis.

In brief, these are the 7 Egyptian concerns. More details are continued below:

  1. Security in the Sinai Peninsula: Egypt faces ongoing security challenges in Sinai due to insurgencies linked to extremist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, compounded by the region’s difficult terrain and sparse population. There’s also concern about refugees potentially joining these groups and Hamas members entering Egypt. (More)
  2. Effects of Refugee Influx: Egypt is hesitant to host a large Palestinian refugee population, fearing economic strain and potential bolstering of extremist groups like Hamas and the ISIS-affiliated Sinai Province. (More)
  3. Palestinian Reluctance to Leave Gaza: Many Palestinians are wary of leaving Gaza, fearing temporary relocation could become permanent. Egypt is also concerned about the implications of opening its border to Palestinians and the potential for Israeli resettlement in Gaza. (More)
  4. Economic Impact: Egypt’s significant economic challenges are exacerbated by the refugee situation, with concerns about the long-term hosting of Gazan refugees adding to its economic and security burdens. (More)
  5. Egypt’s Stance on Taking a Role in Gaza: Egypt is reluctant to align with Israel and the U.S. in Gaza, refusing a security role in the Strip and opposing Israeli plans for a buffer zone, focusing instead on internal security and stability. (more)
  6. Political Concerns and President Sisi’s Challenges: President Sisi navigates complex issues, including his unpopularity linked to economic struggles and balancing pro-Palestinian public sentiment with diplomatic relations. (more)
  7. Egypt’s Historical Role and Future Prospects in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Egypt maintains a cautious approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, focusing on limited roles like managing ceasefires and border crossings while avoiding deep involvement in the conflict’s intricacies. (more)

Security in the Sinai Peninsula

The security situation in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt is a matter of ongoing concern for the Egyptian government. The region has been experiencing a long-standing insurgency, which is believed to involve extremist groups with links to Al Qaeda and ISIS. The challenging geography of the area, combined with its sparse population, has made it difficult for the Egyptian government to fully quell the insurgency. There are concerns that the influx of a large number of refugees, who have faced significant trauma, might inadvertently provide these militant groups with new recruits. Additionally, there is apprehension that members of Hamas might use the refugee movement as a cover to enter Egypt, potentially heightening the security risks.

In a similar context, Egypt has expressed concerns over potential security threats linked to the relationship between Hamas and the group known as the Sinai Province, which is affiliated with the so-called Islamic State. This group has been a target of Egyptian military operations in Northern Sinai for around a decade. Egyptian authorities are apprehensive that allowing a substantial number of Palestinians into their territory could fortify the connections between these extremist factions.

Effects of Refugee Influx

Egypt is unwilling to house a large Palestinian refugee population for an extended period, with the financial and political strains that would bring. Even with outside assistance, it would drain Egyptian resources and create further strain on its economy which is already in crisis. In a Council for Foreign Relations article, Steven Cook noted, “The country is already struggling to manage the influx of [317,000] people fleeing Sudan’s civil war.” In Foreign Policy, Nosmot Gbadamosi wrote, “Hosting potential refugees fleeing the strip will necessitate more aid, closer ties, and the likely continuation of policies that overlook Egypt’s own rights abuses.”

Palestinian Reluctance to Leave Gaza

The reluctance of many Palestinians to leave Gaza, even temporarily, is notable, given that the region is home to over a million descendants of refugees from the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-49. This population, deeply aware of their historical displacement, fears that a temporary relocation could inadvertently become permanent.

In Egypt, there is a widespread fear that opening the border to all Palestinians, instead of just sending aid into Gaza, might inadvertently enable Israel to resettle the Gaza Strip. This concern is grounded in historical context, as there have been past suggestions by Israelis for Egypt to allocate part of its territory for a Palestinian state.

There is also a strong sentiment among Egyptian political circles against the displacement of Palestinians into Sinai. This sentiment is not only evident in the political arena but also resonates with religious institutions and the general public. Concurrently, Egypt is facing its own challenges, including scrutiny from international communities over its human rights record, which has influenced decisions regarding foreign aid.

Economic Impact

Egypt is grappling with significant economic challenges and is home to a large, impoverished population. The country is already a host to numerous asylum seekers and refugees. There is a concern that even with international support, the responsibility of temporarily housing Gazan refugees might lead to a prolonged stay, further straining Egypt’s resources. This situation could exacerbate the economic strain and create additional security concerns, particularly if the youth in refugee camps grow frustrated.

The Egyptian government is also dealing with an economy that is close to bankruptcy, necessitating reforms supported by a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund, with ongoing requests for additional support. The economic crisis is highlighted by soaring inflation, which almost reached 40 percent, and increasing borrowing costs, especially after the Israel-Hamas conflict. This has raised concerns about Egypt’s potential financial liability for an influx of refugees, a significant portion of whom are children.

Egypt’s economic crisis is characterized by extreme inflation, currency devaluation, high public debt, and widespread poverty. The Egyptian pound has lost half its value in a year and a half, and the public debt is a staggering 93 percent of the GDP. With external debt at $163 billion and a significant portion of the population living in poverty, the potential costs of resettling refugees are a major concern. While international assistance can aid in this process, there are fears that Egypt will face hidden costs that it cannot manage.

Egypt’s Stance on Taking a Role in Gaza

Egypt has shown reluctance to align with the positions of Israel and the United States regarding the situation in Gaza. Specifically, Egypt has expressed that Israel’s goal to completely remove Hamas from Gaza is not a realistic expectation and has clearly stated that it will not assume a post-war security role in the Strip. In a meeting with CIA Director William Burns, President el-Sisi reportedly emphasized that Egypt would not engage in efforts to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, as the group is deemed necessary for providing local security. Additionally, Egypt, along with other Arab nations, opposes Israel’s proposal to create a buffer security zone inside the Gaza Strip along its border. This stance suggests that Egypt is not inclined to take on a security role in Gaza that would meet Israel’s demands for controlling the area. Engaging in such a role would thrust Egypt back into the forefront of discussions, negotiations, and agreements concerning the future of the Palestine question.

Political Concerns and President Sisi’s Challenges

President Sisi of Egypt faces a complex situation in managing the conflict, especially considering his own unpopularity linked to the country’s economic struggles, and the strong pro-Palestinian sentiment among the Egyptian populace. His unpopularity is partly attributed to the way he has handled the Egyptian economy. Additionally, there is an awareness that some organizations that were involved in the January 2011 uprising, which led to the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, initially formed from pro-Palestinian solidarity groups during the second intifada.

Egypt’s Historical Role and Future Prospects in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Egypt’s role in this context is challenging, balancing between maintaining good relations with the U.S.A. and Israel and rejecting Israel’s approach, which is perceived as being at odds with Palestinian interests. Egypt is likely to navigate the ongoing crisis in Gaza without yielding to Israeli demands for accepting a large number of Palestinian refugees or to the United States’ requests for Egypt to play a significant security role in the post-conflict Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the difficulty of handling public dissatisfaction and support for Palestinians, which is evident in social media and public gatherings, adds to the complexity.

Egypt has historically sought to distance itself from the deep complexities of the Palestinian issue due to the security, political, and economic burdens it entails. Instead, its approach involves undertaking ad hoc roles such as negotiating temporary ceasefires and managing the Rafah crossing, without committing to major initiatives. For the foreseeable future, Egypt is expected to continue this approach, focusing on actions that safeguard the interests of its military regime and its key partners.

Sources:

https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/10/18/egypt-hamas-israel-border-gaza/

https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/will-egypt-play-role-easing-gaza-war

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/20/opinion/international-world/israel-gaza-palestinians-egypt.html

https://arabcenterdc.org/resource/egypt-muddles-through-the-crisis-in-gaza/

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