Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Anger over Egypt's Gaza policy still playing out on streets of Beirut

Daily Star Lebanon

By Mariam Saab
Special to The Daily Star
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BEIRUT: Critics of Egypt's stance on Israel's offensive in Gaza rallied near the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut on Tuesday to burn a huge Israeli flag. Egypt has been heavily criticized over its refusal to open its Rafah crossing with Gaza and resistance to holding an Arab League summit on the crisis.

"Egypt should open its borders and free those trapped and suffocating in Gaza. It's a sad day when an Arab nation is complicit with Israeli aggression. They are witnessing genocide at their doorstep, and they won't open the door" said Dahila, 23, a student.

The border area sits above a network of tunnels which has allowed Palestinians in to access weapons and commercial goods, thereby partly circumventing an Israeli-led blockade begun in 2006 and tightened since 2007. Israel asserts that the border has been used specifically by Hamas to hoard arms.

"The crossing has two gateways: one in Egypt and the other is under Israeli control. As such Israel must agree to open the crossing in cooperation with Egypt ... The crossing has been opened to receive the sick and injured," the Egyptian Embassy said in a statement sent to The Daily Star. "Every country has the right to secure and manage its borders in the manner it deems necessary to preserve its national security."

"Egypt is in an unenviable situation. It cannot guarantee that the border will not be used to traffic arms. A lot of the criticism Egypt is facing here in Lebanon comes from the opposition in Lebanon, it's all about score settling with Egypt," said Osama Safa, head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.

Due to it's geographic proximity and relations with both Hamas and Israel, Egypt has come under international scrutiny as the main regional broker in any ceasefire arrangement.

"These protests are a cheap attack against Egypt. They have not left any diplomatic stone unturned," Safa argued. "Whey would they be complicit with Israel? How could a Hamas delegation visit a country that is trying to kill them?", he asked, in reference to talks between Hamas representatives and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on Tuesday.

But Fadia Kiwan, a professor of political science at Universite Saint Joseph, says Cairo's reluctance to join a summit is a mark of its bid to avoid any collective criticism.

"Egypt is embarrassed because the situation is becoming more complicated. I don't know to which extent Egypt can stay away from the pressure of our government and other governments asking for a summit" said Kiwan. "They don't want to be confronted by the responsibility to open the Rafah gate."

"The Lebanese government, by the same token, will never allow people to disrespect the Egyptian Embassy," she added. "They let people demonstrate, but they would never allow people to confront or attack the embassy. The government is close to the Egyptian attitude. We have a similar regime."

"The public is as divided on Egypt as it is on everything. I believe that any feelings of resentment toward Egypt [among the Lebanese public] will wither away as soon as the crisis does," Safa predicted.

In the third week of Israel's deadly assault on Gaza, demonstrations have continued throughout Beirut.

Protesters also rallied outside of the European Commission building on Tuesday angered over the rising death toll in the impoverished, now well over 900.

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