In the past, Egypt has cracked down hard on protests calling for an open border with Gaza. But Israel’s killing of nine activists during the Monday raid stoked a new fury across the Muslim world and left Egypt in a difficult position. A partial opening at Rafah was what the regime had to do to keep the ire from overflowing, said many Egyptians.
“The Egyptian people are extremely angry about what Israel did,” said Reda Khalil, an engineer. “All of us are upset, and there was no other choice for Egypt but to open the crossing to support our Palestinian brothers.”
He voiced hope that Egypt would leave the border open. “There will be problems if they try to close the border after a few days,” he says.
Complicating Egypt's stance towards Gaza is the fact that it's ruled by Hamas, an Islamist movement closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is Egypt's strongest opposition movement. After Hamas swept to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections, the Mubarak regime feared a successful Muslim Brotherhood-style government on its doorstep as an example its own citizens might want to follow, so Gaza's economic isolation also served its own interests.
Not surprisingly, a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure here says the border should stay open. “It is a good escape but it is not enough,” says Essam El Erian, a member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau. “I hope that it is the first step in the way of the continuous opening of the border for goods and persons. I think the Egyptian authorities are now under pressure, and if they really want to change the policy it will happen in the next few weeks.”