“The Egyptians have always been able to muddle through these crises,” says Steven Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But this is a critical moment and the political pressure is building.”
Biden’s visit comes amid the fallout from Israel’s fatal raid on the 'Freedom Flotilla' that tried last week to break the three-year-old blockade on Gaza. The raid, during which nine activists were killed, provoked outrage in the Muslim world. It has also prompted the US to reconsider the tenability of Israel’s policy of keeping Gaza closed to all but a trickle of humanitarian aid – a policy Egypt has largely supported, to the chagrin of many of its citizens.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians protested Israel’s raid on the flotilla Friday, reportedly chanting slogans in support of Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group.
Egypt has helped Israel keep Gaza’s borders largely closed since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007 in an effort to weaken the Islamist group. In an effort to relieve some of the pressure, Mr. Mubarak ordered the border at Rafah opened indefinitely on Tuesday, and thousands of Palestinians have since crossed into Egypt.