Once friendly toward Gaza’s ruling regime, Egypt has become wary of Hamas militants in the tumultuous year since the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood-led administration of President Mohammed Morsi.
Amira Seif El-Din, a 45-year-old housewife, said she is fed up with militants harming ordinary people to gain traction politically or spread dangerous ideologies that don’t represent Islam.
“Everybody in this region has paid [a] high price because of the spread of terrorism and extremism,” she said. “The problem is very deep.”
Samir Ghattas, director of the Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies, an Egyptian think tank, said that perspective is common in Egypt. Although the vast majority of Egyptians dislike Israel and sympathize with the Palestinians, they think Hamas is provoking the violence.
Hamas last week began firing rockets from Gaza into Israel, prompting an Israeli retaliation of airstrikes. Israel cracked down on the Palestinian group after the discovery of three Israeli teens who had been killed in the West Bank.
More than 200 Palestinians and one Israeli have died in the fighting, according to Palestinian and Israeli health officials. About 1,500 Palestinians and several Israelis have been wounded.
As the conflict has escalated, condemnations of Hamas and calls to boost humanitarian aid for Palestinians have mounted.
Egyptians’ attitudes toward Hamas are likely to worsen in the wake of the militant group’s rejection of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s cease-fire plan Tuesday.
Israel accepted the proposal, but Hamas said the plan failed to achieve its objectives of lifting Egypt and Israel’s blockade of Gaza and gaining the release of prisoners in Israel. Fighting resumed after a brief lull while the two sides mulled over the plan.
Hamas‘ rejection of Mr. el-Sissi’s cease-fire could stem from the deteriorated relations between the group and the Egyptian government after Mr. Morsi’s ouster, said Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London.
Hamas is the Palestinian faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, the multinational organization that vaulted Mr. Morsi to power during the Arab Spring. After Mr. el-Sissi deposed Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s government labeled the Brotherhood as a terrorist group and banned it.
“The fault line of whether Egyptians are pro-Hamas or not will follow the fault line of whether Egyptians supported the deposing of Morsi or not,” he said. “We don’t know how split they are. We haven’t had a genuine election in Egypt.”
For decades, Washington has relied on Egypt — the Arab world’s most populous country, with more than 80 million residents — as a stabilizing force in the Middle East, providing Cairo with millions of dollars in military and other aid as it maintained its peace treaty with Israel.
In addition, Egypt’s regional influence has diminished since the Arab Spring amid its political upheaval, social unrest and economic crash.
“I don’t think Sissi has the clout the way Morsi did when he brokered the last cease-fire,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said last week. “He just doesn’t have the clout with Hamas that Morsi did.”
Nonetheless, Hamas has found ways to alienate Egyptians.
Breaking Egypt’s blockade, Hamas has transported people and goods via tunnels under the closed border between Egypt and Gaza, said Akram Alfy, deputy director of the new Cairo-based think tank Ahwal Masrya Center for Political Studies.
“The public considers Hamas now as any other radical group,” he said.
Hamas‘ reluctance to reconcile with the Palestinian political party Fatah, which controls the West Bank, also has undermined support for the militant group, Mr. Alfy said.
Last month, Hamas and Fatah formed a unity government, but it doesn’t include Hamas members. A true unity government would bring the two territories together under the Palestinian Authority and likely would improve the chances of peace, Mr. Alfy said, adding that the so-called coalition grants Hamas legitimacy without responsibilities.
“Hamas has proved to the Arab public opinion over the last decade that it only cares about its interests, everything it does indicates that it has no interest to either have reconciliation with the other Palestinian factions in West Bank or peace with Israel,” he said.
“There is a strand within Egyptian nationalism which can be quite demeaning toward the Palestinians,” he said.
•Guy Taylor in Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.
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