"If we wish to know the effects of Mohammad Mursi’s election as Egypt's president on the Palestinian situation we should examine numerous issues that are not confined to surveying the conflicting reactions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
There was Palestinian consensus in welcoming Egypt's new step towards democracy. But there were celebrations in Gaza where demonstrations were staged in which tens of thousands took part, guns were fired [in the air in celebration], candy was distributed, and each of [Hamas leaders] Khalid Mish'al and Ismail Haniyeh extended their congratulations to the new president by contacting him directly. In addition, Mahmoud Zahar and other Hamas leaders described Mursi's victory as a historic triumph that will put right the past forty years, and as a defeat for the program to normalize [Egypt's] relations with the Zionist enemy
In contrast, there were no marches or celebrations or celebratory gunfire on the West Bank. In fact, the congratulatory presidential [from PA President Abbas] telegram to Mursi took some time before it was sent.
These different reactions are understandable because the people of Gaza yearn for the day when the blockade on the Strip will be lifted and the Rafah crossing will be opened, which now seems possible. In other words, the question as to who rules over Egypt is one of livelihood for them, and not just an abstract political issue.
After many long days in which the Egyptians and those concerned with what is happening in Egypt were holding their breath, Egypt’s Presidential Electoral Committee announced that Mohammad Mursi had been elected as president. This has been seen a historic turning point. It is, after all, is the first time that the Egyptian people have freely chosen their president who is also the leader of the largest opposition party that represents the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter has yearned to rule for the past 84 years. It took part in the January 25th  Revolution, even if somewhat belatedly. Then it sought to monopolize all powers, and paid a heavy price for that.
Mursi moved from prison, where Husni Mubarak now lies, to the presidency. That is extremely important. But it does not bring the curtain down on the transitional period that Egypt has been passing through since February 11th 2011 [when Mubarak stood down] and till today. Rather, it will mark the beginning of a new transitional period of competition between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) – with the old regime's forces and some liberal parties and figures behind it – and the president – with the Muslim Brotherhood and some revolutionary forces behind him – and with a third current representing the rest of the revolutionary forces.
This latter current does not wish the old regime to be replicated in a new form. Nor does it want to replace it with a religious state or with the hegemony of any one political group. Its aim is to complete the revolution and achieve its aims of moving Egypt from a state of tyranny, submission, and corruption, to a state of renaissance that realizes the Egyptian people's hopes and interests and restores to Egypt its regional and international role which was shrunk [by the Mubarak regime] over the past decades.
What is of interest to us here are the effects of Mursi's victory on the Palestinian cause in general, and on inter-Palestinian reconciliation in particular. But to find out more about this, we must take the following factors and causes into consideration:
- First, Egypt will remain concerned with the Palestinian cause regardless of who happens to rule it. This stems from national reasons, from Egypt's links to Palestine, and for reasons linked to the Egyptian/Israeli relationship in light of the Camp David Peace Accords. It also stems from reasons linked to geography and national security. After all, Egypt is Palestine's big neighbor with various links to the Gaza Strip. It was put in charge of the Strip after the  nakba up till the June 1967 war. What happens in the Strip affects Egypt directly.
- Second, the new Egyptian president is 'fat-free,' as the Egyptians say. This is because most of his powers are in the hands of the SCAF, which means that he is not in a decision-making position as regards national security and foreign policy issues, as well as regarding Palestine and inter-Palestinian reconciliation. But Mursi will influence those decisions, although he will not be the final arbiter. And the extent of his influence will depend on the extent to which he will be able to represent all Egyptians and not just the Muslim Brotherhood, and on his ability to form an alliance between the various revolutionary forces that will allow him to stand his ground and succeed.
- Third, thanks to Husni Mubarak’s heavy legacy at every level, the ongoing competition between the SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the other revolutionary forces, and the security and economic deterioration which the country has suffered since the January 25th revolution, Egypt will be more preoccupied with its domestic concerns than anything else. It is true that it cannot completely disregard the Palestinian cause, the question of reconciliation, and what is happening in Gaza; but it cannot bring its full weight to bear in this direction.
- Fourth, it is impossible to ignore how Israel will behave after the changes in Egypt, whether regarding a peace agreement and the negotiations, or the blockade and aggression on the Gaza Strip. Nor is it possible to disregard the effect of Israel’s behavior on what is happening in Egypt or on Egyptian/Israeli relations or what is happening in and against the Gaza Strip. Israel can choose to maintain its blockade and aggression as a way of testing the new Egyptian leadership and in order to benefit from Egypt's preoccupation with its domestic affairs. It may administer a back-breaking blow to the Hamas authority in the Strip to ensure that it would not become a base which Egypt can use against Israel once it stands on its feet after it its transitional period is over.
Based on the above, it would be wrong to exaggerate the extent to which the transformations occurring in Egypt will influence Palestine in the short-term, because this would represent a failure to read the situation accurately or take the facts on the grounds and the possibility of their development into consideration.
But in the medium and long-term, what is happening in Egypt will have a decisive negative or positive influence on Palestine and elsewhere. That will continue to depend on the revolution's ability to complete its path and achieve its aims which would be to the benefit of the Palestinian cause – a cause that has long suffered during the phase in which Egypt's role was marginalized.
If, however, the revolution is aborted, the Palestinian cause will find itself in a difficult situation. And if Egypt remains in a state somewhere between the revolution's victory and defeat, it will not have a decisive influence on its surroundings.
The one thing certain after Mursi's victory, is that Egypt will not exert pressure – as Husni Mubarak's regime used to do – to resume the so-called 'peace process' and bilateral [Palestinian-Israeli] talks. It will not provide Egyptian and Arab cover for this process. And that in itself is a very important development. Egypt may neither oppose nor support any return to the talks, but it will not exert pressure to resume negotiations based on U.S. and Israeli preconditions. And this means that the Palestinian decision regarding these negotiations will be more autonomous than at any time before.
So, what will the Palestinian leadership choose to do? Will it continue to wait for the success of the efforts aimed at resuming the negotiations? Or will it dare to choose a new strategic path?
Moreover, the main Egyptian centers of power in especially the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood will advise Hamas to pursue its policy of moderation and become part of Palestinian legitimacy by concluding the reconciliation process [with Fateh/the PA]. That would mean that neither Hamas nor what is happening in Gaza would constitute a political, economic, and security burden on Egypt in the current phase.
This is a phase in which Egypt will try – as President Mursi has said – to maintain its treaties and agreements, that is to say, preserve regional stability in order to obtain political and economic aid, especially from the U.S. Such aid is necessary to overcome the dangerous situation it is facing. In fact, only the blind cannot see the U.S. wager on the rise of political Islam in the region, which reached the point of the U.S. administration urging the SCAF to transfer power to the winning president.
The reconciliation's fate depends, first, on the Palestinian leadership's realization that the current phase is not one of resuming negotiations and reaching a solution, but one of putting the Palestinian domestic household in order and working to change the balance of power. That is necessary if the leadership is to force Israel to respect the basic minimum of Palestinian rights.
Second, the reconciliation's fate depends on Hamas and what is happening within it especially in the Gaza Strip. It is possible that those in Hamas who believe that Egypt is no longer hostile– which is true – and that it should therefore harden its stance and improve its negotiating position towards the reconciliation, will win the day. At least they may convince it not to back down from what it has proposed in the past, which would mean that the prospects for reconciliation will retreat.
It is also possible, however, that those who believe that the changes in Egypt should reassure Hamas of the friendship of its Arab neighbor, which means that it can be more flexible at little cost, will prevail. Such flexibility, it might be argued, is especially necessary given that Hamas needs the blockade to be lifted and the people's suffering in the Gaza Strip to be reduced, given that those under Hamas rule have suffered from the blockade, starvation, and from a negative model of government which led to a fall in Hamas' popularity.
Hamas can look forward to the opportunity provided by Mursi’s electoral victory as a means of ensuring the success of its experiment of government in Gaza, after which it can head to elections [in all Palestinian territories]. After all, it fears to lose if it heads to general elections when it is suffering from the blockade, starvation, and the burdens of government in Gaza. It also fears that its members and institutions in the West Bank will pursued [by Israel and the PA], especially since it will be unable to rule or to participate in governing the West Bank unless it accedes to the International Quartet's preconditions. But agreeing to these, and especially the demand to recognize Israel, would be tantamount to political suicide for Hamas. And that should push Hamas not to rush towards reconciliation; alternatively, it could push it to into treating the reconciliation as a tool for managing the split instead of ending it.
Egypt under Mursi cannot agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza to which isolated cantons in the West Bank will (or will not) be appended. Nor can it agree to Gaza being cast into Egypt's lap as an embodiment of Israeli solutions. This is because the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza is in Egypt’s interest. It would act as a buffer against the expansion of those schemes that seek to make Israel the central and dominant state in the region at the expense of the interests of the region's peoples and countries in general, and at Egypt's expense in particular.
"Egypt, after all, is the central and leading state in the region thanks to facts of geography, history, and politics, even though none of these facts has been put into effect over the past three decades," concludes Masri.