Hezbollah vs Egypt or Mubarak’s last attempt to stay in the game

On the 8th April 2009, Egypt’s prosecutor announced the disassembly of a Hezbollah network in Egypt, accusing Hassan Nasrallah to have sent few members of the Lebanese party to Cairo to recruite Egyptians nationals, in order to prepare attacks and to destabilise the Egyptian regime. Forty nine suspects were arrested; they are also accused of spying, Shia proselytise, official documents falsification and fabrication of explosive device according to judiciary sources[1].

The Hezbollah Egypt affair has now reached an international scope with the visit of the Middle East special emissary of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Terje Roed Larsen. This latter has come to Cairo to meet the President Mubarak on the express demand of Ban Ki Moon. Egypt, on its side, has refused any mediation from the Arab League, as suggested by Amr Moussa the Secretary General, to settle the problem with Hezbollah[2]. We will firstly come back on the facts, the arrests by Egyptian Security forces of presumably a Hezbollah network, and we’ll analyse the political factors underlying the crisis between Egypt and the Lebanese Party.

The 19th November 2008, Egyptian authorities arrested a Lebanese citizen and a few Egyptian nationals. They were accused of having transferred weapons and facilities through the Egyptian borders to Palestine[3]. Certain Medias at the time mentioned Hezbollah membership of the Lebanese man arrested, but no serious reactions from the Egyptian regime were made. Few weeks later, Israel launched a war against Gaza. Hezbollah, by the voice of Hassan Nasrallah, demanded the opening of the Rafah passage to remove the Gaza siege and to help the Hamas movement in its resistance against Israel[4]. The Egyptian government refused to open it, and Hezbollah denounced the closure of the Rafah passage point, seconded in that by the Arab population in its vast majority. Egyptian official press started a campaign against Hezbollah to undermine its popularity in Egypt and in the region. Indeed, President Moubarak was criticised by numerous actors, such as Iran and Syria or opposition groups inside the country, for his refusal to open the Rafah passage point and because of its role in the conflict, considered in favour of Israel. After the war against Gaza, a certain “détente” in the regions lasted few months until the 8th April 2009.

What started as an anonymous arrest of a Lebanese citizen affiliated to Hezbollah and other Egyptians transferring weapons to the Hamas Movement through the Egyptian borders in November 2008 became on the 8th April 2009 an International affair. The Cairo regime is currently accusing Hezbollah of having created a network actively working against the regime notably by controlling ships crossing the Suez Canal, tourist installation in the Sinai and supervising villages close to the Egyptian Palestinian border[5]. The charges against the Lebanese movement evolved from acts to help the Palestinian Resistance to actions aiming at Egypt stability. Hassan Nasrallah on his side confirmed the affiliation to Hezbollah of the Lebanese prisoner, but the Secretary General of Hezbollah denied any attempt to destabilise or commit any acts against the Egyptian regime[6]. What are the reasons of such an evolution and of Egypt’s accusations against Hezbollah? We can analyse Moubarak’s regime objectives through this reaction on different levels: national, regional and international.

Firstly, on a national level, the gap between the population and the regime is more and more important. The regime’s legitimacy has been weakened through the years because of its foreign policy, peace with Israel, and of its socio economic policy, less social and more lefts out in the Egyptian population[7]. Egyptians, in their vast majority, during the war against Gaza supported the Palestinian Resistance Hamas, whereas the regime adopted a neutral stance towards Israel. The closure of the Rafah passage was also not a popular decision and many criticized the government. More recently on the 6th April 2009, exactly two days before the beginning of the prosecution against Hezbollah, large movements of strikes in Egyptian cities were organised. These hunger riots, as Joel Beinin called it in the Monde Diplomatique in May 2008, were severely suppressed. They followed numerous workers and peasant strikes, also repressed, from 2007[8]. Moubarak’s regime is as we can see facing important socio political opposition and is in a difficult position, as put it by Amr Al-Shobaki, fellow researcher in the Political and Strategic Research Centres of Al –Ahram, who declared in relation to the Hezbollah Egyptian affair: “such an exaggerated reaction can only be understood by the framework of a fragile regime, which reacts in a similar way to a simple demonstration in the regime”[9]. The official press and political groups recognized by the government have taken the same political position against the Lebanese movement than the government, even the leftist party Tagamou. The opposition political group Brotherhood of Islam and other independent personalities, such as the director of the Jafa Center Dr Rifaat Sayed Ahmad and the ex Vice Minister of Egyptian Foreign Affairs D. Abdel Ashaal, on the opposite defended Hezbollah and condemned Egypt attacks on the Lebanese movement[10]. According to the General Guide of the Brotherhood of Islam, Mohammas Mahdi Akef, this campaign leaded against the Resistance was made to accommodate the Zionist and Americans[11]. Hezbollah affair was therefore a way for the regime to reassert its authority on the population and political groups in times of harsh socio and political opposition.

On a regional level, Egypt is pursuing different political objectives through this crisis. Firstly, the lawyer Mountasser Al Zayat, who is defending the Hezbollah network in the case, accused the Egyptian authorities of having created this scandal to weaken the Lebanese movement for the next Lebanese elections of the 7th of June. Egypt links and support to the political adversary of Hezbollah, the Future Movement of Saad Hariri, is very well known and would have therefore made up this story to favour its ally in Lebanon[12]. Iran also declared Egypt’s will to affect the forthcoming legislative elections in Lebanon through this scandal[13]. On the Lebanese political scene, the Hezbollah’s affair have had some consequences in the eyes of the political groups, called the opposition or the 8th of March, opposed to the government lead by Fouad Siniora and backed by the 14th of March coalition. In the opinion of the Lebanese opposition, this is about an Israeli plan executed by Egypt aiming at destroying Hezbollah’s image and isolate it on the Arab scene, using the supposedly clash between Shias and Sunnis[14]. They also add that this new episode is a way to enforce the UN resolution 1559 to remove Hezbollah weapons and to try to break this “spirit of resistance”, which spread to the Gaza strip and even elsewhere[15]. The regime is also trying to harm Hezbollah icon as an ardent advocate of the Palestinian and weaken Hezbollah popularity in the Egyptian streets

Mubarak’s regime is secondly trying to recover its weight on the regional scene. The beginning of the reconciliation between Syria and Saudi Arabia and the openings towards Iran after the war in Gaza weakened Egypt political role. Besides, Moubarak tried to obtain an Arab free hand to deal with the Palestinian inter-crisis and to supervise the negotiations between Palestinians and Israel in relation to Gaza and the liberation of prisoners[16]. These attempts failed and despite Cairo boycott of the Doha summit, the Conference took place with some political progress compared to last Arab summits.This campaign against Hezbollah is therefore also aiming at Syria and Iran. The current Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit moreover blamed Iran to use Hezbollah to get a foothold in Egypt, as they did in Lebanon[17], and he also accused Hezbollah and Iran of wanting to turn Egypt into one of their satellite.

Egypt on the international level was also submitted to criticism from Israel and the United States of America for its incapacity to control weapons smuggling through the Rafah passage. Moubarak’s regime was moreover excluded from the agreement concluded by Tel Aviv and Washington for the supervision of the passage. The first visit of the new American President in the region consisted of Turkey, which broke out the usual detour of Obama predecessors to Cairo or Charm el Cheikh. Egypt officials were highly annoyed[18]. This resulted in the launch of the Campaign against Hezbollah in the objective to please US officials and because Egypt was frightened to be marginalised by the America. This is why this affair has been disclosed now in April, after Obama’s visit to Turkey and the failure of the inter-Palestinian dialogue, to restore Egypt image in the eyes of the United States administration and not in November when Hezbollah network was discovered and arrested. Finally we can also notice Egypt will in this affair to slow down or even stop the openings towards Hezbollah from the International Community started few months ago, notably England who manifested his wish to dialogue with the Lebanese movement[19].

In Conclusion, we have seen in this text the foundations of the crisis between Egypt and Hezbollah, and beyond all Egypt’s objectives through it. Firstly, Moubarak’s regime wishes to undermine any kind of protestation or opposition and even any deviation from official discourses, political or social. Hezbollah will to help and transfer weapons to Palestinians through the Egypt-Palestinian borders is considered as a direct provocation to the Egyptian State. The lack of legitimacy of the Egyptian government explains lastly the aggressive reaction towards a popular political group Hezbollah. Secondly, on the regional scene, Egypt clearly wants to restore its role of influential actor in the Middle East. This is done by weakening the growing influence of Hezbollah two allies Syria and Iran in attacking politically the Lebanese movement. This allows Egypt to directly act in favour of its allies also struggling against Teheran or Damascus, notably the Future Movement and the 14th of March movement in the forthcoming Lebanese legislative elections. Egypt also wants to remain a key ally of the American in the region by acting against Hezbollah, still considered as terrorist group by the US administration.

Finally Egypt attacks on Hezbollah are the sign of a fragile regime lacking of legitimacy. Moubarak’s regime has not yet taken into account the new dynamics happening on the International Political arena or is blindly refusing them, which could have harsh consequences for Egypt.


[1] Orient le Jour 10 avril 2009

[2] Orient le Jour, 28 avril 2009

[3] Shark al Awsat, 10 avril 2009 ; Al Manar, Nasrallah dément catégoriquement toutes les accusations égyptiennes, 15 avril 2009

[4] Al Manar, Nasrallah dément catégoriquement toutes les accusations égyptiennes, 15 avril 2009

[5]Al Manar, L’auteur égyptien Howaydi soupçonne l’affaire des 49 accusés d’être inventée, 20th April 2009

[6] Orient le Jour, 11th April 2009

[7] check article on Cafe Thawra : Egyptian Youth on the Rise, for more information

[8]Le Monde Diplomatique Gresh A., Le gouvernement égyptien contre le Hezbollah, 17th April 2009

[9] http://hebdo.ahram.org.eg/

[10] Al-Manar, Leila Mazboudi L’opposition égyptienne riposte à la campagne de haine menée contre le Hezbollah, 14th April 2009

[11] Al-Manar, Leila Mazboudi L’opposition égyptienne riposte à la campagne de haine menée contre le Hezbollah, 14th April 2009

[12] Orient le Jour, 17th April 2009

[13] Orient le Jour, 16th April 2009

[14] Orient le Jour, 17th April 2009

[15] Orient le Jour, 16th April 2009

[16] Orient le Jour, 15th April 2009

[17] Orient le Jour, 15th April 2009

[18] Orient le Jour, 15th April 2009

[19] Lebanon’s Hezbollah savours’ increasing legitimacy ; Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, 13th April 2009

3 Responses to “Hezbollah vs Egypt or Mubarak’s last attempt to stay in the game”
  1. Anonymous says:

    It is obvious where your loyalty lies, judging from the picture at the top of your blog. Which is why it is no surprise when you say: “Finally Egypt attacks on Hezbollah are the sign of a fragile regime lacking of legitimacy.” I mean give me a break here. So Egypt is supposed to let a foreign group conduct activities on its soil and not do anything about it? I’m glad the world is finally seeing what the terrorist Hezbollah is really about, although that came to light one year ago on May 8, 2008, when Hezbollah invaded Beirut and showed us the terrorist insects that they really are. Long live Lebanon and Egypt away from the advocates of backwardness.

  2. Joe says:

    Firtsly, thank you for your interest of the article and your comments. Secondly, judging where my loyalty lies based on a picture is quite reductive and is taking a short cut in a debate. My loyalty does not lie in Hezbollah or any current political organisation in the Middle East, but leen towards truth, honesty and integrity. All our articles are based on scientific research and sources you can trace. But using words as terrorist insects to designate somoeone else could be taken as judgemental or taking sides, far from any academical or scientifical analysis. Concerning Hezbollah/Egypt affair, we acknowledge that Hezbollah activities on Egyptian territory are unlawful, as we underligned in the article. By the way even, Hassan Nasrallah recognized Hezbollah activities in Egypt of transfering weapons to the Palestinian Resistance in Gaza. But the issue is that Egypt accused Hezbollah of wanting to conduct terrorist attacks on Moubarak’s regime and this is what we questionned in the article. Moubarak biggest concern was not Hezbollah smuggling weapons on the Egyptian territory but the potential threat that posed Hezbollah credibility to himself, otherwise why such a silence from November( when the arrest took place) to April, after the war on Gaza. The attacks on Hezbollah are stricly political and denying Moubarak lack’s of legitimacy: this is the real error.Finally, calling us the advocates of backwardness, for conducting scientifical analysis or trying to reach out to the truth far from media or gouvernement propanganda,if this is it so yes we accept it.Long live for the people of Egypt, Lebanon and of the region, political colours aside

  3. i-Freeman says:

    I support your opinionActually we cannot have respect for the egyptian political system of Hosni Mubarak, since he refuses leaving the presedency to someone else, he has been the president of Egypt since 28 years! This is really democtracy !!!

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