Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. Younger men will need an entry visa to get into Egypt, but all others will be able to cross freely. The Egyptian foreign minister explicitly stated that the opening would “ease the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.” Hundreds of Palestinians massed at the border this morning as the crossings began.
It’s a big moment, not only because it ends the blockade on the Palestinian people. It’s a big moment for Egypt as well. This is a country just 3-4 months from revolution, and it’s their second major foreign policy decision. They brokered the deal between Fatah and Hamas, and now they’ve opened the border crossing.
Even though the transitional military government remains in charge, I think what we see out of these policy decisions is something vanishingly rare in the Arab world, a direct outcome of the uprising: a country responsive to the needs and desires of its people. They may not have moved fast enough – tens of thousands poured back into Tahrir Square yesterday seeking more democratic reforms at a more rapid rate – but the difference between the transitional government and the regime of Hosni Mubarak is stark. And when a directly elected government comes into power, that responsiveness will grow.
Responsiveness occurs when a government respects and, yes, fears its people. When the ruling class understands that the masses will join together to oust them if they stray from the stated path. And that’s where we’re at, in the embryonic stages, in Cairo. Whether you believe in Israel’s alliance with the Mubarak regime or not, the Egyptian people didn’t seem to welcome the crippling blockade on the people of Gaza. So they did their part to end it. They wanted to see the crimes of the Mubarak regime remembered and settled. So Mubarak and his top aides and family members sit in jail cells awaiting trial. Just yesterday, the country fined Mubarak $34 million for cutting off the Internet during protests. He’s under indictment for murder, along with his sons. Protesters who were detained under the old regime have been released.
The reforms are going to move slowly and not in a linear fashion. Egypt’s economy is a mess and the crime rate is rising. But as long as the people have that implicit threat, the ability to recreate Tahrir, things will move in a better direction. I think it’s great news that one of the major complaints from the peaceful protesters in the square yesterday was that the ruling military council didn’t get input from the public before enacting a series of laws around political activity. May the future battles be around transparency and not indiscriminate murder in the streets.
And with this move, Egypt has placed itself as a regional leader in the Middle East, which will have implications on other countries in the area.