The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters has banned all activities in Egypt by Hamas and ordered the closure of its offices in Cairo pending a court verdict in an espionage case involving ousted president Mohamed Morsi and members of the Islamist Palestinian group.
Several Hamas officials promptly condemned the ruling. “The decision harms the image of Egypt and its role towards the Palestinian cause. It reflects a form of standing against Palestinian resistance,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Hamas told Reuters.
Hamas — the Palestinian Islamist Resistance Movement — is an ideological offshoot of the now-banned Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It was founded in 1987 at the height of the first Palestinian intifada against Israel.
The relationship between the group, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2006, and the Egyptian authorities has soured since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
Egyptian officials have accused Hamas of providing support to Islamic militants who have increased their fatal attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula since Morsi’s ouster. Hamas has repeatedly denied any such involvement.
Egyptian authorities have also accused several Hamas members of undermining national security by involvement in a series of jailbreaks at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution in January 2011.
Authorities have also charged former president Morsi of espionage with Hamas officials.
Thirty-six Muslim Brotherhood members, including ousted President Mohamed Morsi, are currently being prosecuted for charges of espionage. The prosecution accuses the Brotherhood members of collaborating with Gaza rulers Hamas, Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah and other organisations “inside and outside” Egypt to smuggle arms, organise military training for group members in the Gaza Strip, and funding a scheme to stir chaos and threaten national security in Egypt.
Hamas has also denied any involvement in prison breaks or illegal cooperation with the ousted Islamist leader.
Shortly after the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group in December 2013, an Egyptian lawyer, Samir Sabry, filed a legal complaint with the court asking it to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation.
“Hamas is a national Palestinian liberation movement that targets the Zionist enemy. Hamas has a firm stance of not interfering in the affairs of Arab states,” the Gaza-based movement had said in a statement on Sunday.
“Designating Hamas a terrorist group is a Zionist label in the face of valiant resistance… and yielding to such a characterisation allies [Egypt] with the occupation and supports it,” the statement added.
Tensions between Hamas and the Egyptian authorities have also been exacerbated by Egypt’s campaign to destroy tunnels providing vital gas and food supplies to 1.7 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli siege since 2007, as well as frequent closures of the Rafah crossing into the strip.
Egypt says it has destroyed near 1,300 tunnels on its borders with Gaza since January 2011.
Last week, Hamas organised a sizeable rally on the Palestinian side of the crossing to demand Egypt opens the vital access point on a permanent basis.
The Islamist group maintains a hostile attitude towards Fatah, the main faction in the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which controls the occupied West Bank.