On Wednesday, an Egyptian court convicted 26 men of spying for Hezbollah and plotting attacks on Egyptian soil on behalf of the Lebanese militant group.
The men, including Lebanese, Egyptians, Palestinians, and one Sudanese, received sentences ranging from six months to life in prison.
Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has strongly criticized the Egyptian courts for jailing the men accused of working for his organization. He said the judgment by the Security Court in Cairo was "unjust and politicized."
Amnesty International on Thursday called for a retrial of 26 defendants, criticizing the use of an emergency court.
"These men should be retried by an ordinary court which gives them a chance of getting a fair trial," said the London-based rights watchdog.
Hezbollah’s differences with Egypt hit a pinnacle during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Egypt’s decision to keep the Rafah exits from Gaza sealed infuriated Nasrallah, who, on December 28, 2008, called for the Egyptian people to help the besieged Gazans and called on the Egyptian government to open the Rafah border crossing.
“Oh Egyptian official, unless you open the Rafah border crossing, unless you help your brethren in Gaza, you will be accomplices to the crime, accomplices to the killing, accomplices to the siege, and accomplices in generating the Palestinian catastrophe,” he said in a televised speech.
His statements at the time were interpreted by the Egyptian government and state-controlled media as meddling with Egyptian affairs and a call for a military mutiny and overthrow of the regime in Egypt.
But now Egypt has another issue to account for; on Thursday the Islamic Resistance Movement in Gaza, Hamas, accused Egyptian security forces of killing four Palestinians by pumping poisonous gas into a cross-border smuggling tunnel, a claim Cairo denied.
"Hamas holds the Egyptian side responsible for the killing of four innocent workers after Egyptian security forces pumped poisonous gas into one of the tunnels," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters in Gaza.
Egyptian security officials said, however, that their forces had destroyed four smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border but were not aware of any casualties.
Many analysts in the region believe that the Egyptian government is afraid that having a successful Islamic regime such as Hamas on their doorstep would strengthen their own Muslim Brotherhood, which poses a serious political threat to the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Some Arab media commentators have upped the ante by accusing Mubarak of declaring a war on Muslim organizations. But the Egyptian government and its media have been pointing the finger towards Iran and describing Hezbollah and Hamas as proxies to Tehran.
Egypt, which for many years took the lead in championing Arab causes in Palestine, Algeria, and Yemen, has been replaced by non-Arab countries like Iran and Turkey. For the past several years, the popularity of the ruling regime has been on a steady decline both in Egypt and in the region. Being popular with the people, however, has long ceased being a priority for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: the popularity battle was lost a long time ago to the likes of Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Recep Tayeb Erdogan.
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