Middle East

Egypt crisis: Mubarak issue divides Palestinians

Hamas protest in Gaza, 3 Feb
Image caption The Islamist movement Hamas organised anti-Mubarak demonstrations in Gaza...

Palestinians, like most people in the Middle East, are watching events in Egypt closely.

For decades, President Hosni Mubarak has been a key player in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Egypt has also been a mediator in the bitter and sometimes violent dispute between the two main Palestinian parties, Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank.

But the Palestinian attitude to the Egyptian uprising is complex.

When it comes to Egypt, you do not have to look much further than the Palestinians to see that it is not a good idea to generalise about Arab opinion.

'Half-hearted'

Since the dramatic events unfolded, there have been at least four separate demonstrations in the Palestinian territories, all saying different things.

On Wednesday, on the West Bank, where the secular Fatah party is in control, one group of protesters gathered in support of President Mubarak.

Image caption ... in the West Bank, there were both pro- and anti-Mubarak feelings

They like him because he backs Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

A few hours later a different group rallied, actually in the same tiny Ramallah square. This time they were pro-democracy activists who wanted Mr Mubarak out.

They were beaten and dispersed by President Abbas's security forces.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, the Islamist movement Hamas organised anti-Mubarak demonstrations.

Hamas does not like him. Firstly because he likes Hamas's rival President Abbas, and secondly because for more than three years, along with Israel, Egypt has been blockading the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian opposition party, the Muslim Brotherhood.

And finally, also in Gaza, a group of young people inspired by events in Egypt tried to rally against Hamas, accusing it too of suppressing freedom.

All of this is a pretty good indicator of just how fractured Palestinian politics is.

But the fact is that these demonstrations have so far been small and somewhat half-hearted.

Palestinians suffer many of the frustrations voiced in Egypt: poverty, high unemployment, lack of opportunity and corruption.

But they overwhelmingly blame Israel and the occupation for their plight.