What Is Egypt’s Gaza Policy?

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.

The highlights this week: President Macky Sall plays for time amid Senegal election chaos, Nigeria cracks down on bitcoin while Ethiopia embraces it, and ECOWAS lifts sanctions on Niger.

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Will Egypt Accept Rafah Refugees?

Satellite imagery shows that Egypt has built a walled enclosure and cleared more than 6 square miles of land in its North Sinai province, following Israel’s announcement of a planned ground offensive into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said an invasion of Rafah, which shelters about 1.4 million Palestinians, was necessary to root out Hamas fighters based there. Netanyahu said Sunday that a full-scale offensive into Rafah would proceed regardless of the outcome of cease-fire talks.

The latest satellite imagery, released by Maxar Technologies, appears to show ongoing construction along Egypt’s border with Gaza. Another report by the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights suggests an enclosure with 23-foot-high cement walls—starting from the village of Goz Abu Waad, south of Rafah, and heading north up to the Mediterranean coast—has been erected along the Rafah border. The Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed Egyptian officials, estimated the gated area alone could house more than 100,000 people.

Egypt has consistently said opening its border, the only exit for Palestinian refugees that is not controlled by Israel, was a red line. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry denied media reports that the walled enclosure was to house Palestinian refugees.

“We have constantly been dealing with maintenance on our border, so I think it is jumping to conclusions to what those activities constitute,” Shoukry said this month. Despite its very public opposition, Egypt appears to be safeguarding itself against the consequences of a possible escalation of Israel’s ground offensive into Rafah. Egyptian officials know that this would inevitably force hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across the border into Sinai.

“It is not our intention to provide any safe areas or facilities, but necessarily, if this was the situation, we would deal with the humanity that is necessary and we would provide the support to the innocent civilians if that was to take place,” Shoukry added. “This should not be construed as acceptance for an eventuality of this nature.”

Camp David at risk? In recent weeks, unnamed Egyptian diplomats have been quoted saying Egypt could revoke its 1979 peace treaty with Israel over an Israeli expansion into Rafah.

Two Western diplomats and an Israeli official told the New York Times that Egypt had warned it would suspend the treaty if Israel forced Gaza residents into Sinai.

Michael Wahid Hanna, the U.S. program director at the International Crisis Group, told Foreign Policy that it was “almost impossible” to imagine Cairo pulling out of the treaty itself, given that Egypt benefits significantly from it. The agreement has ushered extensive aid from Washington to Cairo and intelligence sharing on fighting terrorism in Sinai. Israeli gas exports to Egypt increased by about 25 percent last year. Shoukry reaffirmed Cairo’s commitment to upholding the treaty.

“Egypt is not in a position to take those kinds of risks,” Hanna said. “There is a reason that Egypt entered into a peace treaty to begin with. The conflict with Israel was ruinous for Egypt,” he added, referring to repeated wars before the Camp David Accords were signed.

Hanna suggests that Egypt could take lesser steps, such as recalling its ambassador to Israel or downgrading its security ties.

Hamas-Brotherhood ties. It’s clear that Egyptian officials are concerned about policing insecurity at home if escaped Hamas fighters launch attacks against Israel from Egyptian soil. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said last October that the country “would become a base for attacks on Israel. Israel would have the right to defend itself … and would strike Egyptian territory.”

Hamas was founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt fought for years to eradicate. Cairo had forcibly evicted its own residents and demolished thousands of houses in the Sinai Peninsula in order to fight local affiliates of the Islamic State. Egypt also destroyed Hamas tunnels over concerns about weapons flow into Gaza.

Egypt fears an exodus of Palestinian refugees into northern Sinai, at a time when it has sought a $5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout. A fourth devaluation of the Egyptian pound is expected soon. The pound has been devalued by more than 70 percent since 2022 to an official bank rate of 30.9 to the U.S. dollar. Cairo worries that Israel might never let the Palestinians return, since previous Palestinian displacements into Arab states have been permanent.

A leaked Israeli Intelligence Ministry “concept paper” proposed moving the Gaza population into tent cities in Sinai and creating a “security zone” to prevent Palestinians from returning. Egypt already hosts around 9 million refugees from Africa and the Middle East.


Monday, Feb. 26, to Friday, March 1: The United Nations Environment Assembly meets in Nairobi.

Monday, Feb. 26, to Thursday, March 7: An 11-day U.S.-led military training exercise involving soldiers from Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania begins in Kenya as part of Justified Accord, U.S. Africa Command’s largest exercise in East Africa.

Thursday, Feb. 29: Kenya and Zambia release inflation data for February.

Friday, March 1, to Sunday, March 3: The Russia-Tanzania Conference is held by the Russian Academy of Sciences in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Saturday, March 2, to Sunday, March 3: Nigerian President Bola Tinubu visits Qatar.


New U.S. Sudan envoy. Former Rep. Tom Perriello was named on Monday as the new U.S. special envoy to Sudan. Perriello previously served as the special envoy for the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His appointment comes as a new U.N. report accused both of Sudan’s warring generals of carrying out atrocities. More than 8 million people have fled the fighting.

Senegal elections. Senegalese President Macky Sall’s comments at an election dialogue that he proposed appeared to indicate that he was still playing for time in naming an election date. Although Sall said he would abide by the Constitutional Council’s ruling that he must step down by April 2, when his mandate ends, he suggested an election date could be set afterward. “My desire and my dearest wish is to hold the presidential election as soon as possible and to do so before the coming winter [rainy season] and in peace,” he said.

“If we reach a consensus, I will set the date for the election,” Sall added. “Otherwise, I will ask the Constitutional Council to find me a replacement on April 2.”

Many members of Senegal’s opposition (16 of the 19 presidential candidates) refused to take part in the two-day talks that began Monday. Most opposition candidates had expected Sall to set a date in March for the Feb. 25 poll he postponed this month. Fifteen of Senegal’s 19 presidential candidates had called for an election date no later than April 2. Instead, Sall proposed an amnesty bill for those jailed during political demonstrations between 2021 and 2024. Those who attended the talks put forward a date of June 2 according to the Dakar-based platform Seneweb.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and his chosen presidential candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye remain in prison.

Tunisia’s one-man rule. A court in Tunisia on Friday sentenced former President Moncef Marzouki to eight years in prison in absentia for statements he made that the court said amounted to an attempt to “overthrow the government.”

Marzouki, who lives in France, was Tunisia’s first democratically elected head of state after the country’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution. He has routinely called on Paris to withdraw support from Tunisian President Kais Saied over democratic backsliding and called Saied a dictator who needs to be overthrown. Marzouki is now among more than 20 political opponents who have been charged or jailed since Saied began consolidating power in 2021 by sacking the parliament and rewriting the country’s constitution.

Opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi and his son-in-law Rafik Abdessalem, a former foreign minister, were sentenced to three years in prison this month over accusations that their Ennahda Party had received foreign contributions. Ennahda is one of Tunisia’s largest parties and has denied receiving foreign funding, saying it has only one bank account that’s regulated by judicial and financial institutions.

ECOWAS lifts Niger sanctions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced on Saturday that it would immediately lift almost all sanctions imposed on Niger since a military coup in July 2023. Border closures and the freezing of 70 percent of Niger’s electricity supplied by Nigeria are to be suspended, despite ousted President Mohamed Bazoum remaining under house arrest.

As predicted by Foreign Policy, the ECOWAS threat of an invading force led by Nigeria to restore democracy never materialized. Financial and economic sanctions against Guinea and restrictions on the recruitment of Malians to professional positions within the bloc’s institutions were also lifted. In January, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali—all led by military regimes—announced that they would be leaving the bloc, having formed their own union called the Alliance of Sahel States. ECOWAS said it would invite all four junta nations for security talks.

The easing of restrictions will be seen as a form of appeasement to forestall a formal exit of the three nations, which risked $150 billion a year in trade. Most African leaders within the bloc and their populations had little appetite for tensions as they threatened the border security of coastal nations such as Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria.


Nigeria’s bitcoin ban. Nigeria has restricted access to cryptocurrency websites including Binance and Coinbase as it tries to halt currency speculation on the platforms amid the record devaluation of its currency, the naira. No date has been given for when restrictions may be lifted.

Bayo Onanuga, a special advisor to President Bola Tinubu, accused Binance on X (formally Twitter) of “blatantly setting exchange rate for Nigeria” and thwarting Abuja’s attempt to control the currency. “Crypto should be banned in our country or else this bleeding of our currency will continue unabated,” he wrote. In 2023, Nigeria had the largest African market in cryptocurrency trading, according to data from the blockchain research firm Chainalysis. The filed bankruptcy of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange firm, in November 2022 heavily impacted young Nigerians—some of whom had invested their entire savings.

Ethiopia’s bitcoin deal. The Ethiopian government signed a $250 million preliminary deal to set up a large center for artificial intelligence training, cryptocurrency, and data mining with a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based West Data Group. Addis Ababa’s investment arm, Ethiopian Investment Holdings, posted details of the deal on social media but then later removed references to the deal’s value and the company involved.

According to a Bloomberg report, Ethiopia has become a preferred location for Chinese bitcoin miners due to cheap electricity costs, following the government’s authorization of crypto mining operations in 2022 in the wake of China’s ban of it in 2021. In 2023, the volume of cryptocurrency traded in Africa hit $117 billion, up from $100.6 billion the year before.


Nigeria’s crashing economy. When President Bola Tinubu took office in May 2023, he inherited a beleaguered economy in which foreign direct investment turned negative as a severe dollar shortage fueled an exodus of multinational companies. Despite a raft of market-friendly reforms by Tinubu, the Nigerian naira hit a record low against the U.S. dollar last week amid inflation of almost 30 percent.

Tinubu’s woes continued Saturday when local media reported on a leaked memo from the Qatari government rejecting a proposed business investment forum. Qatar “apologizes that it will not be able to hold a Business and Investment Forum as proposed by Nigerian side,” the letter read.

Highlighting Nigeria’s dire economic crisis, the Nigerian army on Monday issued a statement dismissing reports of an alleged coup plot within its ranks. Tinubu’s state visit to Qatar and investment meetings are to go ahead in March, part of a trend in which African nations are turning toward the Middle East for economic ties.


FP’s Most Read This Week


Kenyan lawsuit. At least 10 locals have filed a civil lawsuit against the U.S. food giant Del Monte over allegations of torture, rape, and assault by the company’s guards at its fruit farm in Kenya, Georgia Gee reports for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Representatives of the company have been accused of offering bribes to witnesses in an attempt to cover up how four men ended up dead in a river on Del Monte’s pineapple farm in Thika, northeast of the capital of Nairobi. It is alleged that the men were beaten and thrown in the river by security guards after trespassing to steal pineapples last December. “We do not bribe. We do not instruct our guards to beat,” a spokesperson for Del Monte told OCCRP. The multinational company previously faced a land ownership battle with local communities that claimed it occupied their ancestral lands.

Disney’s Nigerian debut. Iwájú, a hotly anticipated animated sci-fi series set in Lagos, debuts this week on Disney+. The series was made by Nigerians but not for Nigerians because Disney+ is not available in the country, Anthony Udugba laments in Business Day Nigeria. “Only Netflix and Amazon Prime Videos have taken steps to include African countries in its content plan,” Udugba reports. Iwájú, which loosely translates in Yoruba as “future” or literally “frontward,” was created by Kugali Media, headquartered in London and co-founded by two Nigerians and a Ugandan. The show’s characters are voiced by Nigerian actors.

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