Egypt Opens Door to Palestinian Arabs

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The new Egyptian government under Islamist President Mohammed Morsi is already making some dramatic changes.

In one such decision over the weekend, the legislature voted to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages to Egyptians on all Muslim holidays, not just Ramadan.

In another decision, the government now allows Palestinian Arabs from the Gaza Strip or areas under Palestinian Authority control in Judea and Samaria -- the West Bank -- free entry into the country.

The move effectively breaks the land blockade of Gaza.

Under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza was closed after Hamas wrested control of the Strip from P.A. security forces in June 2007.

For the first time since then, seven Palestinians entered Egypt from the Cairo International Airport on Monday without needing visas or security clearances.

Meanwhile, the P.A.'s semi-official Ma'an News Agency reported that 100 Palestinians, registered in Damascus as Gaza residents, arrived in Cairo en route to the Gaza Strip.

Easing travel restrictions for Palestinians under Egypt's new regime is not surprising.

Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. In its recent presidential election, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi beat secularist Ahmed Shariq, who served as prime minister under Mubarak, in a very close race.

In legislative elections last February, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party won about 50 percent of the mandates. Coupled with the Salafist al-Nour Party's 25 seats, Islamists gained a huge majority in both the upper and lower houses of parliament.

Just before Morsi was sworn in, Egypt's high court ruled there were improprieties by the Brotherhood during the elections. That ruling prompted Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, head of the interim military government, to dissolve the parliament and call for new legislative elections.

At the same time, SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) gave itself some other powers, including drafting the new constitution, ostensibly to prevent Islamists from imposing Sharia law on the country.

During the presidential elections, other accusations surfaced against the Islamists. In a piece entitled Muslim Brotherhood 'Democracy': Slapping, Stabbing and Slaying for Sharia, investigative reporter Raymond Ibrahim wrote on July 9 that "whole segments of Coptic Christians were prevented from voting."

Quoting Egypt's national al Ahram newspaper, Ibrahim wrote "the Muslim Brotherhood blockaded entire streets, prevented Copts from voting at gunpoint, and threatened Christian families not to let their children go out and vote."

Morsi dismissed Tantawi's order to dissolve the parliament, ordering it to reconvene and promising new legislative elections within 60 days after drafting a new constitution, providing the wherewithal to incorporate Sharia.

The legislation against alcoholic beverages is one example.

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