Egypt: Should the Grand Mufti Have Gone to Jerusalem?

On April 18 Ali Gomaa, the Egyptian Grand Mufti and one of the highest religious authorities in the Islamic world, visited Jerusalem for the first time. The visit was controversial since it was seen by many as a step towards normalised relations with Israel, which captured the western part of the city during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and later on occupied the eastern part of it during the 1967 Six-Day War. According to Ahram Online, Osama Yassin, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, called the visit “a total disaster and a blow to the national fight against normalisation with Israel that has been going on for years”.

Many in Egypt have criticised the Grand Mufti for his visit. Zeinobia commented on the fact that people from different political backgrounds in Egypt have finally agreed on something:

You can imagine the uproar in the Egyptian political scene after few hours of knowing about this visit. The nationalists, leftists and Islamists suddenly found something to agree upon at last.

Zeinobia also quoted presidential candidates such as Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh [ar] and Hamdeen Sabahi [ar], as well as MP Essam Sultan [ar] of Al Wasat Party, who all criticised Ali Gomaa.

Grand Mufti in Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Photo shared by Twitter user @alhabibali

Some of the criticism focuses on the point that acquiring a visa from Israel is considered a form of normalisation and recognition of the state of Israel. But Gomaa said, “I did not go on an Israeli visa. It was all organized by the Jordanian authorities.”

Zeinobia elaborated:

Sheikh Ali Gomaa was invited to visit the Holy places in East Jerusalem by the Royal Jordanian family which till this day is supervising the Islamic Holy sites in Jerusalem. (A piece of information I had not known before that day.) He was accompanied by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, King Abdullah’s cousin and his chief religious advisor. They were inaugurating the renovation of the Mughrabi Bridge, which leads into the courtyard of al-Aqsa mosque as well the Ghazli seat.

Khaled El-Baramawy tweeted:

@EgyPress: حتى الان لم استطع ان افهم اسباب زيارة المفتى للقدس.. صحيح لم تكن بتاشيرة اسرائيلية.. بس لازم يكون لها منطق اهداف.. لم اكون راي حتى الان !!
@EgyPress: Until now I cannot understand the reason behind the Mufti's visit to Jerusalem… It's true he didn't take a visa from Israel, but there should still be goals for the visit… I haven't formed a point of view so far!!

Tunisian Twitter user Tounsia Hourra mocked the Mufti's denial that he took an Israeli visa:

@tounsiahourra: وهنا يقولك مفتي مصر زار القدس دون تأشيرة إسرائيلية لكن تحت اشراف السلطات الأردنية . يعني اسرائيل تنحت وسلمت الأمور للأردن ,إنه لفتح عظيم
@tounsiahourra: And there are those who say that the Egyptian Mufti visited Jerusalem without an Israeli visa as the visit was under Jordanian supervision. So Israel kept to one side and handed over authority to Jordan; what a great achievement!

Aboul Maali Faek still regards the visit as recognition of Israel:

فحينما تعترف إحدى مؤسسات الدولة الرسمية بما يسمى بدولة إسرائيل فهذا يعنى أن مؤسسة الإفتاء فى مصر قد أعطت شيكا على بياض للصهاينة بأن دولة إسرائيل لها الحق فى اغتصاب واحتلال دولة فلسطين،هذا الموضوع لا يحب أن يترك دون محاسبة سياسية.
When one of the official state inistitutions recognises the so-called state of Israel, then this means that Egypt's fatwa-issuing body has given a blank cheque to the Zionists, that Israel has the right to occupy Palestine. This is a subject that shouldn't be left without political accountability.

Ahmad Esseily, on the other hand, had a point concerning recognition:

@ahmadesseily: إعتراف إيه! همّ مستنيين إعترافنا؟ ماهم قاعدين في الأرض بقالهم 64 سنة! حيطلعوا يعني لمّا المفتي مايزورش القدس والمسيحيين مايحجّوش؟
@ahmadesseily: What kind of recognition are you talking about! Are they waiting for our recognition? They have already been sitting on that land for 64 years! Are they going to leave if the Mufti didn't visit Jerusalem, and Copts didn't go?

This brings us to the fact that Pope Shenouda III, the Pope and Patriarch of the Church of Alexandria, who passed away a few weeks ago, requested Copts not to visit Jerusalem until peace was established in the region. Aly Elshafei ‏asked people to compare the two stances:

@Ali2awi: علل ما يلي و فيما لا يزيد عن حدود الادب: البابا شنودة رفض يروح القدس، و جه المفتي هو اللي راح
@Ali2awi: One comment, keeping within the limits of good manners: Pope Shenouda refused to go to Jerusalem while the Mufti is the one who went there.

Nawara Negm joked in one of her tweets [ar] that the Mufti was waiting for the Pope to pass away before going there. According to Reem Al-Ashry things have changed for Copts since the Pope's death:

@MeeMMaa: بمناسبة زيارة المفتي للقدس.. أصدقاء مسيحيين لأول مرة سافروا القدس السنة دي بعد وفاة البابا.. وبيقولوا العدد اللي سافر معاهم كبير
@MeeMMaa: Regarding the visit of the Mufti to Jerusalem… Many of my Christian friends visited Jerusalem for the first time this year after the Pope passed away, and they said that a large number travelled with them.

Mahmoud Hussien tweeted [ar] that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists were waiting for something like this, since they want to replace the Mufti with one of their own. Issandr El Amrani also expects they will call for him to be sacked:

He might also have known that the Islamist-dominated parliament would not be happy with this, and indeed there is now a move by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood MPs to question him and possibly sack him (something that in theory is the prerogative of the president, or for now SCAF).

Emad Arab [ar] and Samar Ali [ar] both called for the Mufti to be sacked. Mourid El-Barghouti, Palestinian poet and author living in Egypt tweeted:

@MouridBarghouti: بهدوء شديد: لو كان المفتي مؤمناً أن زيارة القدس أمر جيد فلماذا امتنع عن زيارتها منذ احتلالها؟ ولو كان جاهلاً بعواقبها فهولا يستحق منصبه
@MouridBarghouti: Let's think about it calmly: if the Mufti believed that his visit to Jerusalem was a good thing, why did he decline to visit it since it was occupied? If he's not aware of the consequences of his visit then he doesn't deserve his position.

Al-Habib Ali Algafry is a Sufi scholar who also visited Jerusalem recently, and he congratulated [ar] the Mufti on his visit and on praying in Al-Aqsa mosque. The Saudi Islamic scholar Abdulrahman Al-Harfi attacked them both:

@aalharfi: زيارة الجفري ثم علي جمعة لإسرائيل هل هو تنسيق جديد بين “الصوفية الامريكية” و “الصهيونية”؟
@aalharfi: The visit of Algafry followed by that of Ali Gomaa to Israel; is it a new coordination between “American Sufism” and “Zionism”?

Monmon Salah commented [ar] that paying a visit to a prisoner is always useful to him and not to his jailers. As if she predicted this visit, Palestinian blogger Hanadi wrote a couple of months ago:

أدعو كل العرب والمسلمين الذين يحملون جوازات أميركية وبريطانية وأوروبية وغيرها من الجوازات التي لا تواجه مشاكل في دخول “إسرائيل”، أن يضعوا جوازاتهم في جيوبهم ويحزموا حقائبهم ويزورونا، أدعو المصريين والأردنيين إلى زيارتنا، أرجوكم لا تسموه تطبيعاً، أرجوكم، أنا وأنتم نكره اتفاقيات “السلام”، نعرف كلنا كذبة ووهم اتفاقية وادي عربة واتفاقية كامب ديفيد، لكن يا إخوان .. نحن نشتاق إليكم .. قاطعوا المنتجات الإسرائيلية.. قاطعوا الجامعات الإسرائيلية .. ولكن لا تقاطعونا.. نحن عرب مثلكم
I call on all Arabs and Muslims who hold American, British, European or any other passports that have no problem entering “Israel” to put their passports in their pockets, pack their bags, and pay us a visit. I call on Egyptians and Jordanians to visit us. Please don't call it normalisation. Please! You and I both hate the “peace” treaties, and we know the lies and the illusions of Wadi Araba and the Camp David accords, but brothers and sisters, we miss you. Boycott Israeli products, boycott Israeli universities, but don't boycott us; we are Arabs like you.

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