Skip to main content

Visit by Egyptian Cleric to Gaza Divides Palestinian Leaders

The visit to Gaza of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, won praise from Hamas, but received strong criticism from Fatah, which accused the cleric of undermining Palestinian unity.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (L) holds the hand of Egyptian Cleric and chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (R) upon al-Qaradawi's arrival at Rafah Crossing in the southern Gaza Strip May 8, 2013. Al-Qaradawi arrived on Wednesday for a three-day visit to Gaza Strip with a delegation of Muslim scholars. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION) - RTXZFCT

Senior Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi has wrapped up his three-day Gaza Strip visit, which has drawn mixed reactions from Palestinian circles. It was the first visit by the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars to the Hamas-run coastal enclave.

Qaradawi, 86, is Egyptian-born with Qatari citizenship and has become a highly controversial figure in the region since the Arab Spring swept the Middle East in 2011, when he backed protesters against their regimes and even legitimized Western interference. 

The visit was one of many recent diplomatic visits to the Gaza Strip and its Islamist government, away from the West Bank and its secular Fatah-run government, that is seen as reinforcing the Palestinian national division.

The cleric made it to Gaza through the Egyptian-Palestinian border's crossing at Rafah with a 50-member delegation from 14 different countries. The delegation was received formally by senior Hamas leaders headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who described Qardawi as the “Arab Spring sheikh” during his speech at Rafah. For his part, Qaradawi insisted on “liberating all of Palestine.”  

In a press statement received by email, Hamas welcomed the visit and called it “historical.” Hamas also responded to criticism of the event, saying that the delgates “represent individuals only.”

Meanwhile, Fatah and some other Palestinian left-wing parties boycotted the visit.

From the West Bank, Fatah spokesperson Ahmed Assaf told Al-Monitor that a visit from a divisive person like Qaradawi to Palestine is not welcome, as it strengthens Hamas’ power at the expense of Palestinian unity.

“I just don’t understand it when Qaradawi prohibits visiting the occupied Palestinian territories, and today he’s coming to Gaza with an Israeli permit,” Assaf added.

Earlier last year, Qaradawi issued a fatwa prohibiting non-Palestinian Arabs from visiting the Israeli-occupied Palestinian city of Jerusalem, as it means indirectly recognizing Israel as an occupier. The fatwa was heavily criticized at the time.

The Palestinian leadership saw the fatwa as a blow to its diplomatic efforts to garner support for Jerusalem, and some leaders considered Qaradawi as meddling in Palestinian internal affairs by issuing rulings agreeing with the ideology of Hamas at the expense of Fatah.

However, speaking to Al-Monitor, the Gaza-based Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri refuted the claim that Qaradawi got an Israeli permit to enter Gaza, insisting on Hamas being free and able to give its visitors access to the besieged enclave.

Political analyst Talal Okal argues that such high-profile visits to Gaza only are giving more attention to its siege as a cause, rather than promoting the original cause of resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“I see the different views toward this visit as totally justified. Qaradawi is a religious man with a clear political agenda. He is known for his good ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which makes his visit a Hamas-supporting one,” Okal told Al-Monitor.

In October 2012, Emir of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani along with his wife made it to Gaza in a visit that clearly showed Hamas reshuffling its cards. Qaradawi’s visit comes as a proof, analysts argue, of Hamas’ political maneuvering in the region.

“Hamas is playing a careful pragmatic role reforming its relations in the region until it stands on a solid base,” Okal said.

Fatah’s Assaf agreed. “Hamas today is standing with Qatar and Qaradawi on one side, with the rest of the Palestinians and free Arabs on the other side.”

In a separate press statement, Hamas said those criticizing Qaradawi’s visit “are rejecting Islam as a part of the struggle against the Zionist enemy.”

The division over Qaradawi’s visit was also reflected on the streets of Gaza.

On the last day of his visit, Qaradawi led the Friday sermon at the historic al-Omari Mosque in the Old City of Gaza, amid high security. Hundreds of Palestinians gathered inside the mosque, with many having to pray outside due to overcrowding.

Bassem Ahmed was listening to the sermon outside the mosque, and said that he also went to al-Kateeba Square in the central Gaza Strip on Thursday to see Qaradawi.

“He’s such a respectful and religious man. I appreciate his visit under these hard circumstances Israel is imposing on us,” said Ahmed.

But Abu Said Haniyeh disagreed with Ahmed, expressing doubt over Qaradawi's intentions with the visit.

“This is an American-affiliated man; he never did anything good for us. I’m sure he’s sent with a peace message for both Hamas and Israel.”

Abeer Ayyoub graduated from the Islamic University of Gaza with a  BA in English literature. She is a former human rights researcher turned journalist whose work has appeared in Al Masry Al-Youm, Al Jazeera and Haaretz. On Twitter: @Abeerayyoub

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial