It was nearly surreal to be a veteran Ikhwan-watcher yesterday. The Drudge Report ran a headline feature from Der Spiegel on the most influential Sunni cleric in the world today, Yuself al-Qaradawi. The article was picked up on talk radio, and more of the American people got a chance to read about probably the world’s most important Muslim. At the Center for Security Policy, we’ve been following Qaradawi’s career with special interest– not just his notoriously wide-ranging fatwas and over 100 publications on Shariah, but the scandal of his involvement as a Shariah-compliant finance authority to many of the world’s biggest banks. Now, thanks to the uprising in Egypt, Americans are learning about this dangerous man.
“Shariah and Life,” Qaradawi’s tv program on Al-Jazeera has about 60 million viewers across the Muslim world. The article aptly describes him as a “hypermarket of dogma,” or “Islam’s spiritual ‘Dear Abby,'” referring to the variety of topics he opines on. Of course, when Quaradawi discourses on, say, the Jews (asking Allah “to kill the Jewish Zionists, every last one of them”), it’s crucial to know that these fatwas are not just his personal opinion; they have a weight of law.
Who else– aside from the Sheik’s 60 million viewers– holds Quaradawi in high esteem? The Muslim Brotherhood. He can be considered their informal spiritual leader, though he’d turned down that title when it was offered in favor of his internet and tv careers in Qatar. He was also banned from his home country of Egypt by the Mubarak regime, who corrected believed he’d lead a jihadist popular uprising. He’s also banned in this country for his exhortations to murder US servicemen.
Shockingly, Qaradawi is known as a ‘moderate’ by some analysts in the US and Europe. An example of such moderation: “The only thing that I hope for is that as my life approaches its end, Allah will give me an opportunity to go to the land of Jihad and resistance, even if in a wheelchair. I will shoot Allah’s enemies, the Jews, and they will throw a bomb at me, and thus, I will seal my life with martyrdom. Praise be to Allah.”
Now, as Barry Rubin reports, Quaradawi is poised to return to Egypt in triumph. This is a boon for the Ikhwan, of course, and very, very bad for anyone naively hoping for a secular, democratic future for Egypt.
Symbolically, he will give the Friday prayer sermon to be held in Tahrir Square, the center of the revolutionary movement. The massing of hundreds of thousands of people in the square to hear Islamic services and a sermon by a radical Islamist is not the kind of thing that’s been going on under the 60-year-old military regime that was recently overthrown.
Make no mistake, Qaradawi is not some fossilized Islamic ideologue. He is brilliant and innovative, tactically flexible and strategically sophisticated. He is subtle enough to sell himself as a moderate to those who don’t understand the implications of his words or look beneath the surface of his presentation.
Have no doubt. It is Qaradawi, not bin Ladin, who is the most dangerous revolutinary Islamist in the world and he is about to unleash the full force of his power and persuasion on Egypt.
Who are you going to bet on being more influential, a Google executive and an unorganized band of well-intentioned liberal Egyptians or the world champion radical Islamist cleric?