By Barry Rubin
Friday, February 18 may be a turning point in Egyptian history. On this day Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the best-known Muslim Brotherhood cleric in the world and one of the most famous Islamist thinkers, will address a mass rally in Cairo.
It was 32 years ago almost to the day when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned in triumph to Tehran to take the leadership of that country. Qaradawi has a tougher job but he’s up to the challenge if his health holds up.
Up until now, the Egyptian revolution generally, and the Brotherhood in particular, has lacked a charismatic thinker, someone who could really mobilize the masses. Qaradawi is that man. Long resident in the Gulf, he is returning to his homeland in triumph. Through internet, radio, his 100 books, and his weekly satellite television program, Qaradawi has been an articulate voice for revolutionary Islamism. He is literally a living legend.
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Under the old regime, Qaradawi was banned from the country. He is now 84 years old–two years older than the fallen President Husni Mubarak–but he is tremendously energetic and clear-minded.
It was Qaradawi who, in critiquing Usama bin Ladin and al-Qaida, argued that Islamists should always participate in elections because they would, he claims, invariably win them. Hamas and Hizballah have shown that he was right on that point.
Symbollically, 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.
The context is also the thanking of Qaradawi for his support of the revolution, an implication that he is somehow its spiritual father.
Qaradawi, though some in the West view him as a moderate, supports the straight Islamist line: anti-American, anti-Western, wipe Israel off the map, foment Jihad, stone homosexuals, in short the works.
One of Qaradawi’s initiatives has been urging Muslims to settle in the West, of which he said, “that powerful West, which has come to rule the world, should not be left to the influence of the Jews alone.” He contends that the three major threats Muslims face are Zionism, internal integration, and globalization. To survive, he argues, Muslims must fight the Zionists, Crusaders, idolators, and Communists.
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.
What is his view of both the Mubarak regime and the young, Facebook-flourishing liberals who made the revolution? As he said in 2004: “Some Arab and Muslim secularists are following the U.S. government by advocating the kind of reform that will disarm the nation from the elements of strength that are holding our people together.”
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?
……Let history show that neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post reported on the return of the world’s single most important Islamic cleric to Cairo to begin what he hopes to be the transformation of Egypt inTo a revolutionary anti-American state.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi spoke to a giant cheering crowd in Tahrir Square. He praised the army–to ward off it’s repression and encourage it to support a thoroughgoing transformation of the country. He preached caution and patience, working with the army.
And he also lavished praise on the pro-Islamist chairman of the committee to write the new Constitution, which may not be a good sign at all.
There is one easily missed word in his speech that is the most significant. That word is “hypocrites.” In the Islamist lexicon, hypocrites means Muslims who do not practice “true” Islam according to the radicals. To take Egypt out of the hands of hypocrites is to put it onto the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood–or at least similarly minded people–which, contrary to the best and the brightest policymakers, intelligence analysts, experts, and journalists is not a moderate organization.
History may show that while President Jimmy Carter may have “lost” Iran, one of his successors may have helped give away Egypt. Is that alarmist? I hope so. Watch and see.
As so often happens, Israel will be left to pay the bill. Qaradawi said he looked forward to a similar ceremony in Jerusalem, and he did not mean after a two-state negotiated solution. One of Qaradawi’s main points is–sorry, I must say it to show my credibility–precisely as I predicted from the first days of the revolution, the total opening of the Egypt-Israel border. This would mean an Egypt-Hamas alliance and a huge flow of arms into Gaza.
The army will not let this happen for now. But what might happen after elections?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).