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Jewel of the Nile

Yussuf al-Qaradawi, the world’s most popular and authoritative Sunni cleric, is a Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Egyptian based in Qatar. A return to his home country would be dangerous for Israel and the West.

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Sheikh Yussuf al-Qaradawi in Algiers, March 2007. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama believes that lending American prestige to the Muslim Brotherhood will not pave the way for an eventual Islamist takeover of Egypt. “There are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well,” the president told Bill O’Reilly in a Super Bowl Sunday interview.

According to the president, the way to empower America’s friends is to “get all the groups together in Egypt for an orderly transition and the one that is a meaningful transition.” As if Egypt’s liberal current isn’t weak enough already, Obama believes that the best way to ensure the sharks don’t come out on top is to throw a whole bunch of liberal guppies into the tank as well.

While the parallels between Iran in 1979 and Egypt in 2011 can be overdrawn, it is foolish to pretend that they are not there. Cairo doesn’t have to literally become a Sunni version of Tehran to do terrible damage to U.S. interests and prestige in the Middle East—and to the hopes and dreams of its own people. And the Egyptians already have their own prospective Khomeini: Yussuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood preacher who exiled himself from Egypt in 1961.

***

Assertions that the Muslim Brotherhood and its leadership are too disorganized and uncharismatic to gain a hold on power in Egypt unaccountably ignore the world’s most popular and authoritative Sunni cleric—an Egyptian by birth and member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood whose son currently lives in Egypt. Where the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the Iranian revolution, made radio broadcasts in exile from Paris, Qaradawi hosts one of the region’s most famous talk-shows on Al Jazeera, Sharia and Life. Qaradawi has cultivated among some American analysts a reputation for moderation with his fatwas, permitting masturbation and condemning Sept. 11 (while supporting suicide bombers in Israel). But in the Middle East his popularity resides in his stringent criticism of Arab regimes. His public support for violence, combined with the fact that he is a principal shareholder in and adviser to the al-Qaida-associated Bank al-Taqwa in Switzerland, led to him being banned from entering the United States in 1999 and from Great Britain in 2008.

What makes Qaradawi most worth watching is the fact that the Egyptian party system is badly decayed, and no credible opposition figures have stepped up to fill the gap. Mohammed ElBaradei is entirely a creation of Western opinion leaders and has no constituency in Egypt. Amr Moussa has some popular appeal, but his job as general secretary of the Arab League is not a position that showcases an ability to get things done. Moreover, as Mubarak’s former foreign minister he has deep ties to the old regime. The local Muslim Brotherhood was slow out of the gate, and its 68-year-old leader, Muhammad Badie, is not exactly charismatic.

As a media personality with a presence on TV and the Internet—and who is far out of reach of Egyptian internal security and free from Egyptian censors—Qaradawi is perfectly positioned to play the role of Muslim Brotherhood publicist or even kingmaker over the coming months. Nor is there any particular reason to think that Qaradawi’s willingness to embrace facets of modernity while promoting violence and hatred makes him less than dangerous to the dream of a future liberal society in Egypt and to Western interests in the region. The idea that Qaradawi is a moderate because he favors a relatively liberal interpretation of the status of women within Islam, for example, disregards his belief that homosexuality is a crime that should be punished by death and his embrace of the Holocaust as a divine punishment of the Jews that will hopefully be repeated soon.

Here, for example, is Qaradawi speaking about the Holocaust to the audience of his popular Al Jazeera television show on January 30, 2009:

Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them—even though they exaggerated this issue—he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.

***

Of course, many foreign and Egyptian observers contend that Egyptians, a moderate people by nature, don’t want anything like the Iranian regime running their country. That may be true, but the only real evidence we have, aside from questionable polling, suggests something different. After all, supposedly secular and moderate Palestinian voters were not impressed with the regional failure of Islamist politics—they voted for Hamas, the Gaza branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Or consider Lebanon, where at least 30 percent of the Christian community has aligned itself with the Khomeinist project in their country via Christian leader Michel Aoun’s alliance with Hezbollah. Presumably Middle Eastern Christians are among the last people who want to live under an Islamist regime, but what they fear and despise most now is the country’s Sunni community. That is to say, there are many reasons that people might choose to go with an Islamist party, many—but not all of which—are irrational. Mubarak’s departure will almost inevitably leave the ruling National Democratic Party’s organizational structure in shambles, which means that the best-organized political party in Egypt will be the Brotherhood.

And it would be strange if, given free elections, the Brotherhood did not eventually rule Egypt, for it has not only been a pillar of Cairo’s political, cultural, and intellectual life since its founding in 1928; it is also the flower of Arab political modernity, which began with Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt.

Napoleon’s conquest left Muslim intellectuals and activists in a bind: If the ummah was, as the prophet of Islam said, the best of all people, then why had it been overrun so easily by the infidels? The answer, said the 19th-century Egyptian intellectual Muhammad Abduh—the one-time mufti of Egypt and rector of Al Azhar, a traditional seat of authority in Sunni Islam—is that Muslims had veered away from the true faith. By the end of the 19th century, Abduh believed, Islam had become riddled with fatalism and superstition; therefore, since Islam was the lifeblood of the Muslims, it was hardly surprising that the ummah was weak. The answer, Abduh argued, was to purge Islam of its non-Islamic excesses—particularly Sufi practices like the veneration of saints and other beliefs associated with traditional Egyptian folklore—and return Islam to the way it had been practiced by the prophet Muhammad, his companions and his earliest followers, collectively known as al-salaf, or the righteous forebears. Thus Abduh and his followers were known as the salafis, and their movement was the precursor of Islamism, or political Islam. Abduh’s biographer was Rashid Rida, the godfather of the Islamist movement, whose most famous disciple was Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, who in turn inspired Yusef al-Qaradawi.

The fact is that the movement Abduh pioneered is now in the mainstream of Muslim belief, if not always practice. It was Abduh who said Muslims needed to adopt the science and technology of the West, while not abandoning their faith, as Christendom had forsaken their own beliefs for secularism. And this is precisely how the Muslim Middle East has engaged with modernity for more than a century—to take the West’s technology, arms, and consumer goods, but eschew the values, such as freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech, that made those products possible.

No one embodies this cultural schizophrenia better than Qaradawi, a media mogul who has risen to fame on the back of information technology and yet whose information is essentially medieval. Qaradawi approves of wife-beating, he defends female genital mutilation and signs off on female suicide bombers, and he attacks Shia for trying to subvert Sunni nations. To the Iranians, Qaradawi is perhaps not the ideal voice of Sunni Islamism, but insofar as he rises and the Americans suffer, Tehran will make its accommodations.

Yes, it is possible that even though Egypt gave birth to the Islamist movement that is synonymous with Muslim political modernity, maybe the Muslim Brotherhood would find itself thwarted at the polls. It’s a big decision for U.S. policymakers and the president. After all, what right do Americans have to tell the Egyptians who they can and cannot vote for? It is the height of hypocrisy for a liberal democracy to stand in the way of the freely won aspirations of another country. Egyptians have the right to choose their own government and their own future, just as we have the right to call them our friends or not on the basis of the policies that their government adopts.

However, the other argument is that it is not the job of the American president to promote the natural rights of others. Rather, it is his task to protect and preserve U.S. interests around the world, and peace in the Eastern Mediterranean is an important U.S. interest, as is preventing a larger regional war that might ensue from conflict between Egypt and its neighbor Israel. We might as well face the fact that the more political power that the Muslim Brotherhood wields will make that war much more likely—a war that would be not only bad for U.S. interests but also potentially catastrophic for our ally Israel, as well as to our ally Egypt.

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Lee – the BBC coverage of Egyptian crisis has been fairly comprehensive – but you are doing well to get onto this new angle before them. We are sure more actors will appear in this environment. Thanks for a good article.

Most Islamists believe that running for office is a violation of the Koran since the law of god supercedes that of man. The MB has put this on the back burner so they can run for office and then establish Islamic Law wherein there will be no more running for office. Wake up Jews, the sky is falling. Vote out Obama as he is responsible for all this. Just as crime in NYC went up when Dinkins was elect now the Islamists sense weakness in Obama are are taking over the Magreb,

asherZ says:

“However, the other argument is that it is not the job of the American president to promote the natural rights of others.”

So George W. Bush and Natan Sharansky are wrong in theorizing that liberal democracy across the world should be our objective as governments based on those ideals will prevent conflict and war among nations that follow that credo.

A.J. Weberman:

As is made clear by Mr. Smith’s article, this phenomenon predates the Obama administration: Indeed, Hamas’ take-over of Gaza happened during the Bush administration. If Islamists are making moves, it’s not because they sense weakness in Obama, it is because they sense weakness in Mubarak.

Mark S. Devenow says:

Lee Smith is spot on here. As for Ian Thal’s risible (non-) point, it might bear some valence that Mubarak has been around for fully 30 years as Egypt’s leader. Can it be mere coincidence that Egypt’s Islamists are making their move to power while in the White House sits a President who is manifestly more partial/sympathetic to Islam – its atavism, its emulousness – than any US President who preceded him over/within that same period?

Another Jew says:

I find myself reading Mr.Lee more and more. The man used to be a shrill, hyperbolic shock jock. Now he is slowly turning into a more and more learned man. His articles are better than what I read in most of the Jewish press on these issues. As well as outside the Jewish press.

Mr Positive says:

I understand that there are significant number of educated people in Egypt that truly want a free and democratic society however, they aren’t the ones praying 5 times a day, memorizing the Quran by heart, willing to die for Allah and carrying Iranian made weapons. Careful what you wish for.

Marty Janner says:

Lee,your commentary is not informing,which may be true, to me as an American Jew, what it actually creates is fear and distrust, which is uncalled for at this moment!

I notice that you make reference to his son who is a member of the Moslem Brotherhood,who happens to reside in Egypt. What do you actually know of his politics? Many members of the MB are individuals who are well learned and pursuant of their respective professions. They recognize the many injustices experienced by the Egyptian Populace during the reign of Mubarak and his cohorts.

If you can justify Mubarak estimated wealth of forty to seventy billion, while many of his countrymen earn One or two dollars a day, there is no reason to have an uprising of this nature. I would like to think, this is not your ilk as a thinking compassionate human being.

I would also remind you that is Egypt is a sovereign state,we have no right to denigrate their intentions.

Is Lee Smith part of the group that felt that America would have a “slam dunk” in Iraq? Is he part of the group that thought Ahmad Chalabi would help usher in peace and stability for the US in Iraq” Wasn’t that same cabal also quite knowledgeable as to where the “wmds” were? It appears that he is now postulating,but with a negative bent, about Quaradawi and his future impact on the state of relations between Egypt, Israel and the United States.

Shingo says:

An interesting article Lee,

We often hear the term “U.S. Interest” thrown around without much explanation as to what these interests are supposed to be. I can’t help but wonder whether you’ve asked this question yourself.

It beggars belief as to how you would ignore that US prestige in the Middle East has been on the wane for quite some time, especially after the Iraq debacle. Only this week, it was reported that General James Jones reiterated the dangers that US policy towards the Middle East has posed to “U.S. Interest”. Perhaps peace is one of those interests, but we’ve seen precious little of it.

If we put aside on the hysteria and scare mongering, there’s very little evidence that suggests an Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood would want a war with anyone, let alone Israel. Israel’s concern is not that Egypt would turn around and declare war, it is that Egypt would cease to be complicit in the siege on Gaza. That’s pretty much the only threat Egypt poses from an Israeli standpoint.
We can safely forget about he Suez being closed as the revenue is too important to Egypt’s livelihood.
As for the Palestinians electing Hamas, it is no secret that it was a backlash against a corrupt and ineffective Fatah leadership. Israel can blame itself for being to recalcitrant and reaching a political settlement with them when they had the chance.
While Hezbollah is obviously supported by Iran, they are by no means puppets of Iran, but Lebanese nationalists first. Aoun and Jumblat would never have aligned themselves with Hezbollah if they were nothing but a cats paw of Tehran.

The fact is that US policy in the Middle East has been an exercise in prolonging the inevitable, and in so doing, making matters worse the longer this policy has remained. The most prudent approach would be for both the US and Israel to rethink their foreign policies. Propping up dictators for the sake of stability is no longer sustainable, expensive, precarious and self defeating.

Daniel says:

We cannot know what will happen in Egyptian politics in the near future but we CAN be certain that the Muslim Brotherhood is an implacable and intractable enemy of the United States and Israel. If Egypt is to gain U.S. support for democracy, it will require a state constitution that forever protects the God-given natural rights of the Egyptian people. Otherwise, a stern secular Egyptian military dictatorship will continue to serve the interests of the USA (and regional peace) just fine.

What makes you think that the Muslim Brotherhood is an implacable and intractable enemy Daniel?

They have reformed and undergone a great deal of change in the last few decades. As Moshe Dayan said, if you want to make friends, talk to your enemies.

Formerstudent says:

Shingo, do you have any proof to back up your reform and change thesis?

Shingo says:

Formerstudent,

There are a number of indicators.

1. Their web site for example, doesn’t exactly reach like the Hamas Charter.
3,. They have renoucned violence and rejected Al Qaeda.
4. Members of the MB form about a 3rd of the Egyptian parliament and have done for over a decade, hence they have participated in a pro Western government
5. They have stated that they will not field a rpesidential candidate in the next election and that they are mostly interested in social, religious and educational issues. If anything, it has been ultra-conservative, even stodgy and timid.

Vinodgupt says:

Why is the world so scared of Muslim Brotherhood?

Let us face the facts squarely in the face. Muslim Brotherhood openly stands for Islam in its pure form — unadulterated by unIslamic practices as Islamic scholar Muhammad Abduh argued. The next question is if the world contends Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion — then I wonder what is the problem? It is true that Muslim Brotherhood is committed to the fundamentals of Islam then it can only bring peace and tolerance or is the first premise wrong?

Democracy is not necessarily the best form of govt. Didn’t Hitler come to power through democracy?

Lee Smith suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood will gain the upper hand in the Egyptian power transfer. To support this he cites Iran, but there are other examples. Egypt is basically a poor nation with massive unemployment and a very young population. This is similar to many other unstable countries including post WWI Germany, 1917 Russia, etc. In general, when revolutions occur in unstable, poor countries, moderation loses and extremism wins. He who is willing to be the most brutal and the most ruthless will win. Somehow I don’t think it will be the young “facebook/twitter” crowd. Egypt will either be ruled by the army or by the Muslim Brotherhood when the dust settles.

In the last year there have been 2 popular uprisings in large Muslim nations. One in Egypt in which the ruling regime was pro-West and a second in Iran in which the ruling regime thrives on its anti-Westernism. Obama helped the Egyptians but ignored the Iranians.

At: http://www.englishquickly.com , pg. 2, you may read my earnest efforts to portray a vision towards a secure freedom.
B”H AdarI 6‏‎, 5771-The Bee- Bop that’s me; Brenda and me and her love
Mine to extend each; heal down and toes swung outside around
Motown beat two time each foot; one then two times the other
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While a deep breath followed by a short toke helpfully ingested.
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EZ: to all accounts Iranian elections went fairly clean. Society there is more complex and sofisticated than in Egypt. There is a wide industrial working-class who support the Welfare-state the clerics ride. So-called “liberals” (leaded by a former member of the repressive regime) are a upper-middle class minority who mounted a “color revolution” after losing the elections. Better to Obama to help Egyptians to find a democratic way-out of after 30 years of USA-backed tiranny than opposing them.

Shingo says:

“Don’t trust Qaradawi.”

Seriously who are you trying to convince with a link to a blog named Counterjihad that refers to Muslim ideology as “savage”?

This is one of the most Islamphobic blogs I have read since Pam Gellar.

David Zarmi says:

What’s funny is that many of us Jews also believe the Holocaust was generally a punishment for our corruption. We just don’t want to see it happen again, but pray to become less corrupt. Of course, when we mean corrupt, it’s falling away from our ritual and not loving each other enough. Not like corruption in the rest of the world, with murder and rape. Although that happens, unfortunately, it is negligible compared to other ethnicities and cultures. So if al-Qaradwi would pray for us to be even better Jews instead of looking forward to murdering us, we might see more eye to eye.

That also reminds me of an experience I had reading an English koran printed in Texas. It has little summary clauses on the margins of the page to help guide you in understand the suras. So I opened it up to one page and it said “the Jews are a stubborn people” and “the Jews incur G-d’s wrath.” Then of course I opened up an Artscroll chumash (Bible) with the same summary marginc clauses and saw “the Jews are a stiff-necked people” and “the Jews anger G-d.” So really everyone agrees we just need to work on being less stubborn and G-d-angering.

I think that message applies to everyone David, not just Jews.

In fact, one could argue that being stubborn has led to some of mankind’s greatest achievements.

Kathy from Kansas says:

I’m grateful to Lee Smith for teaching some history here that I did not know.

With regard to his final paragraph, however, the prospect of a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egypt making war on Israel would please Barack Obama immensely. What we call “American interests” are precisely what he wishes to destroy. Americans are starting to wake up to the fact that there has been a coup in this country — but millions more people need to realize that Obama is a “Manchurian Candidate” being used by George Soros and Bill Ayers to destroy the United States of America — and Israel.

“Americans are starting to wake up to the fact that there has been a coup in this country — but millions more people need to realize that Obama is a “Manchurian Candidate” being used by George Soros and Bill Ayers to destroy the United States of America — and Israel.”

In that regard, Obama is simply continuing the policy of George W Bush. By the time Obama came to office, America was already well on the road to destruction, and Israel well on it’s path to suicide.

I Drive a Taxi says:

The situation in Egypt’s just getting ugly, and it’s making us look good in Israel. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-suissa/israels-never-looked-so-g_b_816661.html

Shingo says:

Actually, seeing as Israel is inextricably linked to the Mubarak Regime, and the fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia stood alone in the world in support of Mubarak, Israel is being seen in the most unflaterring way.

From the moment State Department poskesman PJ Crowley admitted that democracy is not acceptable in Egypt (for Israel’s sake), the world’s atention has been drawn to the necessary evils that must be maintained in teh Middle East to sustain the Israeli project, and it’s leaving a rather umnpleasant taste in people’s mouths.

DEVDUTT DAVE says:

Well Mubarak has gone just because of amassing massive wealth in Swiss bank keeping the population strive for bread. Though he is gone his wealth has been frozen by the Swiss. You reap whatever you sow.

Same with India now. The ruling party ministers, the rich and every government employees including customs, immigration etc etc. have had their heydays. Now the population of India will get rid of the Congress party who has been letting this happen and defending the culprits.
Long Live the Unity of the citizens whether they are Egyptions or Indians.
Other countries should follow this example in unison.

Such tyrants should be hanged to scare others of the same mindsets.

“Such tyrants should be hanged to scare others of the same mindsets.”

The same should happen to those that aided and abetted them

In response to Shingo.
If you would read the translation of the Moslem brotherhoods goals written by their President. He states that the Egyptian moslem brotherhood
wants to create an islamic caliphate. Create jihad in other countries to impose islam and to wipe out Israel. This was written in 2002. He also writes that the moslem brotherhood has infinate patience and will wait for the opportune moment to do this. Please keeep yourself informed!! Also Bhutros Ghali(famous Egyptian) has said what the west doesnt understand is that 40 % of Egyptians are illiterate and will vote the way there mosque indicates.

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Create jihad in other countries to impose islam and to wipe out Israel. This was written in 2002. He also writes that the moslem brotherhood has infinate patience and will wait for the opportune moment to do this. I’ve said that least 199591 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

bananadanna says:

It is interesting that in reading this, a year later, that it has indeed transpired!Where will the MB show up next?

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Jewel of the Nile

Yussuf al-Qaradawi, the world’s most popular and authoritative Sunni cleric, is a Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Egyptian based in Qatar. A return to his home country would be dangerous for Israel and the West.

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