Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and Political Opportunism
For some reason, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is the guru of Islamists in the Arab world. In fact, the reason is obvious: there is such a dearth of leaders in the movement that this man has become widely influential.
It would be unfair to say that his influence stems solely from the exposure that he is provided by Qatar through his weekly TV program on Al Jazeera. Qaradawi is a prolific author and he uses simple language to issue his declarations and rulings about interpretations of Shariah.
He also knows what the basic Muslim reader is looking for. His book The Permissible and That Prohibited (Religiously) in Islam has sold well over the years. But Qaradawi is also a political figure.
Qaradawi fled Egypt when Nasser figured out that he could not allow the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to remain as a fifth column inside Egypt. It was no secret that while Nasser was aligned with the socialist camp, the MB served as a tool of the US and Gulf regime during the Cold War. There is no question that the MB did in fact try to assassinate Nasser, and there is no question that the Brotherhood was aligned against the forces that were working on a plan for the liberation of Palestine.
Gulf regimes (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE primarily) opened their borders and universities and ministries to the Islamists. They filled top posts in government, particularly in education, awqaf (religious endowment), and even in policy making. Sudanese Islamists were instrumental in drafting the constitutions of several Gulf states.
Qaradawi was hosted in Qatar and he taught at its university. But unlike most Islamists in exile, he established a close relationship with the current Emir. Qaradawi was a key ingredient in the formation of Al Jazeera, and he even helped staff the network with many Islamists from several Arab countries. (Those Islamists would over the year clash with the secular Arab nationalists and liberals in the network).
Qaradawi has been noted for his political cowardice: not only for his subservience (like all other Islamists in the GCC countries) to the ruler, but for strictly adhering to the foreign policies of the ruler. Qaradawi never ever criticized Bashar Assad and even showered him with praise, until the Emir decided to break with the Assad regime.
When UAE rulers banned Qaradawi from entering the country, he did not utter a word of protests because that would be inconsistent with Qatari foreign policy.
Qaradawi was also favorable in his views on Iran until this past year when Qatar changed course. He also enjoyed long standing relations with Hassan Nasrallah with whom he has been friends (or friendly). But aware of his standing among the fanatical base, Qaradawi would insist that no photographs be released of his meeting with Nasrallah (as Nasrallah himself once told me).
Qaradawi ran his clerical business like any politician. But his relationship with Shias soured markedly after his son, Abdur-Rahman, converted to Shia Islam. Qaradawi’s anti-Shia pronouncements have increased ever since, and intensified in the last year as Qatar turned against the Assad regime
But recently, Qaradawi criticized the UAE and repression there on Al Jazeera (although the network later deleted his remarks when the show was aired again). His criticisms of the UAE (which is as repressive as Qatar or as the rest of GCC countries, although Saudi Arabia is a case in itself given the fanatical Wahhabi ruling ideology there) should not be read as whimsical. They must reflect a twist in Qatari foreign policy that we may not be privy to as of yet. Qaradawi has been accustomed to receiving orders. He knows when to speak and when to shut up, if so ordered.
Qaradawi is but one case of a phenomenon in the Arab world: a cleric for hire. There are different clerics who are for hire, at different prices depending on the standing. Qaradawi is now a member of the ruling elite in Qatar, although he does not make policy, but faithfully implements it. The subordination of religion to the interests of the ruler is as old as Islam (after Muhammad) itself.