Prominent Egyptian Islamist cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, a major force behind the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions across the Middle East, died Monday in Qatar at age 96, leaving Islamists across the region without a spiritual mentor.
Known to many as a prominent force in the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions that toppled veteran Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali and Libyan leader Moammar al Gaddafi, Sheikh al-Qaradawi is remembered for calling on those leaders to “step down” on Al Jazeera TV.
Al-Qaradawi, who was a top figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group, lived in exile in Qatar for the latter part of his life, where he headed an association of world Islamic clerics and hosted a religious program on Qatar’s Al Jazeera network.
The often jovial and avuncular Egyptian cleric could also spew tirades of vitriol and hatred against “despotic Arab leaders” making him persona non grata in his native Egypt and a number of European countries, where he was often not allowed to address conferences of fellow Islamists.
Al-Qaradawi is remembered by many for his angry and bitter sermons where he justified the killing of Jews, calling Israel an evil state and urging that it be destroyed.
Al-Qaradawi also spoke frequently on his Islamic religious TV show, where he answered questions on Islamic law, justifying things like the killing of gays and lesbians and the beating of wives by their husbands.
After the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the civil war that broke out in Syria in 2011, al-Qaradawi told viewers of his TV program that suicide bombings were permitted in Islam, despite verses in the Quran that prohibit individuals from killing themselves.
Numerous Islamic clerics opposed al-Qaradawi’s views, posting YouTube videos to criticize or condemn his positions on a variety of issues. Al-Qaradawi’s support for the setup of Islamic regimes in the Middle East met bitter opposition in his homeland of Egypt, as well as parts of the Gulf and North Africa.
Egyptian professor of political sociology Said Sadek tells VOA that he thinks that al-Qaradawi was mistakenly credited with the downfall of Egyptian President Mubarak, as well as Tunisian President Ben Ali — who he says were “toppled after 16 days of street protests.”
“What made [al] Qaradawi famous in the Arab world, more than his books, was his weekly program on Jazeera TV that promoted him and presented him like the [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini of the Sunni world and that he is the one who should guide the Muslim world,” Sadek said. “But in Sunni Islam it is different from Shia Islam. We had many others who were competing for this post.”
Sadek added that al-Qaradawi died at a time “when Islamic projects in the area were collapsing in places like Egypt, in Tunisia, in Morocco, and now fighting for survival in Iran.” He said secularists “don’t generally gloat about the demise of Islamists, but many see his death as part of a general decline of the Islamist wave which hit the region after 1967 and began declining after 2013 (following a street revolt against Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood).