Qaradawi and Qatari foreign policy during the Cold War

Building on the success of The Lawful and the Prohibited, Qaradawi continued to author Islamic books for a growing international readership that emerged during the Islamic Awakening. From the 1960s to the 1990s, Qaradawi’s publications reflected his self-image as an authoritative guide to the Awakening. He published critiques of both Salafism and secularism. He characterized the former as umeflective literalism coupled with unacceptable accusations of apostasy (takfir) and the latter as a Western, Christian phenomenon that had no authentic place in the Ar ab World.80 In recognition of his gr owing stature, in 1976 the MB offered him the position of General Guide. Qaradawi declined, saying he was better suited to be a scholar.81 He also began to make use of the new opportunity presented by visual media. Beginning in the 1970s, Hamad b. Khalifa, now the Amir, gave Qaradawi a position on Qatari national television with a weekly fatwa program called Islamic Guidance (Hady al-Islam)?1

A Qatari passport and royal sponsorship permitted Qaradawi to travel widely. At the invitation of grassroots MB-affiliated organizations, Qaradawi developed his concern for global Islamic issues as a frequent visitor to countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Europe, North America, and even as far afield as Japan and South Korea.83 Qaradawi was also a frequent visitor to neighboring Gulf states, and he played a significant role in establishing the MB in the UAE before local Emirati branches emerged in the mid-1970s. Qaradawi and his MB peers in Qatar and the UAE confined their activities to lectures and pietistic social activities, and Qaradawi was often invited to lecture at the public library in Dubai.84 In these increasingly wealthy rentier states, there was no demand for the kind of social services that were the source of much of the MB’s popularity in the wider Arab World.85 Moreover, as vulnerable émigrés they had little inclination to challenge the royal families of the Gulf for power. In any case, if they had done so, they would have received little local support.

During this period, international politics was dominated by the Cold Warcontest between the United States and the Soviet Union. Qatar formally became independent from Britain in 1971, and in 1972 the new Amir Khalifa b. Hamad (the former Minister of Education responsible for overseeing the Religious Institute) reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia for protection in exchange for accepting some limits on Qatari autonomy. During the 1970s, the US had delegated the maintaining of regional stability to its two close allies Saudi Arabia and Iran, an arrangement upended by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The Iranian Revolution and the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prompted the issuance of the Carter Doctrine that signaled direct US militarization of the Gulf region.86

The building of Qatar’s and Qaradawi’s global brands

Wliile the US military presence in the Gulf steadily increased throughout the 1980-1988 Gulf War, it was the 1991 invasion of Kuwait that unequivocally demonstrated to smaller Gulf monarchies such as Qatar that Saudi Arabia was unable to ensure their security. As a result, Amir Khalifa b. Hamad Al Thaui pursued closer ties with the US by hosting military bases. The Cold War had provided little opportunity for a small state like Qatar to develop a presence on the world stage, and the state’s foreign policy had mirrored that of its neighbors such as Kuwait and the UAE, namely using high-profile, unilateral aid projects as the primary means of developing soft power.87

The collapse of the Soviet Union heralded the end of the bipolar domination of global politics. It also prompted the emergence of dozens of smaller conflicts, often within the boundaries of nation-states. This change in the form and scale of global conflicts offered an opportunity for a small state such as Qatar to distinguish itself from its near neighbors and develop a niche as a regional mediator. This opportunity was taken up by Khalifa b. Hamad’s son, Hamad b. Khalifa (r.1995-2013, b.1952), who overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1995. Qatar began this new policy of state branding as a regional mediator with credibility among all parties by breaking regional taboos by developing ties with both Iran and Israel, and simultaneously maintaining relationships with the US as well as groups such as Hamas, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.88

It was with the founding of al-Jazeera that this policy of state-branding truly broke new ground. Hamad b. Khalifa reportedly first had the idea for a new Qatar-based satellite charnel in 1994, which he envisioned as part of his new policy of asserting Qatari independence from Saudi Arabian regional hegemony and domestic influence. Al-Jazeera first aired on 1 November 1996.89 The channel was revolutionary in comparison to the preexisting state-media channels of the Arab World. With significantly looser editorial restrictions, al-Jazeera massively augmented Qatar’s status as an independent player in the region with its inclusion of voices ranging from Israeli officials to Saudi Arabian dissidents and, on occasion, criticisms of Qatari policy.90 It was al-Jazeera’s programming that distinguished it from the heavily censored and stale output of its competitors. Fiery debates and uncensored, controversial views became the hallmark of shows such as The Opposite Direction (al-Ittijah al-Mu 'akis), which academics hailed for their “democratizing effects.”91 Al-Jazeera’s first cohort of BBC-trained Arab journalists lent the channel an air of journalistic integrity.92 Additionally, Arab leaders’ frequent complaints to the Amir about negative coverage on al-Jazeera only served to augment the channel’s, and Qatar’s, claim to be a host of free speech.93

While its news programming was popular for its characteristic fiery debates, al-Jazeera was significant because it framed the Arab World in a new way.94 While other state-run media outlets such as Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiyya framed the region in terms of nation-states dominated by regional hegemons, al-Jazeera dissolved state boundaries in favor of a supranational framing that envisioned the Arab World as an umma undergirded by a Muslim ethos.95 Al-Jazeera constructed a binary between the state-run national media on the one hand and al-Jazeera’s supranational brand on the other. This binary, coupled with the Arab public’s general suspicion of state institutions,96 meant al-Jazeera was able to portray itself as the “counternarrative to the dominant hegemonic discourse of nation-states and their communication apparatuses.”97

Al-Jazeera’s Islamic TV show Sharia and Life, hosted by Qaradawi, was its most popular program. At its height, the show garnered approximately 60 million viewers.98 Qaradawi’s vision was perfectly in sync with al-Jazeera’s supranational framing of the Ar ab World. Since the 1960s, thr ough his written oeuvre Qaradawi had increasingly imagined his audience in pan-Islamic terms, which diffused among his readership and developed into a transnational Islamic counteipublic." In the 1990s, Qaradawi systematized the common motifs and concepts of his oeuvre, such as fiqh al-waqi ‘ (jurisprudence of reality), fiqh al-awlawiyydt (jurisprudence of priorities), and fiqh al-muwâzanât (jurisprudence of balancing), under the broad heading of wasatiyya.100 In so doing, Qaradawi elaborated the Qur anic reference to “a community of the middle way” {ummatan wasatari) found in verse 2:143 into a conceptual universe for this Islamic counterpublic. Consequently, though wasatiyya had been used by Azhari ‘ulamâ ' in general since the 1960s,101 Qaradawi popularized the tenu and it became part of his personal brand.

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