If the Muslim Brotherhood gains prominence in a future Egyptian government, Imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a key spiritual guide, might return to his native land to help drive theological rule, writes Hudson Institute visiting fellow Lee Smith. Qaradawi, who now lives in Qatar, left Egypt and went into exile in 1961.
While parallels between Iran's 1979 revolution and Egypt's in 2011 are sometimes overdone, they cannot be ignored. "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," Smith writes.
There are a number of similarities between Qaradawi and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. Both operated as charismatic Islamists fighting against secular, autocratic regimes. Khomeini made broadcasts in exile from Paris; today, Qaradawi hosts a popular talk show on Al Jazeera called "Sharia and Life." Like Khomeini, Qaradawi is a virulent anti-Semite. He has lauded Hitler for putting Jews in their place and expressed hope he would die a martyr trying to kill Jews.
What makes the situation so dangerous, according to Smith, is the fact that the Egyptian party system offers no credible opposition leader as an alternative to President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak's National Democratic Party is likely to crumble when he leaves, making the Muslim Brotherhood the country's best organized party.
Qaradawi is "a media mogul who has risen to fame on the back of information technology" even though he holds views that are "essentially medieval" on subjects like wife-beating, which he supports, Smith observes.
The prospect that Qaradawi and the Brotherhood could play significant roles in Egypt's near-term future is an unhappy one for U.S. policymakers – torn between their support for democracy and the realization that in Egypt, the beneficiaries could well be enemies of liberal democracy and the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement. Washington needs to face the unpleasant reality that the more political power the Muslim Brotherhood wields, the more likely war becomes in the region, Smith writes.