Influential cleric urges Saudis to stop backing Egypt's dominant military

Amena Bakr
Egyptian-born cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi (C) attends the opening session of the fifth International Al-Quds conference in Algiers March 26, 2007.REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

By Amena Bakr

DOHA (Reuters) - A prominent Gulf-based Muslim cleric called on Saudi Arabia to stop backing Egypt's military-dominated authorities, accusing them of using Saudi money to kill Egyptians protesting at the overthrow in July of an elected Islamist president.

Most U.S.-aligned Gulf Arab monarchies, rattled by the rise of Islamists in the Middle East, were relieved when the Egyptian military stepped in to topple President Mohamed Mursi after mass protests against his rule.

But Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric based in Qatar, said the strong backing that Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, had provided military-backed Egyptian authorities which had crushed Islamist opposition since Mursi's removal was wrong and should be withdrawn.

"It's surprising that the Saudi government gave billions of dollars to support the (anti-Mursi) coup and the coup leaders and those who are far from God and Islam," Qaradawi, one of the most influential Sunni Muslim clerics in the Middle East, told Reuters in an interview conducted by email.

"The only thing that links them to their neighboring countries is the language of interests and benefits," said Qaradawi, who heads the International Association of Muslim Scholars, a grouping close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qaradawi said the Egyptian military, led by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who is now expected to run in Egypt's pending presidential election and win it, was using Saudi funds to "kill innocent Egyptians" instead of helping the poor.

"I call upon the people of Saudi Arabia and on the Saudi regime to stand with the Egyptian people against the murders and executioners, to stand with the right against wrong, to stand with the slain against the killer, to stand with the oppressed against the oppressors," he said.

"These rulers hate Saudi Arabia and its ruling regime. They do not believe in sharia," he added, referring to strict Islamic law applied in Saudi Arabia.

SUPPRESSION OF EGYPTIAN ISLAMISTS

The military-backed authorities have cracked down hard on Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood since July, smashing sit-in protest camps in Cairo and killing hundreds of demonstrators. Most Brotherhood leaders including Mursi have also been arrested and the group has been designated a terrorist organization, although it formally renounced violence four decades ago.

The United States said in October it would withhold deliveries of military hardware and $260 million in cash aid for Egypt's military-backed government pending progress on democracy and human rights.

The hereditary rulers of most Gulf Arab states were close allies of longtime Egyptian autocratic president Hosni Mubarak before his fall to a popular uprising in 2011, and they saw the subsequent the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a dangerous precedent that could embolden Islamists at home.

But Qatar, where Qaradawi is based, kept close ties with the Egyptian Brotherhood and lent or gave Egypt $7.5 billion during his Mursi's one year in office.

Asked about who he thinks was behind the wave of bombings that targeted security compounds in Cairo on the third anniversary last Friday of Mubarak's downfall, Qaradawi said the Muslim Brotherhood was distant from such practices and suggested that Egyptian intelligence services might have provoked the attacks to stoke popular anger against Islamists.

"It is unreasonable to leave those buildings..., such as the Directorate of Security in Cairo, unguarded in the circumstances that have prevailed...This act has the fingerprints of Egypt's intelligence service all over it.

"I condemn these bombings, and we condemn violence in all its colors, and we know that a peaceful revolution is the way to success. To pursue violence is not in their interest."

(Editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich)

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