A Series by Michael Laubsch
Qatar is at the forefront of a diplomatic activism that spared no effort to support the Arab uprisings, and economic investments of all kinds, in a Europe shaken and weakened by an unprecedented financial and migration crisis. The Doha regime wanted to become a key player, and appeared, as often as possible, alongside historic democratic nations (European Union, France, US and UK), because this type of companionship also allows it to strengthen its foundations and its internal legitimacy, being able to count on the possible political support of its Western partners, in the event of internal difficulties. Emir Al-Thani’s regime can thus protect itself from potential coups d’état, or from the challenge of important social groups, including the merchant elite, which the regime takes care to maintain by sharing the markets and the juicy fruits. of growth.
The religious question is important too, by securing the services of leading figures of Islam from Europe, seeking to develop a new leadership on Islamist movements, to counter Saudi-inspired ideology, and at the same time extend its spheres of influence beyond the Arab world alone. Because Europe has also become a theater of opposition between the Wahabi movements, financed and supported by Saudi Arabia, and the Islamist movements, financed and supported, among others, by Qatar.
The Qatari regime is structurally authoritarian: it is built on an oligarchic logic tinged with Islamo-centered tribalism, it is also crossed by contradictory ideological currents, including Wahhabi Salafism and Islamism.
Despite the predominance of Saudi-influenced Salafists over religious institutions of private education, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood remains the most entrenched in Qatar. As such, the emirate has cultivated a long history with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists, with whom it continues to commune, unlike Saudi Arabia, which is much more suspicious of them, especially since the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, Saudi Arabia has long been a favorite land for Islamists in the Arab world, hunted down by their respective regimes:
The 1960s in Saudi Arabia were therefore marked by the massive importance in the religious field of an exogenous tradition, that of the Muslim Brotherhood, and by the establishment of structures which, in substance as well as in form, can be seen widely put at its service, which, via the education system, soon extended to almost all fields of social space.
Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, welcomed, from the 1950s to the 1960s, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which fled the repressive Nasserism. It was the great period of an objective alliance between the Islamists, who came mainly from Iraq, Syria and Egypt, and the hereditary monarchies, which used the religious referent to legitimize themselves, contain and repel the assault of nationalist ideas. and revolutionary socialists, very popular among the Arab populations until the middle of the 1970s. The Islamists took advantage of this, with the blessing of all these regimes, which shared their conservatism, thus very easily investing the universities of the Gulf to play it. It is also from this period that the signs of a friction between the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Islamist tendency date, whose most illustrious representatives in the region are Salman al-‘Awda (1955) and Safar al-Hawali (1950), and the supporters of the Wahhabi tendency, evolving in the orbit of Riyadh. This may explain, at least in part, the past competition between Saudi Arabia and Qatar for control or stranglehold over re-Islamization movements in the context of the post-social uprisings in the Arab world. By betting and financing all or part of the political-religious movements and parties, whether or not they were born out of the “Arab Spring”, the Qatari regime subsequently intends to influence the newly elected powers in order to play a leading role.
Sheikh Yussuf Al-Qaradhawi, leader of the ideological matrix of contemporary Islamism and front ideologist of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Muslim world and in Europe, is a leading religious figure in Qatar. He is a close friend of the royal family in Doha. He was the featured anchor of the program “The Sharia and Life”, produced by the Al-Jazeera channel. In addition, Al-Qaradhawi is one of the main architects of “Islamic legitimization of the social and liberal reforms of the Emir and his wife”, by counterbalancing, in the country, the Salafists and part of the Qatari Islamists, supporters of a literalist interpretation of Islam and hostile to any innovation.
But what is the relationship between the Qatari regime, its religious ideology, in particular the one of Al-Qaradhawi, and the Islam in Europe?
Despite the diversity of Muslim trends, currents and movements in Europe, the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the oldest sensibilities present, it is undoubtedly one of the best established and most organized. A constellation of associations are linked to it, either structurally, or ideologically. It was at the beginning of the 1980s, via the creation of several organizations, and the birth of partner associations, that the Islamist ideology began to take shape and spread rapidly in circles throughout Europe and its Muslim communities. This is imbued with a normative reading of Islam and promotes, both individually and collectively, a return to a strict practice of religious norms: assiduous practice of the five pillars of Islam, presence at the mosque, development of community work, construction of mosques and religious cultural centers, proselytism, etc.
The rapid and deep anchoring, in the still largely sparse landscape of Islam in Europe at the end of the 1980s, is thus explained by a capacity for grassroots mobilization and the existence of international relays, by capitalizing on foreign donations from Qatar. In the mid-1990s, it was all about responding to a religious demand (nascent and growing), maintain it and stimulate it even more.
The European Brotherhood associations still largely bearing the stigmata of the countries of origin, combining several strengths, knows, when the time is right, to promote effectively to Qatari patrons: a perfect command of French, German and English, knowledge of Islamic theology, and filiation with the founder of the Brotherhood of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna. This lineage gives it symbolic capital, an inherited legitimacy, not only internally, with Muslims receptive to Islamist discourse (a committed Islam), but also externally, with major theological figures, such as Qaradhawi or even the leaders of the Islamist movements, who venerate H. Al-Banna precisely.
The Islam of Europe, predominantly Sunni, is doctrinally and organizationally fragmented. Its representations do not have a strictly theological-political vocation. It is a bureaucratic structure aimed at organizing, at best, the conditions for the exercise of Muslim worship in Europe, and at being the interlocutor of the public authorities.
In addition, Muslims are extremely diverse, in terms of socio-economic, educational, religious profiles and representations of the world. The absence of a centralized and “infallible” magisterium, holder of the monopoly of the goods of salvation (Max Weber) allows us, with good reason, to assimilate the Islam of Europe to a religious market, which obeys rules of operation similar to those of the political market. Indeed, this type of market is a space within which a supply and a demand are built, and where entrepreneurs, interested in “Islam” capital, invest “particular technologies” necessary for the work of mobilization and legitimation.
In other words, the personalities of the Brotherhood ideologists in Europe can be considered a leading entrepreneur; the latter was able to take full advantage, for very long years, of the absence, as efficient as it is effective, of legitimate representation of Muslims in Europe, in order to develop a brand image, and thus ensure a great part of the moral and political leadership on the second and third generations of Muslims living abroad, awaiting sermons in French.
And it is precisely through those propagandists on the one hand, and the internationalist character of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology on the other, that Qatar was able to penetrate a largely open European religious market. Indeed, the second and third generations of Muslims in Europe are much less receptive than their parents to the sirens of a “consular Islam”, which remains very legitimate with regard to the host country and the countries of origin. The supporters of this Islam want to be as discreet as possible in the public space. However, for the generations born and socialized in Europe, speeches and indoctrination by the Muslim Brotherhood preachers might be more catchy. They are drawn to a discourse that promotes not only attachment to the fundamental principles of the Islamic faith, material success, commitment to the life of the city, but also communion and solidarity with the Ummah.
It is therefore not surprising that Qatari influential circles agreed to open a Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), inaugurated in Doha , January 15, 2012. The patronage of the Qatari regime was also made possible, thanks to the help of Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi.
Without giving in to the fantasy of the Qatari plot, which would like the emirate to be the rear or advanced base of the Islamization of Europe, it is nevertheless possible to affirm that Qatar maintains a strategic patronage, which participates its visibility in the plurality of social fields. The religious medium has, in hollow, vocation to increase the symbolic domination of Qatar on Islamist mobilizations, because its representatives know that Islam is a powerful legitimizing resource, to generate mobilization and create social links. By financing centre throughout Europe, it is above all through a brand image with the new European Muslim generations, attached to religion and seeking.
The Brotherhood leaders in Europe need, in order to make their project credible in the eyes of the patrons, to surround themself with young European graduates who are visible in the public space, and if possible, in the media. So that they can serve as a relay to the new European Muslim generations.
It is not so sure that Qatar’s recent strategy to have a lasting influence on the Islam of Europe and to patronize part of its educated, pious and committed European youth, via personalities is truly profitable: on the one hand, because, despite the popularity (declining say some activists and observers) of preachers in working-class neighborhoods sensitive or not to religious discourse, the irruption of Qatar in the suburbs good the compromise and collusion of the Arab-Muslim political elites with the interests, real or supposed, of the hegemonic forces of the West, anxious, according to Muslim activists, to control developments in the Arab and/or Islamic world. On the other hand, and this is fully in line with the first point, the ideologists are more and more contested by European associative activists (in particular from the working class of immigrant origin and of a Third World tendency), who have called them yet been close in the recent past. They denounce in them, in addition to their paternalism and gentrification, their numerous religious and intellectual inconsistencies, which push them to make choices that seem incoherent to them, starting with that of claiming to be part of the ideological family of the Christian theologians of the liberation of South America, and to be “on the side of all the oppressed” while linking up, without fear of contradiction, to an authoritarian, tribalist, pro-Israel emirate, ultra liberal economically, which institutes, moreover, discrimination in respect of some of the non-Qatari nationals. This seems to be the antithesis of the fight waged by the militant base of European Muslim communities, generally impoverished, whether they are seduced or not, by Islamism and the theses of a theologian such as Qaradhawi.