There’s a lot left to do in Egypt, with the interim prime minister having abruptly stepped down Thursday — just ahead of a Friday rally to demand his ouster — and internal disorder on the rise. Armed gangs have reportedly seized control of many urban areas; theft, extortion, and vandalism are rampant; the national stock exchange has yet to reopen, and foreign investors are cutting their losses, as their former partners in Egyptian enterprises face criminal charges and political inquests. The border with Libya is the scene of chaos, while thousands of Egyptians remain stranded on the other side of it. Leadership and a blueprint for Egypt’s political future are badly needed.
So it is informative about the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi that at this delicate juncture, he’s heading to Khartoum for a conference. The conference in question is the annual gathering sponsored by al-Qaradawi’s al-Quds International Institute (“AQII,” also called the International Jerusalem Foundation in Western translations). AQII, launched in 2000, is dedicated to “preserving the character of Jerusalem,” which last year’s conference affirmed as the “permanent capital of Arab culture.” The annual conclave, featuring impassioned perorations against the “Judaization” of Jerusalem, has been hosted in capitals from Algiers to Sana’a, Yemen, to Istanbul. The 2010 conference in Beirut was attended by delegates from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, along with the national representatives of Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated organizations.
The Egyptian-born al-Qaradawi had his triumphal moment in Tahrir Square on February 18, but apparently it’s time to get back to his first priority. It is not yet clear what kind of role he will play in the reconstitution of Egypt. But as he proceeds with a conference he could undoubtedly have postponed, the outlines of that role are beginning to emerge. The sweaty work of charting a national course for Egypt and satisfying vociferous constituencies will be done by others; al-Qaradawi, with his different vocation, is likely to exert influence from the political sidelines.
The Bashir regime in Sudan would seem to have urgent preoccupations other than hosting this conference (and, reportedly, endowing AQII with a multi-acre industrial site for “Jerusalem developmental projects”). Sudan’s future is far from certain. But in the last six weeks, as disorder has settled over the Arab world, Sudan has vaulted from an incorrigible backwater to one of the likeliest venues for the AQII gabfest. The connection bears watching — as does the single-minded consistency of al-Qaradawi’s priorities.