DUBAI (Reuters) - A Sunni Muslim cleric at the centre of a diplomatic rift among Gulf Arab states has criticised Washington’s role in the campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria as purely self-interested.
Ties between Qatar and its neighbours have periodically come under strain following sermons by Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric based in Doha, criticising the military-based Egyptian government and conservative Gulf Arab dynasties.
Qaradawi’s outspoken support for Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood earlier this year contributed to an unprecedented diplomatic rift between Qatar and several of its Gulf Arab allies, who consider the Islamist movement a security threat.
Commenting on ultra-hardline Islamic State, an armed group Gulf Arab states pledged to fight at a meeting on Thursday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Jeddah, Qaradawi criticised Washington’s planned campaign against it.
Using a widely used term for Islamic State in a Twitter message, he wrote on Saturday: “I totally disagree with Da’ish in ideology and means, but I don’t at all accept that the one to fight it is America, which does not act in the name of Islam but rather in its own interests, even if blood is shed.”
Gulf Arab states have been unhappy with Doha for sheltering Qaradawi and for giving him air time on its pan-Arab satellite and state television channels. His religious shows on Al Jazeera television have been watched by millions.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain were especially angry over Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood, whose ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule that dominates the Gulf.
Eventually the three states recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in March, accusing Doha of failing to abide by an accord not to interfere in each others’ affairs. Qatar denies the charge.
In a sign that pressure may be having some effect, the Brotherhood said on Saturday that Qatar had asked seven senior Brotherhood figures to leave the country.
Qatari officials were not immediately available for comment.
Qatar and Turkey were the only regional countries to back the Brotherhood after Egypt’s army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last year after mass protests against his rule.
Reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Ruth Pitchford