The devout crowd, many of whom turned out to hear Qaradawi give his first public speech since 1981, was also a reminder that huge sections of Egypt take their Islamic faith seriously – and that real and open democratic reform will almost certainly lead to a stronger role for the faith in the nation’s political life.
“Qaradawi is very much in the mainstream of Egyptian society, he’s in the religious mainstream, he’s not offering something that’s particularly distinctive or radical in the context of Egypt,” says Mr. Hamid. “He’s an Islamist and he’s part of the Brotherhood school of thought, but his appeal goes beyond the Islamist spectrum, and in that sense he’s not just an Islamist figure, he’s an Egyptian figure with a national profile.”
Qaradawi called for the immediate release of the thousands of political prisoners that remain in Egypt’s jails, an end to the feared state security services, the dissolution of the cabinet of Mubarak loyalists who have been retained by the country’s military junta, and an end to the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.
After his speech, he read from the Quran, his voice cracking as he reached a verse on the fate of tyrants. Then the thousands settled into prayer amid a pin-drop silence before breaking out into shouts of “no to Hosni, no to his regime, no to his supporters.”