Author: Willy Le Devin
Source: Libération, April 26, 2013 (Internet version)
English Translation by Point de Bascule
Original French Title: Les musulmans dans la mire du Qatar (Muslims targeted by Qatar)
INVESTIGATION After real estate and soccer, the Emirate is discreetly getting involved with Islam in France by funding some mosques and by supporting the Union des organisations islamiques de France (UOIF – Union of Islamic Organizations in France).
It is slowly getting less taboo to talk about it. Islam and Qatar, two words that, when side by side, provoke a strong reaction filled with fantasies, fears and polemics in France. However, after having carefully studied the issue, it appears that, today, the Emirate has a well-thought strategy to interfere with Islam in France. Like Morocco, Algeria or Saudi Arabia, but with a stronger emphasis on proselytism, the Emirate maneuvers with an economically weakened community that welcomes this very wealthy benefactor. Given that, why not reconcile faith and finance, two major priorities in the external Qatari policy?
Since the seventies, Qatar, a Wahhabi country, has in fact concluded an objective alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. This understanding is motivated by Qatar’s will to make its place between two regional giants (Saudi Arabia and Iran), by the Brotherhood’s sympathy toward capitalism (sic PdeB) and its pan-Islamic approach that suits very well a tiny state craving for recognition. This is why, very naturally, Qatar is practicing an insidious but agreed to infiltration within the UOIF, the local MB section in France.
On the ground, mostly in poor districts, we are witnessing the first reactions to the involvement of this new partner. “That’s nothing new, Islam in France has always been manipulated. Simply because this is a young, numerous and volatile community. It was obvious that Qatar would play a role,” noted Naoufel Brahimi el-Mili, a Professor at Sciences-Po Paris (Paris Institute of Political Studies). “What is different with this country is that its association with the UOIF leads it to get involved in a critical field since this organization is actively promoting the Islamic identity of French Muslims. The UOIF is openly advocating for expansion (proselytism) which brings numerous conversions.”
Division. Besides, we are now witnessing a weakening of Morocco and Algeria’s influence, both traditional partners of Islam in France. Although they remain rich donors, keep strong ties with the first generations of immigrants and occupy key positions within the Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM – French Council of Muslim Cult), these two countries have lost a lot of influence with young Muslims. A few years ago, Islam was organized in France around the ‘national’ communities: the Algerians with the Algerians, the Moroccans with the Moroccans… Today, these balances have changed and a new line of division has appeared: an opposition between the Salafist schools of thought preaching a literal interpretation of Islam backed by Saudi Arabia and various schools of thoughts close to the Brotherhood, positioning themselves as reformist and supported by Qatar.
Of course, the Emirate has gone full speed to fund mosques in France since the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State does not allow any involvement of the State in this field. In most cases, Qatar invests in mosques whose administrators are linked with the UOIF or its local representatives.
Three cases of involvement:
NANTES – The Assalam Mosque in Nantes is managed by the Association islamique de l’Ouest de la France (AIOF – Islamic Association of Western France). It cost 4.4 millions euros.
MULHOUSE – Same thing in Mulhouse where Qatar Charity spent 2 millions euros.
MARSEILLE – In Marseille, the Emirate will pay 25% of the 22 millions euros required for the future Great Mosque designed to hold 10,000 to 14,000 persons. Fatima Orsatelli, Socialist Party councillor for the region of Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur (PACA) and member of the Board of the Association of Marseille Great Mosque, admits that Qatar was quick to gather the money: “It wasn’t us who approached them. They did, through their Embassy. They are well-informed, responsive and so rich… However, she added, although they are in the midst of a fierce struggle, they did not ask for any advantage. Increasing the number of donor States limits their control.”
Boubaker Labidi, responsible for the construction of Nantes Assalam Mosque is more straightforward: “Qatar? Today, they are unavoidable. More than the other States, they have an emotional relationship with France. For us, Qatar is a partner whose role keeps increasing…”
Fatwas. If this closer relationship with the UOIF was made possible, it is mostly because of the role played by a Muslim Brotherhood key figure: radical sheikh Youssef al-Qaradaoui (Youssef Qaradawi). Born in Egypt and a naturalized Qatari, he lives in exile in Doha since 1971. He is the de facto Emirate’s mufti and the ulema referred to by UOIF sympathisers. His talk-show Sharia and Life on Al-Jazira is very popular. A few years ago, the prestigious guest al-Qaradaoui was invited by the Château-Chinon European Institute of Human Sciences, a UOIF-controlled training centre for imams in the Nièvre department (at the heart of France) and at UOIF meetings at the Bourget. After his intolerable statements about the Shoah, he was banned from entering France in 2012. It does not matter. Qaradawi floods Europe with his fatwas from Dublin (Ireland) where he leads the European Council for Fatwa and Research. UOIF president, Ahmed Jaballah, is also on the Board of this much criticized organization for its radicalism.
In order to increase its influence among Muslims living in France, Qatar also understood that it had to count on skilled communicators. This is why, a few years back, the Emirate got closer to Tariq Ramadan. His audience and the scope of his reach are not matched by anybody in France. Being good strategists, Qataris have also invested in various associations fighting Islamophobia, such as the Collectif des musulmans de France, led by radical Nabil Ennasri, the Comité contre l’islamophobie en France or the Tawhid Cultural Centre in Saint-Denis (north of Paris), where intellectuals close to the Brotherhood are invited. Rachid Ghannouchi, the founder of the Tunisian Ennahda Party and Tariq Ramadan’s supposedly more radical brother, Hani, have spoken there. Frequently this centre, that has a large following in the area of Seine-Saint-Denis, organizes fundraising events in the Gulf countries. According to many members, Qatar is the most generous donor.
Point de Bascule: Qatar File