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Egyptian cleric revered by Muslim Brotherhood dies at 96

Sheik Youssef al-Qardawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in 2011 (Khalil Hamra/AP)
Sheik Youssef al-Qardawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in 2011 (Khalil Hamra/AP)

Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric seen as the spiritual leader of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, has died at the age of 96, according to his official website.

He died on Monday in the Gulf Arab nation of Qatar, where he had been living in exile following the military’s overthrow of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt in 2013.

Mr al-Qaradawi had been tried and sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt.

For many years while living in exile, he had a popular talk show on Qatar’s Al-Jazeera network and often weighed in on controversial political topics.

He supported suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinians against Israel and also voiced support for the Iraqi insurgency that erupted after the US-led invasion of 2003.

But he also backed the Muslim Brotherhood’s embrace of democratic elections and was a staunch critic of more radical groups, like the so-called Islamic State.

He had strongly criticised the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, calling on all Muslim nations at the time to prepare to fight the Americans there “if the Iraqis fail to drive them out”.

“By opening our ports, our airports and our land, we are participating in the war,” Mr al-Qaradawi said in a pointed critique of US-allied Arab governments.

“We will be cursed by history because we have helped the Americans.”

Qatar, which hosted him for decades, also hosts American troops and now serves as the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt nearly a century ago and has branches across the region, played a major role in the 2011 uprisings that rocked the Middle East and rose to power in Egypt’s first democratic elections after the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

But their year-long rule proved extremely divisive, and the military removed the Brotherhood from power in 2013 amid mass protests against them.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates included Mr al-Qaradawi on a list of dozens of organisations and individuals that they sanctioned for alleged terrorism in 2017 as part of a diplomatic dispute with Qatar, which denied the allegations.