Influential cleric says to resume Friday sermons amid Gulf rift

Wed Apr 2, 2014 10:06am EDT

* Fiery preacher says to resume sermons next week

* His criticism of Saudis, UAE has strained regional ties

* Muslim Brotherhood reveres Qaradawi

DOHA, April 2 (Reuters) - An influential Qatar-based Islamist whose fiery sermons strained ties between Doha and its neighbours said on Wednesday he would resume preaching after a gap of several weeks, dismissing a suggestion he had been silent due to the diplomatic tensions.

"Stopping the sermons is for personal reasons. It has nothing to do with the current situation," Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian-born cleric critical of the authorities in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), told Reuters.

"I will start the sermons again not this Friday but the coming one, God willing," he said in brief remarks.

Asked if he had plans to leave Qatar to ease pressure on the government, Qaradawi, a naturalised Qatari citizen, said he would do no such thing.

"What you need to understand is that I'm a part of Qatar and they are a part of me. I've been here for more that 35 years, I'm a citizen," he said.

The UAE summoned the Qatari ambassador in February over what it said were insults by Qaradawi in a Qatar state television broadcast in which he condemned the UAE as anti-Islamic.

The move apparently failed to deter Qaradawi, who said in a sermon shortly afterwards, apparently addressing the UAE: "Were you angry at me because of two lines I said about you? What if I gave an entire sermon just on your scandals and injustices."

On March 5, in an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, accusing Doha of failing to abide by an accord not to interfere in each others' internal affairs. Qatar denies the charge.

The three states were especially angry at Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that reveres Qaradawi and whose ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule long dominant in the Gulf.

In his remarks to Reuters, Qaradawi downplayed the rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, saying the issue would be resolved soon. He did not elaborate.

But he continued to criticise financial support provided by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to Egypt, where the army ousted elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Mursi last year.

The two countries are among several Gulf Arab states that have provided billions of dollars in aid to Cairo, including to build clinics, schools and housing units, since the overthrow.

"None of the money the UAE and Saudi Arabia gave went to improve the lives of the Egyptian people," Qaradawi said. (Reporting by Amena Bakr; editing by Sami Aboudi and William Maclean and Gareth Jones)