DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - One of the world’s most influential Muslim television preachers said on Friday that he was traveling back to his native Egypt, which is in turmoil amid mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak.
Amr Khaled, whose TV shows promoting Islam are widely viewed throughout the Middle East, told Reuters he was leaving the
World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland to head for Cairo. He would not say whether he would join the protests.
“My message to all Egyptians now is that our country is precious and the future needs a government that listens and respects young people,” he said in a telephone interview.
Khaled, a former accountant with KPMG, lives in London and is viewed in the Muslim world as a moderate who rejects extremism and has denounced the actions of Osama bin Laden.
He has a reported 2.1 million followers on Facebook.
In 2002 the Egyptian government stopped the charismatic presenter from entering the country for three years, as his popularity with young people was seen at the time as a threat.
“I was banned from my country for three years because I tried to communicate with people and find out what young people’s dreams were,” Khaled said.
Since 2005, Khaled has been able to travel freely to Egypt. It was not clear whether the government would attempt to stop him from entering on this occasion.
On Friday, President Hosni Mubarak imposed a curfew and ordered troops to back up police as they struggled to control crowds who flooded the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities on Friday to demand that he step down.
In unrest never before seen during Mubarak’s 30 year-rule, police and demonstrators fought running street battles.
“What’s happening today was expected as a result of the government’s neglect and lack of appreciation and lack of representation of youth in any of the government agencies,” Khaled said.
In an effort to connect with young people in the Arab world, Khaled conducted a survey in 2006 where he asked for young people from all over the Middle East to send him their hopes and wishes for the future.
“I received 1.4 million responses and highest priority dream that the majority of the youth had was to find a job, can you imagine that?” he said.
Unemployment has blighted Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, and was estimated last year at around 9 percent.
Reporting by Amena Bakr; Editing by Michael Stott and Mark Heinrich