In 2016, two French journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot received a USB stick containing thousands of files documenting Qatar Charity’s support for a Europe-wide missionary network maintained by the Muslim Brotherhood. The identity of the whistle-blower has never been revealed but in light of the crisis between Qatar and Gulf Cooperation Council countries, state involvement seems likely. The choice of the two journalists was also no coincidence: Chesnot and Malbrunot had authored two highly critical works of Qatar in 2014 and 2016. In the three years following the leak, the two journalists conducted in-depth research into Qatar Charity, resulting in a book and documentary that shed new light on Qatar’s involvement in European Muslim affairs.
Qatar Charity and the Muslim Brotherhood
Qatar Charity poses as an independent NGO, but according to the research of the two French journalists, it is tightly interwoven with the Qatari state and advances its agenda abroad. Qatar’s foreign policy is driven by both ideology — expressed in its strong support for political Islam— and by competition with its regional rivals over influence. In this regard, Qatar has entered a symbiotic relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood which goes back several decades to the period between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s when Brotherhood figures such as Abdul-Badi Saqr and Yusuf al-Qaradawi fled Egypt for the Gulf emirate, infiltrating its bureaucracy and education system. However, while Qatar supports the Muslim Brotherhood abroad through funding and propaganda — via the Qatari media channel Al-Jazeera — it is keen to keep the Brotherhood’s power within its own borders limited.
Qatar Charity is active on a global scale, but its primary focus is on Western countries where it launched a proselytization program called Al-Gaith. The funds invested in this proselytizing effort in Europe are substantial. As of 2014, Qatar had invested about 72 million Euro in 113 projects in Europe. Two years later, Salah Al Hammadi, QC’s Executive Director, claimed that “Qatar Charity had established 138 Islamic centers in Europe, Canada and America which work to introduce the civilization of Islam, encourage dialogue between different peoples and preserve the identity of Muslim communities”.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its network of associations, mosques, and cultural centers seem to be one of the chief benefactors of this investment. Islamic-conservative NGOs such as the European Muslim Union, which vows to spread the wearing of the veil and claims to fight Islamophobia, and activists like Tariq Ramadan, have also received money. This Brotherhood network in Europe has been in the making since the late 1950s. Foreign money has always been one of the drivers of its expansion and in recent years Qatar has become its main sponsor. But what is the goal of this network? Many of the projects funded by Qatar are veritable super projects such as the mosque in Mulhouse which includes religious, cultural, commercial, and sports facilities. Critics, therefore, accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of working on establishing a parallel society which separates Muslims from the broader society. The French journalists, however, argue that the Brotherhood is pushing a much broader agenda.
In internal planning documents and public statements in Arabic, Brotherhood members openly speak about their long-term goals of reconquering “lost territories” in Europe – such as Sicily or Andalusia – and regaining new ones to realize their long-term goal of establishing an Islamic state. This vision of Islamic irredentism can, for instance, be found in the speeches of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, he emphasizes that, this time, Islam would seek to conquer Europe not through the sword but through proselytizing. Al-Qaradawi has even developed a legal framework to justify this agenda of proselytization. In traditional Islamic understanding, non-Muslim territories belong to Dar al-Harb, the Land of War, which needs to be conquered by Islam to become part of Dar al-Islam, the Land of Islam. Qaradawi has added a third category, declaring Europe to be Dar al-Dawa, the Land of Proselytizing. Al-Qaradawi quotes Muslim prophecies speaking about the conquest of Rome as a justification for his missionary effort.
Qatar Charity seems to subscribe to this vision of Islamic irredentism, or, at least, makes use of it for promotional purposes. Thus, when Qatar Charity funded the Great Mosque in the French city of Poitiers, it used a different name in its internal documents. It called the mosque the “streets of the martyrs” in a reference to the death of the Muslim warlord Abd er Rahman and his followers, who died there during the iconic battle between the Frankish-Christian and Muslim Forces in the 8th century. In a promotional video, which is featured in the documentary, its president states that he wanted “this Islamic center to be a symbol for the conquest of Europe by different means. We want this center to be the starting point for the spread of Islam and dialogue.” Unsurprisingly, the center has become a topic of public debate in France since these statements came to light. Such aggressive and irredentist rhetoric is not limited to France. Many of Qatar Charity’s projects are located in Sicily, which was an Islamic Emirate from the 9th-11th century. Qatar Charity’s Arabic-language promotional material, advertising its projects in Sicily, is replete with references to the Islamic past of Sicily, leading skeptics to believe that the organization is pursuing an irredentist agenda.
The book also provides a detailed list of Qatar Charity’s spending in Europe, giving unprecedented insight into the scope of its investments and its regional strategy. Despite its comparatively small Muslim population, Qatar has invested more money in Italy than in any other European country: more than 22 Million Euro as of 2014, 150 percent of the amount in France, which comes in second, with its much larger Muslim population. At the moment of the book’s publication, Qatar had funded the construction of 47 mosques in Italy. But what exactly are the reasons for this significant involvement? Besides the irredentist vision discussed above, Qatar Charity and its partners may be calculating that with Europe struggling to control its southern border, the percentage of Muslim immigrants in Italy will increase sharply in the coming years. These new immigrants might prove receptive to Qatar Charity’s proselytizing programs.
Significant investments have also flowed into Spain, which comes in third. Although the authors do not discuss Qatar Charity’s activities in Spain, it is worth mentioning that Spain shares several similarities with Italy. It has a relatively small Muslim population, it is geographically exposed to refugee flows and has several regions that were controlled by Muslims for centuries. This may indicate that Qatar Charity is indeed pursuing something which can be described as a southern strategy, focusing on Mediterranean European countries whose demographics can be expected to change significantly in the coming decades.
The situation is different in Northern Europe. In Germany, Qatar Charity invested only a little more than 5 million euros in three projects by 2014, placing the country only on rank four in Europe. The United Kingdom follows on rank five. How can Qatar’s comparatively minor involvement in these countries be explained? Unlike France and Southern Europe, the majority of the Muslim population in Germany and the UK, do not hail from the MENA region. For example, the majority of German Muslims are from Turkey, and, as a result, Turkish Islamist groups like the official Turkish religious authority Diyanet or the Milli Görüs have long dominated the local Islamist scene. These Turkish Islamist groups are loyal to the Erdogan regime – Qatar’s main ally in the region. Qatar relies on Turkish Islamist networks to support its agenda in Germany. However, the authors believe to see signs of stronger Qatari involvement in Germany since 2017 – the beginning of the crisis with its neighbors. This couples with assessments by the German domestic intelligence service that the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been present in Germany since the late 1950s, is increasing its activity. The large-scale influx of Middle Eastern immigrants since 2013 might present a unique opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood’s and Qatar Charity’s proselytization agenda.
It is also worth mentioning that Qatar Charity has further invested 3.6 million euros in Switzerland by 2014, a disproportional amount given that Switzerland’s small Muslim population – overwhelmingly from the Balkans – has proven to be less receptive to the Arab brand of Islamism promulgated by the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Switzerland has been the home of the Ramadan family since the late 1950s, and, unsurprisingly, Said Ramadan’s son Tariq Ramadan and his brother Hani Ramadan’s League of Muslims in Switzerland have both been recipients of Qatari money.
While the two journalists provide no evidence suggesting that Qatar Charity is directly involved in funding terrorism, many of the persons and organizations that are part of the Brotherhood-led missionary network in Europe have been suspected of providing assistance to terrorist organizations. Thus, the US treasury has accused several French and Swiss Brotherhood-linked organizations of being part of the Union of Good – a network providing funds to Hamas. The latter continues to be backed by Qatar and Turkey. According to French intelligence reports funnelled to the two journalists, Ahmad Al-Hamadi – who supervises the al-Gaith proselytization program – also has a history of Islamic extremism. The French suspect him of having supported terrorists in Chechnya and the Balkans. Qatar is also known to have backed many of Islamist groups fighting in the Syrian Civil War. One interviewee, Haytham Manna’, a representative of the Syrian-Democratic opposition, described how early into the uprising an emissary of Qatar offered to provide him with arms.
The research by Chesnot and Malbrunot clearly shows how Muslim religious affairs in Europe have become the object of inter-state competition. In this struggle, Turkey and Qatar provide sometimes critical support for institutions linked to the Muslim Brotherhood network. Their overall agenda – shielding the European Muslims from Western influence and proselytizing the fundamentalist version of Islam endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood – is contrarian to the goals of European states which seek to achieve higher integration of their Muslim population. The irredentist rhetoric employed by Qatar Charity and its beneficiaries is particularly explosive and further risks undermining social cohesion.
As a result of the ongoing crisis between Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and their allies, Qatar Charity has apparently reduced its activities in Europe since 2017. Still, it would be short-sighted to believe that the phenomenon of foreign involvement in European Muslim affairs – with different actors vying for influence over the local Muslim population – has thereby ended.
European governments have been slow in addressing or even acknowledging the existence of concerted and state-sponsored proselytization programs. Moreover, they have often invited foreign actors, such as Turkey, to provide religious education to its Muslim citizens. European governments, thus, risk becoming passive bystanders to European Muslim affairs. However, demands for curbing Islamist activity in Europe are growing and laws such as Austria’s ban on foreign funding for religious institutions can be expected to proliferate in the near future.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.
 Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, Qatar papers : Comment l’émirat finance l’islam de France et d’Europe, September 24, 2019.
 David B. Roberts, Qatar and the Brotherhood, Survival, July 4, 2014, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2014.941557
 Salah Al Hammadi, Editorial, Ghiras, June 2016.