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Islamic Television Host Aims to Bridge East-West Divide

Aired April 26, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the televangelist who's taken the Islamic world by storm. We have an in-depth interview with Amr Khaled, who some call a cross between Oprah Winfrey and Billy Graham.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

He's an Islamic preacher with a mission: to build bridges between East and West and between young and old. His name is Amr Khaled, and his message -- that Islam can be modern -- has made him a talk show sensation in the Middle East, which has the youngest population in the world. Sixty percent of the people there are under 25 years old.

Amr Khaled reaches them by harnessing the power of satellite television to deliver a vision of tolerance and change to Islamic youth, but it doesn't sit well with some Arab leaders, and he was banned from preaching in Egypt in 2002.

In a moment, we'll speak to Amr Khaled. But first, CNN's Ben Wedeman brings us the power of his TV reality show from Cairo.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an Arab reality show with a twist. Participants don't plot against each other or eat rats and beetles. Rather, they team up to do good.

It's the brainchild of Egyptian accountant-turned-TV-preacher Amr Khaled. "Mujaddidun," Arabic for "renewers" or "revivers," shows six young men and women out of 250,000 applicants from across the Arab world. In each show, they're given 72 hours to address what ails their society.

In this episode, they've been assigned to help the unemployed in Amman, Jordan, find jobs, no small task, Khaled warns.

"Governments and international organizations don't know how to solve this complicated problem," he says. "Just imagine if young people could change this equation."

Two teams -- one male, one female -- coach job-seekers on how to present themselves and how to handle interviews. Egyptian journalist Ethar Elkatatney led the women's team.

ETHAR ELKATATNEY, MUJADDIDUN PARTICIPANT: It's not that it's a religious renaissance. It's everything. It can be cultural or social, you know? It's the whole get off your butts and do something. Go do something to change the world.

WEDEMAN: Not everyone here wants you to get off your butt, however.

(on-screen): The show strikes a sensitive chord in the Arab world, where most regimes care more for self-preservation than the public good. Critics say the regimes don't really want young people to take the initiative because if they did they might change their regimes themselves.

(voice-over): Which explains why a few years ago Khaled left Egypt because of government restrictions on his activities. His message of faith, modernity, and activism has caught on with the region's long and restless.

ELKATATNEY: That Islam isn't just about do this, do that, do this, do that. This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, haram, haram, haram, hijab, hijab, hijab, and this is it. No, they promote more how you should treat your neighbors, how you should deal at work, how you should -- a very contemporary kind of like look on lifestyle.

WEDEMAN: Each show ends with a scene right out of "The Apprentice," where one of the participants is expelled, one less participant, but ever more followers.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.


AMANPOUR: And now let's hear from Amr Khaled himself. He spoke to us earlier from Cairo.


AMR KHALED, TELEVISION HOST: Yes. Hello. Pleasure to meet -- to talk to you. It's my pleasure. How are you?

AMANPOUR: Listen, Mr. Khaled, you have been described as a mix between the talk show phenomenon Oprah Winfrey and the evangelical preacher Billy Graham. How do you explain your success?

KHALED: Actually, the first point that -- I started talking to the youth in the Middle East. As you know, youth in the Middle East, unfortunately, the last 10 years, last 20 years, nobody listened to them. Nobody's talking to them.

There is no dialogue between the people and the youth, between the media and the youth. I started this. I started talking to them, listening to them.

Look, how can we make the gap between the media and the youth? How can we find what are their problems? How can we solve these problems? How can we find jobs for them, for the unemployment issue?


How can we find -- how can we talk about the faith, to encourage and to motivate the youth to do something good for their countries, for themselves? This is what I did.

I actually started going to them, to their clubs, to play football with them, going to their universities, talking to them, listening to them. And this started that. They find that someone can respect us. This is a very important point.

AMANPOUR: The statistics show that there is something like 60 percent of the population in the Middle East, in the Arab world, in under the age of 25. And a U.N. report says that some 40 percent only are employed, which is way behind the international average.

So what are their problems? And what do you hope to achieve for the group whom you're targeting, the 20- to 30-year olds?

KHALED: Actually, you are right, what you said. This statistic is right. So that I started, how can we find solutions for these problems?

For example, 2 or 3 years ago, I started to ask the youth, "Please send me your dreams for your countries after 20 years from now." This was the first step. They sent me -- you cannot imagine -- around 700,000 dreams. They send these dreams in (inaudible) and they said, "We want to do this and this and this and this," so that I start with them.

Let's start with the priorities of your dreams. What is the priority of your dreams? You know, the first priority was, "We need jobs. We need to start to find jobs." The (inaudible) steps, I said to them, "OK, let's find how can we get training courses for you, for the microfinance project, and how faith can encourage you for to do this microfinance project."

AMANPOUR: What are you telling them about faith? And how does a reality show or your evangelical preaching on television help them in today's world and with today's challenges?

KHALED: Yes, we started a program called "Mujaddidun." It's like reviving another world life-makers (ph). We started this program in the television with (inaudible) of the youth as a role model for the youth.

And every week, we give them a mission, boys and girls, and ask them, "Go to the villages to -- to do this mission." For example, go for the poor people in this village in Egypt or Sudan or Yemen and help this poor family with a microfinance project, and take their kids to the schools.

And the (inaudible) with the boys and girls and the (inaudible) with the youth to record everything they're doing as a reality TV and how they will support the family, how they will succeed or not. And each moment we record this, and weekly, we're saying -- I'm going with them to say, "Who wins? Who won this -- this week?"

AMANPOUR: You mentioned boys and girls.


AMANPOUR: And this is quite unusual, isn't it, especially in the Islamic world, to have programs where boys and girls mix? You've been quite criticized for that.



Actually, is. But we believe in that. We believe that women can make a difference in our society. Women -- unfortunately, there is injustice, a lot of injustice for women in our countries. So that in our program, we put that and we say that, look, girls, women can make a difference. Women not less than men, than boys.

So that there's competition every week between boys and girls. And many times, women succeed and women won, not the boys. And each week, the people was looking, and the women started to say to me, through my Web site, "We want to work like them. We want to do this and this and this."

And when they started, the people sent to us that, we said, "This is the first step that we succeed," through the media...

AMANPOUR: All right.

KHALED: ... to encourage the people and to open a channel for the youth. Put your energy not in the extreme. Put your energy in this project to support your society.

AMANPOUR: OK. You mentioned to try to guide them away from the extreme. You also say that you want to try to be a gap between East and West, but that we don't want to live lives like the West. What are you saying there? How can you be a bridge and then say, "No, we don't want to live lives like the West?"

KHALED: Yes, I mean, we talked a lot in many of my programs about coexistence. We have a program called -- the name of the program called for "Coexistence," to say that we can work together and respect each other.


And this does not mean that we will leave our culture or to impose our culture, no. But let's work together for a better future for all. And I started to convince the youth to find the projects. How can we work together?

And through these programs, and through my Web site, a lot of projects the youth sent that we want to work together, and use our hands for the West, please. Let's work together to build our countries.


KHALED: And don't believe that a lot of the youth in the Middle East want to destroy. No. Youth in the Middle East want to build. But give them the chance.

AMANPOUR: You're talking about bridging gaps between East and West. You're talking about getting people out of the extreme.

Now, some of your critics have said, though, that, you know, you are potentially a fundamentalist in disguise. They say you encourage Muslim women to take up the veil, even movie stars.

And one woman, Hala Mustafa, one of Cairo's most prominent liberals, has said that, "His appearance is calculated to deceive. He is just like the other Islamic theocrats, but he says it with a smiling face." How do you answer those criticisms?

KHALED: Actually, this is not correct, because I'm not talking. I'm doing. Big difference between to talk about coexistence.

When we talk about "How can we build a bridge?" is talk, just talk. I'm not doing that. I'm doing a project to doing that. Big difference between to say, "You talk." No, we're doing a lot of projects.

For example, during the problems that our current crisis in Denmark -- as you know -- a lot of the Muslims in the Arab world and the Muslim countries was very angry, but we did something else.

I went to Denmark with about 40 of the youth, to make dialogue, to talk to each other, to respect each other. I believe in that, and I'm doing that. And I can put my hands for anybody for the sake of our countries and our youth, to put them in a bit of future...


KHALED: ... so that I don't know what to say about this, except that we're doing. We aren't talking.

AMANPOUR: OK, let me ask you this. You came under -- when you started out -- quite a lot of criticism inside Egypt itself. And you had to leave in the early 2000s. You left Egypt. Why were you under such criticism or attack by your own authorities?

KHALED: Actually, you're doing this interview with me from Egypt. I mean, I'm here now in Egypt. I'm not outside Egypt.

AMANPOUR: Yes, but why did you have to leave in your early years?

KHALED: Yes, you can say that, at that time, the message -- Amr Khaled's message wasn't very clear for many people. "What he's talking about? Is he talking about development or is he talking about faith? Or is he talking about what?"

And day after day, after the people watched what we're doing -- and it's for the sake of the country -- and the faith for development and for better future, then everybody said, "Yes, this message is clear, and we need this message." And day after day, I think, everybody can accept what we're doing much better.


AMANPOUR: Up next, we'll ask Amr Khaled what he thinks about the influential Muslim scholar Tahir-ul-Qadri who issued a fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing. That's when we return.




TAHIR-UL-QADRI: Any good intention or any mistake of foreign policy of any country or any pretext cannot legalize the act of terrorism. And terrorism and violence cannot be considered to be permissible in Islam on basis of any excuse.


AMANPOUR: That was a clip from my interview with the Islamic scholar Tahir-ul-Qadri, who appeared previously on this program. He's issued a sweeping fatwa against suicide bombings. I got Amr Khaled's take on that.


AMANPOUR: So you heard the scholar there, ul-Qadri, talk about no justification for any kind of terrorism or suicide bombing. Is that what you say also on your program?

KHALED: Yes, sure. Sure, we say that a lot to the youth. No, there is not any excuse for anything of these bombs, no excuse whatever the excuse. It's not acceptable. It's not acceptable, not for us. It's not acceptable in Koran. It's not acceptable in Islam. It's not acceptable for our faith, for our religion. Not acceptable at all.

So we believe in that, and we're saying that, and we believe that because we believe in Koran. Koran said we created you in different colors, different religions, to exchange the benefits against each other...


KHALED: ... to extend the good things between you and the -- and the others.

AMANPOUR: So what do you tell your program about the Taliban or, indeed, about Osama bin Laden? One of the things Osama bin Laden has said is that we should fully understand our religion, that fighting is a part of our religion and our Sharia. Those who love God and his prophet and this religion cannot deny that.

What do you tell your audience about what Osama bin Laden is saying?

KHALED: Let me tell you something that's very interesting, Christiane. That -- who said -- who's talking on behalf of Muslims and saying, "This is what Islam?" This is a very important point. Who's talking on behalf of Muslims?

I claim that I'm talking on behalf of 1.4 million youth gave me -- and they -- they explain and they send me their opinions about that they want to build their countries. They send me something like that in '07 (ph). We want to build our countries, 1.4 million.

So when you ask me what you are talking to the youth about, they don't believe in that. They believe that they want to build, not want to destroy. I don't need to explain and to convince the majority of the Muslim youth about, "You have to build, not destroy." They believe in that. They're doing that. They just want someone to support them. Give them hands to build.

AMANPOUR: OK. So what are...

KHALED: So I don't need to start to convince them.

AMANPOUR: I get your point. And I want to ask you, what then will you tell the people in Yemen?


AMANPOUR: Because you're moving -- you're taking your show to Yemen. And Yemen, as you know, has been in the news, particularly since the alleged Christmas Day bombing, a lot of extremism, a lot of Al Qaida-ism in Yemen. What will you tell the people of Yemen in that conservative Islamic society?

KHALED: Actually, I'm not going -- especially in Yemen. I'm not going to tell the people. I'm not going to talk. I'm going to make projects, microfinance projects. And I'm going to get a lot of youth as volunteers to support the poor families in Yemen for microfinance projects.

Talking will not support, will not help alone in Yemen, but working projects. So I'm going to Yemen to meet the Yemeni youth to ask them to be a volunteer for many of microfinance projects in the -- with the poor families. And we are going to get them training courses. How can we support the poor families?

And so that we open a channel for the energy of the Yemeni youth, "Put your energy in this project, not in the extremes." This is what we are going to do.

But I'm going to encourage them through the Prophet Muhammad's speech, when he said to work to support a poor family. Better than to stay in my mosque to pray for 40 days, work to help support a poor family better.


So I'm going to encourage them, to tell them, "This is the real Islam. This is what Prophet Muhammad said. Put your energy in the right way." This is what I'm going to say to the Yemeni youth.

AMANPOUR: Would you ever consider going to Afghanistan and doing the same thing in the areas where the Taliban is strong?

KHALED: Yes, let me work first with Arab youth in the Middle East, because we have a lot of work to do. So this is my focus now on our problems in Yemen, in Sudan, in Egypt, in Algeria. This is what I'm doing now, at least for the next two years.

AMANPOUR: And what about President Obama, who came to Cairo? He made that historic speech of outreach to the Muslim world. Is that being appreciated still in Egypt?

KHALED: Actually, to be honest with you, when President Obama came to Cairo and talked to the Muslim world, people -- especially youth and women -- were very happy. And they found this is a new message, and they found themselves proud about what he said, and it was like a guide. And we were so happy about that.

But -- but we need actions. After this speech, many of the youth talked to me and said through Internet, through Web sites, through Facebook, that -- what after? We need something concrete. We need something solid after -- we agree about what he said, but we need actions in our countries.

AMANPOUR: What do the youth feel and hope for the next round of elections in Egypt? Do they think there'll be anybody different than somebody who's hand-picked by President Mubarak?

KHALED: Actually, very difficult to talk about the issue of Egypt at the same -- now, because I -- I -- I think that nothing is clear yet. Nothing is clear. And until now, youth don't understand what the rules -- what can they do? What is the situation? What the government or the media or what we need of them? Nothing is clear until now. So, unfortunately, I have no clear answer about this question.

AMANPOUR: Do you think Mr. ElBaradei, Mohamed ElBaradei, stands a chance? Will he become somebody who runs for office? Do the youth think that's a good idea?

KHALED: Yes. I mean, again, I will give you the same answer. Nothing is clear yet. So no answer will be clear about this -- about this matter.

AMANPOUR: And, finally, Mr. Khaled, what are the hopes of the youth? Are they hopeful for their future? And what is your version of a future in Egypt and in the Arab and Muslim world?

KHALED: To be honest with you, unless we give the youth a very clear vision and projects and find a solution for the unemployment issue, let's hope it will be in the next five years. I'm optimistic. But this is the situation.

Believe me -- Arab and Muslim youth are ready to build. They're ready to be in a good relation with the world around us. Don't believe that they want to destroy. Don't believe that all of them is very -- and they want to put bombs or something like that. This is not clear.

I'm with them. I'm between them. They want to build. But give them the chance. Give them -- support them. This is what I think about the future of the Arab youth.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Amr Khaled, thank you so much for joining us from Cairo.

KHALED: Thank you. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And next, our "Post-Script," turning promises into projects. U.S. President Barack Obama tries to build on his landmark Cairo speech. That's when we return.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script."

We've just heard a great deal from Amr Khaled about bridging divides, and now the U.S. president, Barack Obama, is pursuing his vision of a new beginning with the Muslim world by hosting a conference of more than 250 entrepreneurs, most of whom will come from Islamic countries. He's fulfilling a promise that he made in that speech in Cairo last June.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will host a summit on entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and social entrepreneurs in the United States and in Muslim communities around the world.


AMANPOUR: And the U.S. is hoping that it will help not only the Muslim world, but also U.S. security and trade.

And turning to a very different side of Muslim side, go to our Web site and check out the colorful swimsuits on Turkish catwalks. That's at

And that's it for today. We'll be back tomorrow with an exclusive interview with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Until then, catch our program whenever you like on

For all of us here, goodbye from New York.