* Moderate TV preacher to train new generation of clerics
* Some Yemenis sceptical of campaign
By Mohammed Mukhashaf and Mohamed Sudam
ADEN, Yemen, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Yemen has enlisted the help of a popular Egyptian television preacher to help it dislodge militant Islamists’ foothold within its conservative population.
The impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, already juggling conflicts in its north and south, is struggling to combat a resurgent wing of al-Qaeda that experts say exploits Yemen’s instability to launch attacks in the region and beyond.
Yemen security forces have launched several military campaigns, including air raids and blockades of cities, to root out suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen’s south.
Amr Khaled, a charismatic and moderate populist Muslim preacher known for wooing crowds of upper-middle class Egyptian youths in a high-pitched voice, has now launched a campaign to win the hearts and minds of Yemen’s young people.
“The goal of this project is to uproot extremism and spread moderation, to show the true face of Islam, and show a bright picture of Yemen to the world,” Khaled said at an event marking the opening of his campaign in the southern port city of Aden.
“We can do this through partnerships to push (Yemen’s) real leader to confront extremism ... that leader is Yemen’s youth.”
Despite his apolitical approach, Khaled upset Egyptian leaders with his ability to sway the crowds — many say his sermons caused a large number of young women to ditch bikinis for the Islamic veil. He spends much of his time in London due to pressure from Cairo, wary of popular religious leaders.
Yemen, however, is partially funding his new awareness project, along with two local aid organisations. The programme aims to train 70 young preachers in every province as well as cooperating with current clerics to promote moderate Islam.
“We think (this) will help us in getting across our message about faith and awareness, and how to build a healthy...and faithful society committed to proper values,” said Hassan al-Lawzi, from Yemen’s information ministry.
Khaled’s modern style, trading clerical robes for sharp suits and lacing sermons with references to the internet and sports clubs, has had particular appeal for youths in Egypt.
Whether his charm will be effective in Yemen is an open question. Yemen is not only grappling with al Qaeda’s efforts to entwine itself within its tribal networks, it has also been heavily influenced by the fundamentalist Salafist brand of Sunni Islam, partly through links to Saudi clerics and Islamists.
“Amr Khaled is well known and he has influence over people, but over everyone? I don’t know,” said Hani Yaaqoub, a 17-year old in Aden. “The program sounds nice — but we’re waiting to hear the lectures to see what the results are.”
Yemeni analyst Ahmed al-Sufi said the program would not eliminate the need to use force against militancy in Yemen.
“This program will create a moderate alliance to combat the violence of extremism here, nothing more,” said Yemeni analyst Ahmed al-Sufi. “But words will not be enough. People will need to find the balance between using words and using Kalashnikovs.” (Writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Philippa Fletcher)