February 24th, 2011
04:29 PM ET
By Lauren E. Bohn, for CNN
Cairo, Egypt – One of the world’s most influential Muslim television preachers - sometimes called Islam's Billy Graham - is scheduled to deliver a major address in Egypt on Friday for the first time since President Hosni Mubarak left office.
Amr Khaled, best known for his popular television shows promoting activism and self-improvement throughout the Middle East, returned to Cairo on January 28 to show his support for the revolution that wound up sweeping Mubarak from power this month.
One of TIME Magazine's most 100 influential people in 2007, Khaled was banned from speaking in his native Egypt for the past eight years.
Over those years, the sharp-suited 43-year-old, heralded by many in the West as a voice of Islamic moderation, has turned into something of a rock star.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that Facebook users from Egypt created 32,000 groups and 14,000 pages during the revolution; the page with the most fans from Egypt was Khaled’s.
A firm believer in the power of youth, his popular 2010 "Apprentice"-style reality show "Mujaddidun," which translates to "renewers or revivers," now seems prescient. Khaled tasked youth to pitch charity plans and formulate solutions to region-wide social ills such as unemployment and poverty.
His trademark brand of “faith-based development” and massive popularity among the nation’s young and restless was a thorn in the side of Mubarak’s regime. Khaled was forced to leave Egypt several times, as critics worried he was inspiring youth to not only change their lives, but also the regime.
The genial accountant began preaching in mosques in the early 1990s. His frequent denunciations of Osama bin Laden and extremism and his promotion of peaceful coexistence and cultural development won him international acclaim.
In 2006, he hosted an interfaith conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, after the publication of controversial Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.
In December, he was invited to Yemen by President Ali Abdullah Saleh to counter al Qaeda’s presence there.
Khaled says he plans to train thousands of activists in the Middle East to promote tolerance and to set up microfinance programs for the poor, the people he says are most susceptible to fundamentalism.
Mohammed Riskallah, a 24-year-old Egyptian, says he doesn’t watch Khaled’s shows because he doesn’t agree with his religious beliefs, but says Khaled is nevertheless an important leader in building a “new Egypt.”
“This is a man whose heart is in the right place,” he said. “He’s always been very moderate, peaceful and inspirational in his approach. He’s a great spokesperson for Islam and Egypt.”
Khaled will deliver his Friday speech in Sohag, a governorate in Upper Egypt. Hundreds of thousands are expected to gather in Midan Thaqafa, or Culture Square, the city's equivalent Cairo's Tahrir Square, for Friday prayers.
This will be Khaled’s first lecture in Upper Egypt. “I want youth to realize their dreams,” he says. “And Egyptian youth have already showed us evidence they can.”
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