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The Brotherhood’s media offensive, Ikhwan web
The Brotherhood’s media offensive November 30th, 2005 at 02:08am Issandr El Amrani The pan-Arab, Saudi-owned newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat has published an o
Wednesday, November 30,2005 00:00
by Arabist Network,

The Brotherhood’s media offensive

November 30th, 2005 at 02:08am Issandr El Amrani

The pan-Arab, Saudi-owned newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat has published an op-ed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s number two, Mohammed Habib, outlining what a MB government would pursue in eight points. It is reproduced in full after the jump below. I don’t particularly want to dwell on the content of the points: they are all relatively vague beyond calls for reforms that have long been demanded by all opposition groups and human rights activists. They do include some interest touches involving Islamist ideals, such as encouraging the arts within the boundaries of public decency (however you choose to define that) and encouraging technological research (I think they emphasize this point because many people rather stupidly think Islamism is a Luddite ideology.) It also basically defines its program as a rather rosy, soft-focus, social-democrat-meets-identity-politics hodgepodge of principles while leaving out the details.

I would rather analyze what the publication of the article means. A thought has been forming in my head over the past few weeks, slowly taking shape into this basic and perhaps obvious realization: the MB is carrying out a long-planned, highly orchestrated and well-organized media offensive in parallel with its political offensive during the elections. This op-ed, and the one a few days ago in the Guardian are part of a string of evidence that it is making a real effort at communication to Egyptian, Arab and international media. From the top of my head:

  • The MB’s representatives have made themselves highly accessible to all of the media present in Egypt, with a series of multilingual personalities being available.
  • Its communiques on election fraud are being widely spread and reported.
  • There is a media blitz of interviews with Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef and other MB leaders in the independent Egyptian press. It is also responding to attacks: I was recently told that the MB is currently considering take Adel Hammouda, the editor of the weekly tabloid Al Fagr to court for
  • It is making campaigners available to journalists and researchers, quite a few of which have embedded themselves with them in several locations around Egypt.
  • In addition to its well-established Arabic website www.ikhwanonline.com, it has recently launched two highly professional, frequently updated English ones: www.ikhwanweb.com and www.ikhwanmonitor.com. These put anything else by any other political forces in Egypt to shame, including anything produced by the government. Moreover, they are trying to spread the word about them to sites like this one: about a week ago, the webmaster of www.ikhwanweb.com left a comment on this site telling me about them.

The bottom line: the Brotherhood is telling Egyptians and the rest of the world not to be afraid. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Habib op-ed is that it begins with “I would like to stress at the beginning that it is unlikely that the Brotherhood would hold power, at least in the foreseeable future.” He is gently introducing the possibility, not so long ago absolutely unthinkable, and reassuring everyone that they are not Khomeinists. Perhaps he believes this foreseeable future could be within the next decade, or maybe this is only meant to be a way to move the MB’s place in the public mind a little bit more to the mainstream. I don’t know. The MB is still an extremely secretive organization and little is known of its internal workings and politics. But it now has a pro-active policy of maintaining and controlling its public image, and it is doing a much, much better job of it than the NDP.

One more thing: perhaps it’s the conspiracy theorist or finicky editor in me, but isn’t it strange that Al Sharq Al Awsat miscaptioned the picture of Habib it ran with it “The writer is the Supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood”? It immediately reminded me of the widely spread rumor, at the beginning of the year, of a coup in the MB in which Habib had taken control of the organization while leaving Akef as its figurehead. The reasoning was that many Brothers had been upset by Akef’s statement that it would back a Mubarak candidacy for the presidency–a statement that irked younger Brothers especially and caused many to call for a more aggressive policy in opposing the government. Prominent middle-generation Brothers Essam Al Erian and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh were especially furious, with the former telling the press against Akef’s will that he would run for president and the latter penning as acerbic letter in Al Hayat about it. Perhaps the MB’s new confrontational style is the result of a change of balance of power inside the organization.


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