Amid the current global, regional and national crises, the coronavirus pandemic and its repercussions, climate change and regional conflicts, ideological and fundamentalist discourses – also in crisis in the Arab and Islamic worlds and on an international level – the Muslim Brotherhood (MS) has been able to manipulate these predicaments for its own benefit.
The Brotherhood’s extremist media discourse is not only confined to the group’s statements or its official platforms. It has been promoted by a vast network of satellite channels and agencies in a context of severe regional polarisation, in which the axis of moderation – at its core being Egypt – is present, on the one hand, and the axis of extremism is also present on the other. This extremist discourse operates in a wide space of funding, sponsors and harbouring states such as Qatar, Turkey and Iran, extending from satellite channels to various social-networking sites in hotbeds of conflict from Libya to Syria to Yemen and Sudan, in order to achieve its own and shared agendas.
The MB’s many voices, discourse patterns and functions of this discourse vary amid combined and complex global and regional developments and within a difficult and unprecedented Arab context in particular.
Despite the multiple and diverse sources and patterns of the media discourse of the terrorist Brotherhood group and the multiplicity of its aims and media partners, including Qatari and Turkish sources that share the contents and objectives of this discourse and its functions, the priorities of its proponents may differ. They might share or distribute roles, but the central goal remains to disrupt legitimacy, fabricate news and incite protests in order to question the performance of the Egyptian state, its leadership, president, government and parties, opposition or otherwise.
The content of the media discourse of these platforms and various media organisations may differ, but they share the same goals: spreading sensationalism, confusion and distortion, attempting to incite protests and revolutionary sentiments, and attempting to integrate the Brotherhood into the Egyptian opposition and go beyond its recent history. These goals are presented here.
The MB lies in wait for any new government decision or statement on the economic, social and political situation to provoke public opinion, regardless of how logical the decision is, the logic of its supporters, or the legal and regulatory violation targeted by the decision.
Of course, some government decisions, especially those related to society, the economy and life in general, are prone to criticism just like anywhere else in the world in the light of globalisation, market laws and the ongoing global and financial crises. Perhaps some decisions might be incorrect and inaccurate in their implementation, and the official and government media may fail to convince public opinion regarding these decisions despite public awareness of attempts by counter-media networks to create a state of protest and insurgency against the regime through persistent false interpretations, fallacies and exaggerations.
The MB has exploited and employed various media platforms (satellite TV channels or social media, in addition to dozens of news websites funded by Qatar and Turkey), taking advantage of the implications of some decisions, such as the government’s economic reform programme, to provoke and incite the masses.
The Brotherhood’s media discourse, with its direct and indirect platforms, has been trying to question the political paths or positions of the state, calling for a popular boycott and trying to discredit the relationship between the state and society. In so doing, it has been trying to encourage a rejection of the regime and its legitimacy, seeing this as a prelude to a revolution against it, which is what the group has been attempting since its ouster from power.
The Senate elections in Egypt were targeted by the Brotherhood’s continued attempts to distort the image of the state and obstruct constitutional and electoral processes by issuing statements that mostly revolved around the low rate of participation in the elections and claimed that there had been a public reluctance to participate in them. However, the National Elections Authority announced that the turnout in the House of Representatives (the lower house of Egypt’s parliament) elections was 14.23 per cent and that it was seven per cent in those to the Shura Council (the Senate).
Here are some examples of the opinions put out by traditional and newer Brotherhood media and platforms:
– Egypt signed a Maritime Demarcation Agreement with Greece on 6 August 2020 that angered Turkey, which considered it to be a violation of its sovereign and maritime rights. The Brotherhood media, supported by Ankara, questioned the importance of the agreement for Egypt and said that it violated and harmed Egypt’s rights in the Mediterranean in favour of Greece and had only been signed to annoy Turkey. The MB media also claimed that Egypt had sacrificed its interests to counteract the Turkish influence. This was seen, for example, in a video on the YouTube channel of the Al-Sharq TV channel, in which a Brotherhood member, Hisham Abdallah, talked about documents allegedly leaked from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealing Egypt’s transfer of its rights in the Mediterranean under the headline of “Exclusive: Leaked Documents from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry” regarding the Demarcation Agreement with Greece.
– The Brotherhood media has used electoral propaganda that insults candidates and elections in Egypt, including the phrases “words, not actions,” or electoral symbols such as “the banana fruit symbol,” in addition to its focus on electoral conferences that drew large audiences despite preventive measures put in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
– The Brotherhood media has promoted the notion that the Senate represents a “waste of state resources,” saying that it had cost LE4.5 billion and was established to distribute patronage. It claimed that the media has been talking about the Shura Council being of “no use” for the past seven years and a “waste of money” before the tone changed.
There are many ways in which the Muslim Brotherhood’s discourse and media messages should be questioned, notably in the group’s distorted coverage of the Egyptian government’s domestic and foreign policy paths.
There are other important examples of the distracting and distorting MB discourse that uses issues in the region (such as Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Gulf and the Arab Maghreb) and the world to distort the Egyptian regime and its policies in its attempts to distract audiences and hold the Egyptian regime accountable for every crisis and every issue as if had some “magical solution” to all the issues of the nation and the region.
Examples of this include:
– The use of sensitive issues like the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) currently being built in Ethiopia, where the MB media has sought to draw Egyptian audiences’ attention to this as if it were the only important issue in the region with no regard to the other important regional issues that Egypt is dealing with in various directions. The MB media thus does not hesitate to engage in self-contradiction, given its interest in the Libyan affairs, when it says that “Egyptian national security is in the south not the west.” It is no secret that the MB media supports Turkish actions in Libya and that it has been making continuous attempts to distract the attention of the Egyptian public away from them, as if they were of no importance compared to the issue of the GERD.
– The broadcasting of images on the Aljazeera TV channel showing the final shape of the dam and claiming that Sudan will benefit from it in an attempt to split Egyptian-Sudanese ranks and cause a rift between the two countries.
The Brotherhood media’s attempts to incite revolution are part of a pattern that combines the various messages provided by the Brotherhood’s different platforms, both direct and indirect, in order to try to motivate people to go out into the streets, turn against the state and clash with the state and security apparatus by calling for a revolution and revolutionising the state of anger and tension that may afflict the Egyptian streets towards some crises, such as the economic stagnation that has followed the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide. The MB media has also exploited the government’s economic reform measures, which have had clearly beneficial outcomes, by calling for revolution and breaking the law.
The Brotherhood’s committees have begun what could be described as an annual habit of attempting to incite public opinion and to demand that the group’s supporters come out against the Egyptian state. Among these calls have been attempts to return fugitive contractor Mohamed Ali to the scene, earlier known for his calls to demonstrate and bring down the regime on Brotherhood media, despite his lack of influence, his intellectual, political and strategic weaknesses, and his weak presence either among the elite or the public consciousness in Egypt.
These attempts show the state of hopelessness that exists among the pro-Muslim Brotherhood groups, since these have been unable to propose a suitable person to meet their goals. It is as if the group as a whole lacks leadership and has exhausted its alternatives.
In the light of the crisis of the Brotherhood and its different wings and generations, there have been manifestations of this crisis in the accusatory speeches made by the group’s various leadership elements, youth components and different wings, which have forced it to return to its missionary religious discourse, betting on the religious sentiments and ideological beliefs of its target audiences. In its struggle with the state, the group tries to employ religion to incite the masses.
There are many examples of this pattern, the most prominent of which are:
– The group tries through its media outlets to distort the minds of ordinary people by spreading rumours that the state is fighting Islam and its heritage, ignoring the state’s attempts to revise and renew that heritage in a way that does not violate the constants of the Islamic religion or its righteous jurisprudence.
– The group has criticised the draft law on the independence of Dar Al-Iftaa from Al-Azhar, transferring responsibility for it to the Council of Ministers, as raised in the House of Representatives. The Muslim Brotherhood considers this to be an attempt to “demolish” the Mecca of Islam in Egypt, namely Al-Azhar.
– MB acting supreme guide Ibrahim Mounir said on 19 September 2020 that the group’s work and jihad against the Egyptian regime were part of the religion of God and aimed to defend it and the other divine religions. He said that the afflictions the group was suffering from were “divine” and that it would be rewarded for them.
DRAINING THE STATE OR DRAINING THE GROUP?
It is important to pay attention to the fact that the MB’s media discourse is trying to restore the group’s effectiveness and existence in Egyptian political life and to fabricate a revolutionary state of dissatisfaction against the regime and to distort it and undermine it, not only in the eyes of its citizens, but also in its relations with the region and the world. For this purpose, the group uses all possible tools of distortion, fabrication, contradiction and nationalist slogans with the aim of holding Egypt responsible for every mistake or problem in the region. It also uses religion and sectarianism to confront the regime and target the state of peace in Egypt.
While the Brotherhood’s media messages and its partners are broad in content, they share one major goal, which its supporters declared after the fall of Brotherhood rule in Egypt on 30 June 2013. That goal is “to drain the state until it falls.” Everything that its satellite TV channels, platforms and social media accounts put out is intended to target Egypt, this being what hope looks like for a group in crisis.
In order to counter the MB’s media discourse, a counter-drainage strategy is not required, however. Rather, proper media management of the crisis is needed by adopting diverse means of countering the MB’s media discourse and paying attention to the regional and international affairs that the group and its supporters engage in at home and abroad against Egypt, using slogans that hold Egypt responsible for everything that takes place in the region and ignoring the reality, the law, the changes that are taking place and various challenges.
The group is deeply involved in harming Egypt. Although it has dozens of branches around the world, it employs all its supporters and arms to target the Egyptian state that overthrew its rule and aborted its dreams, much as it employs what it can from the regional context in order to do the same thing.
The Brotherhood is a group that has many faces and practices. Its position in Afghanistan is in support of the US against the Taliban, and in Iraq it supports the US and Iran-backed extremists against the Sunnis and the Arabs. There is its position on Egypt, on the Palestinians, and its different positions on Syria and Algeria. If anything, these contradictions simply show the Brotherhood’s distance from reality.
*The article is part of a special publication on “The Muslim Brotherhood in the UK” to be published soon by the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS).
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly