Last week, Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper published the second instalment of what it called ‘documents on the banned international organisation’ – the organisation here being the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A resolution to dissolve and ban the movement was issued in 1948.
We will not focus on the dissolution, banning and illegitimacy of the movement here; let us look at how the Muslim Brotherhood perceives itself and its role, and how the “mother” of political fundamentalist groups assesses its abilities and the magnitude of its influence on the Arab and Muslim world.
Details revealed that investigators of the state security department conducted a number of raids on Muslim Brotherhood buildings over the past period and obtained a vast “archive” that shows, in the words of the journalists who had access to this archive, the brains behind the Brotherhood. These raids resulted in the arrests of several Brotherhood figures including members of the Guidance Bureau. Large amounts of funding belonging to the Brotherhood and various investment companies affiliated to the movement were seized. What was clear, through these archives, was the determination to document the movement’s mindset and plans.
The approach of the Egyptian state was based on security: a group legally banned from practicing political activity has broken the law therefore it must be punished and the law must be enforced. However, through its Supreme Guide, the Muslim Brotherhood is responding by saying that the arrests of key figures and the seizing of funds and documents is a ‘disgusting’ act on the state’s part. Implicitly, this also means that the movement does not acknowledge the ban. However, the movement contradicts itself by claiming that the Brotherhood is not a political party but a group that aims to implement a comprehensive project, part of which is political.
This takes us back to the main point. If the Muslim Brotherhood is a movement that is involved purely in Islamic preaching and guidance then none of these recurring confrontations with the Egyptian state would occur. It would have become like the Tablighi Jamaat which is known for its widespread activity and extended membership worldwide. But the essence of the clash with the Muslim Brotherhood, from the days of Mahmud al Nuqrashi Pasha till today, is related to the fact that it is a fundamentalist political party with an anti-state project. This project is much more comprehensive than a military coup even though the Muslim Brotherhood wouldn’t say no to violent change if that was possible.
In any case, the Egyptian regime is not willing to lift the ban and the Muslim Brotherhood is not willing to recognize the ban. The Brotherhood continues to manoeuvre and the regime continues to trail these manoeuvres. This, in brief, is the story of the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood benefited from the winds of change that blew across the region following 9/11 and joined parliament in the wake of the 2005 elections as part of a large bloc loyal to the Brotherhood. This loyalty was hidden under the cloak of an independent bloc. However, the most prominent battlefield, where the abovementioned manoeuvres are carried out, has been the media.
In the documents, which Al-Ahram claims to have looked at, there is an indication that the movement’s theorists and planners were preoccupied with establishing an international media force in the Brotherhood’s favour. It is said that those theorists presented detailed studies and research on the dynamic and political significance of such media projects and how they could benefit the Brotherhood. As I read the detailed reports in Al-Ahram, I wondered why does the Muslim Brotherhood want to have newspapers and satellite television channels of its own when it is already so strongly present through a number of satellite television channels and newspapers, in which they have a strong voice and their interpretation and analyses of events is the order of the day?
The report stated however that the Muslim Brotherhood “once again raised the question: do we need a satellite television channel that bears our name? Or is our current popularity enough as long as we focus on broadening and deepening it?” The Brotherhood then answered, “Yes, we do need our own satellite TV channel.”
The report then lists four reasons specified by the Brotherhood’s documents for justifying the establishment of satellite channels overtly proclaiming allegiance to the Brotherhood. Most importantly it stated: “Presenting our sensitive and decisive issues from our own point of view and not in the view of others under local and international pressures and according to the sponsor.”
In the quote, the reference is clearly to satellite channels in which the Muslim Brotherhood prevails through the anchors, programs, reports and newsrooms that sympathize with the Brotherhood’s orientations and favour its own interpretation of events, even if these channels cover up their favouritism by bringing in other voices to maintain media balance, and even if it may seem like they are trying to strike a balance between an elephant and an ant! This is a fake balance.
The Muslim Brotherhood was not content with the support of a famous television channel and presenter affiliated to the movement and the manager of that television channel who embraces the ideology of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood fears that the owners of the satellite channel could wane under local and foreign pressures, thereby putting an end to their media coverage and support of the Brotherhood.
Apart from this Arab-based television channel, the Muslim Brotherhood was also not satisfied with Al Hiwar television station that launched in London in 2006. Through this channel, other symbols of the Muslim Brotherhood presented testimonies and consultations. The channel is run by a well-known Islamist. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood seeks an explicit presence and not a concealed one. This could be attributed to the pressure exerted by young cadres that believe that there is no sense in hiding and being shifty under the current atmosphere of international openness or to the Brotherhood’s belief that just as it managed to impose a fait accompli by electing Brotherhood figures to parliament, it could also build on establishing a manifest media presence.
The truth is if we look at the situation carefully we will see that there is no benefit in insisting on preventing the Muslim Brotherhood from having its own satellite television channel or starting its own newspaper to serve as its mouthpiece firstly because the internet cancels out the idea of banning certain articles from being published; secondly, because the Muslim Brotherhood, in its own words, is gaining popularity in the Arab media and thirdly, because a manifest and clear presence is much better for the audience than a implicit and deceitful one in the name of professional impartiality. At least those watching or reading the content would know that this material is the opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood without distortion. Fourthly, with a Muslim Brotherhood medium we would get to know the real Muslim Brotherhood, which presents itself as fair and impartial, in the world of the Arab media.
Al-Ahram’s report indicated that the documents plainly state that the Muslim Brotherhood cadres are present on satellite television channels and the Arab media and that they present the Brotherhood’s vision but without being “preachy” according to its own description. The report also says that the Brotherhood media centres exist in the form of “cadres and experiences at other channels that could represent the beginning [of its own media experience].”
Personally, to switch on the television and watch a channel owned by the Muslim Brotherhood that says that this channel is its mouthpiece and features those who represent the Brotherhood – in the same way that the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar television channel does without causing anybody confusion – would be far better than having Brotherhood media pundits filtering other television channels and newspapers carrying out their partisan or intellectual duty, even if they are not technically Brotherhood members. Meanwhile we are kept in the dark about their real role and the nature of their intellectual orientation.
Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood will not be the only fundamentalist political group to own satellite television channels and newspapers. Over the past few years, many fundamentalist television channels have been launched from the Gulf region and other places. On the international level, scores of privately-owned satellite channels are being launched every year. So why put a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood?
One of our problems in the Middle East is confusion and the fact that people talk over one another to the point that coherent ideas and reasoning is drowned out. In light of that, it would not do any harm to be clearer and to separate and distinguish these voices. Each and every one of us would then be able to decide which voice we would like to listen to. After all there is room for everybody.