During the presidential runoffs in June 2012, a meme circulated on Facebook. It depicts the image of Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. It reads, “By the way, I’m not from the Brotherhood. I disagree with them on a lot of issues but I respect them.” The quote is signed, Hassan al-Banna. The meme is a “gotcha” or “we’re on to you” dispatch that uses satire to cut to a truth that many know, even if they lack hard evidence to prove it; namely that the Muslim Brotherhood has been infiltrating social media in ways that are probably wide reaching, far from transparent, and, up to now, not studied in any comprehensive or systematic way. Memes such as the above alert fellow cyber citizens to the need to tread carefully on social media. Facebook has become one more frontier of the Brotherhood’s ideological battleground to penetrate the very thought processes of the people and put the brakes on the popular democratic spirit stirring in the country. As the group tries to close spaces of debate and persecute voices of dissent, it demonstrates that it abides by the truism, as expressed by South African anti-apartheid activist Bantu Steve Biko, that “The most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
From its inception eight decades ago, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) prioritized working in institutions that deal with the ideological and cultural conditioning of children and youth. Hassan Al-Banna was, after all, a schoolteacher, and understood very well the concept that whoever captures the youth captures the nation. The Brotherhood has consistently concentrated its efforts in the domains of education and media, which French sociologists Louis Althusser labels the ideological state apparatuses. Even though the Brotherhood operated as an outlawed and persecuted organization through most of its existence, it managed to maintain an especially robust presence and oftentimes a stronghold over Egyptian schools, teacher training units at Colleges of Education, student unions in universities, and after-school and summer sports clubs, all of which served as key recruiting grounds to grow the movement and spread its anti-regime and pan-Islamic ideology.
Since the 1990s, with the openings made possible by information and communications technologies (ICT), the Brotherhood has entered into satellite television and gained a position of dominance at the popular satellite station, Al Jazeera. As reported by journalist and political commentator Sultan Al Qassemi, “Al Jazeera Arabic’s love affair with the Muslim Brotherhood was evident from the channel’s beginning.” There is much speculation that Al Jazeera Arabic has served as a megaphone and mouthpiece for the Brotherhood. With the rise of the internet in the 2000s, the MB was quick to assert a strong formal and informal presence online with, for instance, its Arabic and English websites, Ikhwanweb.
When Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi announced his cabinet on 2 August 2012, it came as little surprise that the ministries that deal with education, youth, and media, namely the Ministries of Education, Higher Education, Information, and Youth, are all in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. Though the Minister of Education, Ibrahim Ghonim, has not been listed in press reports about the five Brotherhood ministers (who also include the ministers of Housing and Labor), his short bio reveals that he was elected Vice President of Suez University with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood and that he is solidly loyal to the group.
The Brotherhood’s efforts to penetrate social media, specifically Facebook, arise partly out of its rapidly growing subscribers. There are 11.5 million Facebook members in Egypt, up by almost two million in the past six months alone, with 86% of them in the 13-34 age group. (Compare this to a paltry 215,000 active Twitter Users in Egypt). But more than its growth, Facebook has proven to be a barometer of Egyptian political dissent. In the lead-up to the January 25 revolution and then in the months following it, Facebook was the space where activists and independent citizens deliberated and debated Tunisia’s uprising, the pros and cons of an Egyptian revolt, the Egyptian Constitutional Referendum (March 2011) after the fall of Mubarak, and every election since then. In the “People’s Republic of Facebook,” citizens have taken more critical and revolutionary positions than in the outside society. This fact became abundantly clear when, according to Facebook polls, Facebookers rejected the constitutional referendum by some seventy percent, whereas on the ground only 22.7 percent voted “no”.
For a time, Facebook became synonymous with the “voice of the revolution.” It was common, for instance, for a taxi driver to ask a young rider, “so, what’s Facebook saying today?,” another way of asking, “what do the revolutionaries think about this or that issue and what are they going to do about it?” The Muslim Brothers started to see Facebook as a precariously independent space. Just as the Brotherhood mobilized its ranks to occupy and appropriate Tahrir Square, it also intensified its efforts to appropriate and shape the tenor of debate on Facebook
The Brotherhood’s presence on social media is slippery, hard to pin down with precision since much of its activity is camouflaged. It appears that the MB operates on five tiers. First, there is its official presence, as represented with the page of their political party, the Freedom and Justice Party. Second are the pages that initially appeared to be independent, but turned out to be orchestrated platforms with complete loyalty to the Brotherhood. RNN (shabakat rasd), a news network that is approaching two million “likes,” fits this category. When RNN was first launched on 25 January, 2011 at the start of the Egyptian revolution, its Administrators were anonymous and the page appeared to be an independent entity, though a highly professional and well oiled one. Its masks have since come off and the page is known as a Brotherhood page in all but name. RNN has grown into a regional platform with branches in Libya, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, and Palestine. The third tier are pages with sympathies to the MB whose Admins post or do things in support of the Brotherhood line. Fourth are concealed pages, ones that on the surface do not appear to have anything to do with politics or the MB, but in a critical moment, like prior to the presidential runoff elections, expose themselves as pro-Brotherhood pages. Finally, the fifth tier are the E-militia foot soldiers who—using both real and fake profiles—scout out pages and Facebook discussions to interject points to influence opinion towards the Brotherhood position. Take for instance identical posts by the clearly fake profiles of, “Masrey Masrey” and “Hind Arabeya” (Egyptian Egyptian and Arabic Hind).
In the lead up to the presidential runoff election between the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, and former Mubarak Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, Facebook pages were ablaze with political commentary. Many people touting the pro-Morsi position on Facebook seemed to be pulling lines straight out of a pre-written script. Identical phrases appeared throughout a vast range of Facebook pages, from those dealing with arts, sports, and culture to human rights and revolution. Examples of the more commonly circulated lines were: "I’m not Muslim Brotherhood but I respect them;" "I hate the Muslim Brotherhood but I have to support Morsi to get rid of Shafik;” "I know they’re looking out for their own interests but they were my companions in Tahrir Square;" "Don`t let your hate for the MB blind you;" "the MB are selfish but they’re not criminal;" and so on. Veteran journalist and writer Mohamed Salmawy is but one commentator who has shone a spotlight on the Brotherhood’s “Electronic Militias.”
A former member of the Brotherhood who maintains close ties with the group asserts, “the electronic campaign for Morsi was very strong on Facebook and Twitter. I have reason to believe that every major and [medium size] Facebook page was infiltrated by Muslim Brotherhood members, and I strongly suspect that many of the major Egyptian Facebook pages are being run and controlled by the Brotherhood.” He confirms that MB leadership distributed a Q&A document to their younger online members by the title, "Shobohat wa Rodud" (Accusations and Answers). This document provides members with talking points about how to address critics of Morsi and the MB on social media. When a point falls outside the template and a model answer cannot be applied, the E-militias either try to push the person into their framework, or use their escape route, which is to provide assurances they will pray to God to guide the person on the right path.
For example, a pro-revolution Facebook page critical of the MB by the name, “I Dreamed of the Square Before the [Brotherhood’s’] Millions Occupied It” (Halimt bil-Midan Qabla an Yaskunu al Milyaeen) shows how the MB’s E-militia, or “Copy and Paste Committee,” works. In a thread where people are discussing the pitfalls of a Morsi/Brotherhood presidency, two separate people post an identical comment. A certain Tamer Fouad and Ashraf Abed, each with their own separate profiles, write the following:
To put it briefly, to those of you who are thinking about making a revolution against the Brotherhood, the election was very fair and free from any rigging. The majority of Egyptians elected Morsi, so let’s give him a chance and see how he’ll do. You were silent for thirty years, so why can’t you be patient for just one year before [complaining]. By the way, I swear to God that I’m not from the Brotherhood I just speak the truth.
Examples of this sort of MB youth pulling answers from a common template or database abound all over Facebook and Twitter.
[Talking points. Photo from the Facebook page "I dreamed of the square before the [Brotherhood`s`] Millions Occupied it."]
The Muslim Brotherhood does not hold a monopoly on trying to contain the young and get them to acquiesce to their reign; this is the stuff of the Machiavellian game of power that has spilled over into social media. But as the MB rises as a hegemonic power in Egypt, it needs to be especially scrutinized. We present eleven signs that you have likely encountered the Muslim Brotherhood’s E-militia on Facebook. In so doing, we spotlight some of the workings of the group’s social media ideology machine, a necessary precondition to know how to counter and confront it.
1. Appropriating the Language of Revolution
George Lakoff, the American linguist and cognitive scientist, argues, “repetition of language has the power to change brains.” In his research on the rise of the conservative right in the United States, he shows that “the word ‘freedom,’ if repeatedly associated with radical conservative themes, may be learned not with its traditional progressive meaning, but with a radical conservative meaning as ‘Freedom’ is redefined brain by brain.”[i] In a similar way the Muslim Brotherhood has been appropriating the language of the revolution, words with symbolic power like “democracy,” “old regime,” and the word “revolution” itself. The E-militias take these evocative terms and not only strip them of any emancipatory meaning, but reduce them to concepts that denote an unquestioning and uncritical support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Take the notion of democracy. After winning parliamentary and presidential elections, the MB has worked tirelessly to reduce the concept of democracy to the ballot box. It spreads the idea that elections were successful, democracy won the day, and people should “give democracy a chance.” In actuality, this means that the public should remain silent and inactive until the next election in four years and trust the elected Brotherhood to take the country in any direction they see fit.
In the hands of the MB E-militias, “revolution” no longer connotes dignity, democracy, and economic justice. Instead, revolution means a change of the figureheads in power and a supposed war on the members of the old regime, the “felool.” Even felool, which conventionally refers to the remnants of the old regime, is being stripped of its revolutionary meaning and recast to mean anyone who dares to criticize the Muslim Brotherhood
For instance the anti-felool page, “Two Felools and One Ta`meyya [sandwich]” (Etnen felool wa wahed taamia) appeals to Egyptians’ lighter side. It plays with the similarity between the spelling of the word “felool” and “foul,” the name of the famous Egyptian bean sandwich. Though playful, the page, launched in July 2011, unashamedly redefines felool from its original revolutionary meaning to “anyone who doesn’t support the Muslim Brotherhood”! Take, for instance the below post:
من صفحة "اتنين فلول وواحد طعمية"
فلول يطلق على كل مؤيد للقوات المسلحة ,الشرطه , القضاء وكل من يدعم استقرار الدوله وكل من لا يؤيد الإخوان”
"Felool are people who support the army, police, judiciary, security, and anyone who doesn`t support the Muslim Brotherhood."
By appropriating and redefining the political vocabulary of the revolution, the MB tries to confuse people, manipulate their cognitive frames, and occupy their minds one brain at a time.
2. Denial and Disguise
من صفحة "الميدان هو الحل"
هو انا لازم اقول انى مش اخوانى كل شوية ولا الصفحة تبع الاخوان
انا بشرب سجاير والله علبتين فى اليوم كمان
ومش بصلى فى الجامع تقريبا غير الجمعة بس
وبلبس جينز :)
ارحمونا بقى !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Do I need to constantly say that I’m not from the Muslim Brotherhood and that this is not a Brotherhood page
I swear I smoke cigarettes, two packs per day
I don’t even pray in the mosque except for the Friday prayer
And I wear jeans :)
From “el-Midan Huwa el-Hal” [The Square is the Solution], 12 July 2012.
The first sign that you may very well be dealing with someone from the Muslim Brotherhood is when the person denies they are from the Brotherhood. A common form of denial comes in the form of insisting they smoke, don’t pray much at the mosque, and wear jeans. This practice relates to “taqiyya” which literally means to conceal or guard. According to an Islamic scholar, taqiyya “is employed in disguising one`s beliefs, intentions, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions or strategies. […] It is currently employed in fending off and neutralising any criticism of Islam or Muslims.”
The Facebook page, “The Square is the Solution” presents itself as a secular independent youth group. It posts photos of popular actresses and sometimes criticizes the Brotherhood icons. But in the critical period before the elections, the page’s Admin put all his energy into persuading members to support the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. Was this a MB page from the beginning? One that grew its membership (it has over 12,000 “likes”) to prepare for the time it could campaign for the Brotherhood? We cannot know for certain, but the behavior of the Admin casts doubts on the “independence” of this and scores of other Facebook pages that turned into pro-Morsi campaign vehicles.
3. Championing Freedom of the Press
On his return to Egypt on 16 July 2012 from a summit in Ethiopia, Morsi drove victorious through Cairo. During the trip, he had made a stop in Sudan to meet President Bashir and negotiate the release of Egyptian journalist Shaima Adel. This young journalist returned back home on Morsi’s private jet to great fanfare. The MB controlled Facebook-based news-service, Rassd, reported that Morsi is “respecting journalism and respecting citizens” and that with the saving of Shaima, Morsi “opens a new era of journalism in Egypt.”
[Morsi returns victorious with Shaima. Photo from R.N.N.]
Morsi cast himself again in the role of protector of press freedom when he “outlawed the pretrial detention of people accused of press crimes,” an act that coincided with the high profile case against Islam Affifi, editor-in-chief of Al-Dastour newspaper. Affifi was charged with slandering the president and still faces trial, but Morsi’s gesture appeased some critics and took the spotlight away from the actual clamping down on independent media and dissenting voices. Among the growing list of victims of the media clampdown are popular television presenter Tawfiq Okasha and Abdel-Halim Qandil, Editor-in-Chief of Sawt al-Umma, both accused of “defaming the president.”
4. Ridiculing the Opposition
The Muslim Brotherhood, similar to any political faction, deals with its competition by discrediting and ridiculing figures in the opposition. Part of the work of the Brotherhood’s E-militias is to circulate memes against leaders like Mohamed El Baradei, Ibrahim Essa, Hamdeen Sabahi, and other popular figures. These memes are not intended to generate debate or start any serious public conversation about politics and leadership. Rather, their sole purpose is to mock the popular figure, make him or her appear as a fool, and, through repetition, send the subliminal message that this person should not be taken seriously as a public figure.
Take for instance a Brotherhood Facebook page whose express purpose is to discredit Hamdeen Sabahi , the popular Nasserist presidential candidate who came very close to making the presidential runoff. This page is called, “Hamdeen Sabahi is Someone Who Fooled Us” (Hamdeen Sabahi Wahed Khamena). The name is a wordplay on Sabahi’s campaign slogan, “Hamdeen Sabahi is One of Us” (Hamdeen Sabahi Wahied Minina).
[Hamdeen Sabahi. Image from https://www.facebook.com/7amden.5amena.]
With the background décor of colorful balloons and a photo of Sabahi with an inane expression, it conveys the message that Sabahi is foolish and childlike, the opposite of the types of qualities a statesman should possess.
5. Constructing the Hero, Patriot, Saint
The flip side of trying to eliminate the opposition by depicting them as incompetent and unworthy is to construct your own people as stately, heroic, and saintly. Every hero needs a foe, a force of evil against whom to stand up and demonstrate courage and fortitude. It does not matter if the hero-villain narrative holds any resemblance to reality; more often that not, it is merely a device to deceive the people.
The page, Monofeya on Facebook: Only for Monofeya Youth! (17, 483 likes), a page that advertises itself as an independent youth-only space, in actuality appears as a barely disguised pro-Morsi and pro-MB platform. The page, full of stately presidential portraits of Morsi, sings his praises through posts and poetry. Early in Morsi’s presidency, when he reinstated the parliament supposedly against the orders of the SCAF, the Admin exalts him with a panegyric poem.
[Panegyric poem about Morsi.]
That was a master`s move oh Morsi…the parliament returns back, Oh my nation.
Our country Egypt is calling…your choice [of Morsi] was correct my people.
That was a master`s move oh Morsi…political and revolutionary decision
With you our country’s calling…Free us from Hosni’s [Mubarak] soldiers
Liberals, Salafi and Brotherhood… Aprilists [6th of April], nationalists and leftists
With your decision they all said…free us from the hell of Tantawi
Protect our country oh Lord…complete for us our country’s revolution
Guide our president for prosperity…purge us of Hosni’s gangs
Oh Lord, guide Morsi
Morsi is exalted as a master politician, a heroic figure who takes on even the mighty military, and an exemplary leader and unifier of Muslims and Christians.
In other pages, Morsi is presented as a Caliph-like figure as he is depicted as the pious, praying president who has an intimate relation to God. A video widely circulating on Facebook by the title, “President Mohamed Morsi Cries at the Kaaba,” shows an emotional Morsi during one of his recent Umrah pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia. A more sanctified image of President Morsi will undoubtedly become more ubiquitous in coming stages of the MB’s ideology upload. When the Egyptian public internalizes and accepts the image of Morsi as religious icon, the MB’s ideology upload will be completed and their control of the state secured.
6. Preempting & Discrediting the Critics
E-militias preempt future critics by using the literary device, “imagine if.” They imagine some future scenario and discredit the critics even before the said action takes place. Take an example from “Imsik Felool” (“Catch the Felool”), a Facebook page with over 334,000 likes. When first launched, it appeared to be the independent campaign of young revolutionaries to identify members of the old regime. But when the page moved full throttle in support of Morsi during the presidential elections, its true identity was unmasked. Now there is no doubt that it is a Brotherhood page.
The page’s Admin posted the below felool cartoon. At face value it depicts the thieves of the Mubarak regime being punished for their crimes.
[Imsik Felool cartoon. Photo from http://on.fb.me/UpHpJU.]
But the below caption provides an alternative, pro-Morsi interpretation to the image. It reads:
Imagine if the legislative authority turned to Morsi. At this point you would find intellectuals, felool groups and revolutionaries […] raise a court case against Morsi so that the authority returns to the SCAF. You know [..] what one should do these people, teach them a lesson in Tahrir Square, like the lesson we gave to [Abu El Ezz] El Harriri and the police officers on the 28th of January :D. If we keep silent, accept [the legitimacy of] their court case and wait for the jury’s decision, we deserve to be ruled by the SCAF and maybe even deserve the return of Mubark.
This is an extremely powerful and vitriolic discourse. The speaker threatens any future critics from daring to oppose the Brotherhood as the group moves to capture the three branches of government: the executive; the legislative; and the judiciary. The group works to deflect any criticism as it prepares the groundwork for building a full-fledged singe party dictatorship.
Something else to note about this post is how it singles out Abo El Ezz Harriri, a founding member of the left leaning Socialist Popular Alliance and one of the most vocal critics of the Muslim Brotherhood. This post refers to when the people famously took to the streets in the “Day of Rage” on 28 January 2011, and overtook the police and security apparatus, hated for their crimes of torture, rampant extortion, and killing of revolutionaries. El Harriri supported the uprising, but in a gross distortion of history, is depicted here as being on the side of the police.
7. Playing the Islamophobia Card
The popular Facebook page, “Funny and Weird Photos,” originally appeared to be an independent quirky page devoted to strange photos of things like monkeys wearing glasses, cartoons, and babies doing funny things. This popular youth space attracted over 97,000 “likes” and scores of visits. But the page started posting serious religious and political messages favoring an Islamic government. When visitors to the page used the space to chat and complain about the MB’s out-of-date culture and lack of qualifications to head the civil constitutional process, the Admin lashed out. He accused “friends” of the page of Islamophobia: “For all who have Islamophobia […]. Egypt is a civil, democratic, constitutional and modern country.”
The actions on this page not only shows how Islamophobia is used to shut down discussion, but also reveals how it has become increasingly difficult to discern with any certainly which pages are run by the Muslim Brotherhood and which ones are run by supposedly independent or non-partisan youth.
8. Turning Attention to Far Away (and Poorly Understood) Places
On 28 June 2012, just four days after Morsi was declared President, a number of Facebook youth groups started a campaign to raise awareness about the persecution of Muslims in Burma. The 6th of April youth movement, which has historically been an Egypt-centered group with pro-labor and rights based leanings, took up the cause of Burma in a move that seemed out of character. It organized a demonstration in front of the Burmese embassy on 28 June and used the 6th of April live page (156,883 likes), (mubashir 6 April) to raise awareness about Muslim persecution in Burma. Why Burma and why now? We can only speculate, but there are three main reasons why the MB E-militias seem to be prodding otherwise Egypt-centered pro-democracy groups to turn their attention towards Burma:
First, Burma pulls the attention of Egypt’s politicized youth away from national concerns, whether labor rights, education reform, economic reform, and building new political parties, and towards a distant and poorly-understood conflict characterized by a great degree of misinformation and fake evidence.
Take the below photo that was widely distributed on Egyptian and Saudi social media in June 2012 with sensationalist headlines about monks in Burma slaughtering Muslims. It turned out this photo was not of corpses of Muslim killed by monks, but a photo from April 2010 posted on a Tibetan community website that showed Tibetian monks undertaking earthquake rescue work after a devastating earthquake in China.
[Photo from http://www.tibetancommunity.be/news/chinaquake.html.]
Second, the cause of persecution of Muslims in Burma activates a Muslim identity and politics and in so doing undermines the non-sectarian unity and spirit of the revolutionary youth. Third, the Burma cause serves as an alternative for the Palestinian cause, which the MB has used over the years to galvanize youth and grow its membership without any real collision with the Egyptian system. Now that the MB is in power and trying to send diplomatic reassurances to the US and Israel, it can temporarily use Burma to stir up pan-Muslim outrage and unity.
9. Humanizing the Politician
Throughout history, people behind the people in power have gone to great measures to try to get members of society to concentrate on the leader’s human attributes rather than on his or her political policies. Anyone watching the 2012 presidential conventions and campaigns in the United States, with its personalized family documentaries of the candidates and autobiographical speeches, will be more than familiar with this tactic.
The MB’s proxies portray members of the group as made up of human being who are essentially honest, pious, and patriotic; people who only want what’s good for the country. If a Muslim Brother makes mistakes it’s simply because he’s fallible, not because of abuse of power, unjust policies, or any other ulterior motives. This strategy of showing the vulnerable and human features of leaders serves to personalize politics and, in the process, depoliticize the political field.
Take the post on the page, “Latest Tahrir Square News” (“akher akhbar midan el Tahrir”). A certain Dr. Mohamed Saad Abo El Azm posts an item called, “The love of Egypt and the hate of Muslim brotherhood.” He writes:
Yes..you have the right to oppose the MB and criticize the performance of their MPs and leaders. Who said they don’t make mistakes and that all their decisions are right? No doubt they are only humans but they are trying [their best]. Sometimes they do things in the right way, and sometimes in a wrong way, but they are definitely patriots with a vision to reform the country. One can disagree with their vision, and I’ve already written my reservations about some of their decisions.
Another sentiment circulating around social media is that Morsi is working so tirelessly for the country that decent Egyptians should be appreciative, not critical of him. The Admin on the page, “Egyptian guys and girls in Saudi” takes pity on Morsi when she writes, “I wish I knew […] when president Mohamed Morsi has time to sleep?!!”
10. Turning Your Weakness into Your Strength
[Image from https://www.facebook.com/e7na.asfeenmonazameen.]
The Facebook page, “We’re Sorry That We’re Organized” is but one way that E-militias perform a public relations function to extol the virtues of the Muslim Brotherhood. The page presents the MB’s iron clad organization as its most cherished asset. In reality, however, the MB’s non-transparent and non-consultative internal organization is highly incompatible with the “new democratic Egypt.” The MB youth are told to obey orders issued from the inner circle of decision makers, the MB’s shura council, and to not ask questions. Members rise through the ranks according to how acquiescent they are to authority within the structure, not based on a system of merit. When Egyptians raise valid questions about how the Muslim Brotherhood, an eight decade-old secret organization that prioritizes obedience and following orders, can lead the democratic transition in the country, they are told, “the MB is organized” (al-akhwan munazameen), as if this virtue should be enough to appease critics and silence debate.
11. Demonizing Social Media
[Diabolical facebook. Image from http://www.menspsychology.com/blog/facebook-is-the-devil.]
Social media remains unruly and unpredictable, despite the best efforts of the MB’s E-militias. The Muslim Brotherhood sometimes resorts to religious fears to repel the youth from Facebook and Twitter. The popular Brotherhood television preacher, Safwat Hegazy, compared Facebook and Twitter to Allata and Aluzza, the pagan statues at the Kaaba in Mecca at the time of the Prophet Mohammed. He proclaimed in July 2012, “Facebook and Twitter are the False Prophet” (mosaylama el-kazzab), meaning they are there to mislead and deceive you.
This description could very well be turned around to apply to how the MB’s E-militias try to deceive the youthful, independent, critical voices on social media. The E-militias spread the idea that people in the revolution camp are wasting their energies on Facebook and Twitter and use especially strong attacks to criticize Mohamed ElBaradei when he transmits messages via his Twitter account. His Tweets get picked up all over the world, are published on hundred of newspapers and websites and posted on innumerable Facebook accounts. Yet his critics from within the MB, who chastise him loudly and cuttingly, do not push him to do more work on the ground; they push him to abandon Twitter so that they, the MB E-militias, can have a better chance at conquering that, too. The MB wants to use social media on its own terms in order to transmit its unique ideology. When individuals and groups who make up the counter power use social media to keep dissent and alternatives alive, they run the risk of being labeled diabolical and Facebook and Twitter become their false prophets.
Ideology Upload Not Complete … Do You need to Cancel?
For good or for ill, Facebook continues to serve as a critical platform on which dissent and deliberation about an alternative future is taking place. The millions of independent cybercitizens and cyberactivists who use social media share the platform with a powerful group that has mobilized its E-militias to try to upload its ideology and shape the language of politics and the very thought processes of users. The Muslim Brotherhood, though repressive, presents itself as liberator; though secretive, presents itself as democratic and transparent; and though it continues with the rapacious policies of the old regime, presents itself as a reformer, pro-people, and pro-poor. The Muslim Brotherhood is on the path to constructing a hegemonic discourse, and once a discourse becomes too pervasive, even critiquing it becomes difficult.
The scores of ordinary citizens using social media need to work both collectively and individually to resist the ideology upload of the Muslim Brotherhood’s E-militias. They should not be tricked by users with false profiles and scripted talking points (indeed, many users are fully aware of these tactics). They need to reject any closing of virtual and physical spaces where the Socratic collective spirit of deliberation that began stirring in the lead up to the revolution continues with urgency.
A cyber-vanguard uses social media platforms in ways creative, playful, political, and educational to speak truth to power. Take, for instance, the revolutionary Facebook pages “El hamala el Qawmeyya did el Sarsageya” (“The National Campaign Against Hallucinators”), or “Ana Ikhwan Ana Maqataf Bewdan” (I’m a [Muslim] Brother I’m in a basket with handles”), and the page of Carlos Latuff. But these groups and pages alone are not sufficient to withstand the MB tsunami on Facebook and throughout society. In the continued struggle for democracy, dignity, and bread, the defenders of the revolution need a better understanding of how the Brotherhood constructs and uploads its ideology. Only by approaching both social media and traditional media with eyes wide open, seeing them as spaces where each person takes responsibility for critically educating the other, will the youth of the revolutionary generation take control over their own struggle and write their own script about what constitutes freedom. In this way, they will work collectively to construct a new paradigm for society instead of succumbing to someone else’s ideology.