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Egypt: A double-edged sword: The Brotherhood Bloggers

“The blogosphere has long played a key role in transforming Egypt's political landscape, with new media formats being exploited by those seeking to challenge the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.”

British Journalist Jack Shenker explores, in his recent article to “Arab Press Network”, the new emerging phenomena from Egypt for cyber activism and political impact using new media forms.

He starts by tracing the historical usage of Muslim Brotherhood for modern technology and internet tools:

The first wave of Muslim Brotherhood bloggers emerged in 2006, taking their cue from the secular civil society activists who, locked out of mainstream political discourse, had turned to the web – using blogs, Facebook and tools like Twitter not just to publish their grievances with government but also to carve out a new political space where like-minded people could debate, plan and co-ordinate activities. Early Ikhwan figures in cyberspace used the medium to publicise the repressive tactics used by police against their organisation. As a means of highlighting the human rights abuses suffered by group members at the hands of the state, the bloggers initially served a useful purpose for the Brotherhood leadership.

Yet, will the Muslim Brotherhood accept the new blood voices from inside critiquing the brotherhood themselves:

For an organisation so ruthlessly committed to internal discipline – founder Hassan El-Banna famously declared “We cooperate in what we have agreed on and excuse each other for what we have disagreed on” – the airing of dirty laundry in public is a jarring development. Interestingly, despite the bloggers generally identifying strongly with the liberal wing of the organisation's internal ideological divisions, reformist leaders within the party have been slow to offer them much support, fearing too much internal dialogue will threaten the cohesion of the movement. Some bloggers have faced naked hostility from the party elite (such as Abdel-Moneim Mahmoud, who claims he was ordered to leave the Ikhwan after questioning the group's slogan ‘Islam is the Solution’ on his blog, ‘ana ikhwan’); others have simply been ignored. Mahmoud Ezzat, the conservative secretary-general of the Brotherhood, said younger members shouldn't be “scared to voice their beliefs” but warned, “There should be moral regulations to blogging, otherwise, we won't be able to benefit from this new technology.”

Yet as Al-Anani points out, this policy of ‘constructive disregard’ for the bloggers on the part of the party's leaders has failed. The Brotherhood is attempting to sell itself to the Egyptian people partly as a tolerant antidote to the authoritarianism of Mubarak's regime; it cannot now crack down on its own members without appearing unwilling or incapable of accommodating conflicting opinions. The only alternative is to listen to the bloggers and take their opinions seriously, and that means being ready to make political concessions to the web warriors and allow them to help shape the party's programme. And that could have a significant impact on the trajectory of Egyptian politics, as the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to position itself as the main alternative to Mubarak in a time of unprecedented political volatility.

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