Critics say Brotherhood using Mubarak-era propaganda

On its front page on 28 November, the newspaper that bears the same name as the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, Freedom and Justice, led with the headline: “Revolutionaries, feloul and street vendors present in Tahrir Square.”

The paper’s coverage of the mass protests against the 22 November constitutional declaration issued by the president, granting him sweeping powers, was criticized for being a biased portrayal of the opposition.

Some likened the discourse from Brotherhood media to state-run media’s propaganda under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, with protesters labeled as traitors peddling foreign agendas during the 25 January uprising.

The headline was emblematic of the Brotherhood media outlets’ belittling of the massive opposition it is now facing from civil and non-Islamist groups and citizens.

In its attempt to discredit opponents and renewed street action against the ruling power, Brotherhood media have focused on the presence of feloul, a reference to remnants of the former regime, among protesters.

The contentious declaration has spurred a vicious media war between both sides. Ultraconservative Salafi religious channels have also dedicated their programs to support Morsy, further widening the rift.

Freedom and Justice has come out staunchly in defense of Morsy’s declaration, namely the part that immunizes his decisions, by citing examples of similar tactics in Egypt’s history as well as from abroad

Ahmed Ghanem, managing editor of Freedom and Justice, tells Egypt Independent, “We only said the truth. For the first time, remnants of the old regime were heavily present in Tahrir Square.”

“Some of the revolutionaries accepted the existence of former regime remnants only because they oppose the Brotherhood. This opposition is no longer a genuine movement,” he claims.

This very notion of a “genuine opposition” was reiterated by Ikhwanweb, the official English-language website of the Brotherhood.

Established in 2005 by the group’s deputy supreme guide, chief financier and business tycoon Khairat al-Shater, Ikhwanweb’s stated mission is to “present the Muslim Brotherhood vision right from the source and rebut misconceptions about the movement in Western societies.”

By virtue of being in English, its audience is mostly Western and is followed closely by diplomatic circles. Readers who follow both the English and Arabic messages say the English takes a noticeably more diplomatic approach.

But amid the current political standoff, the website’s official Twitter account, for example, has come out swinging. Its messages seemed to deny the sizeable turnout of anti-Morsy protesters, and labeling protesters who simply despise the Brotherhood as “feloul.”

“We respect opposition right to protest [sic], but it’s clear that political aspirations and ideological differences with Ikhwan is spirit of Tahrir today,” one tweet read.

“When ordinary Egyptians across the nation see pro-Mubarak felools protesting in Tahrir along with Islamists’ rivals [sic], they know this isn’t Jan25,” read another.

The account further challenged secular groups by promising a bigger turnout in rallies to support Morsy.

A source inside Ikhwanweb declined to comment.

Media analyst Yassir Abdel Aziz says both secular and Islamist media are being misused to serve particular political agendas, straying from the basic principles of journalism.

“The turbulent political situation as well as the deep state of polarization has turned the media into a tool to fuel the war,” Abdel Aziz says.

Ghanem, however, denies any interference from Brotherhood leaders or party officials in the newspaper’s decisions, adding that their policy is set by the editorial team.

Abdel Aziz says both sides are no longer objective.

“The liberals abused the broad media platforms they have, and the Islamist media failed to preserve the morals and ethics they call for in their propaganda,” he says.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

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