Media is one of the most essential pillars on which the organizational structure of the MB has been based since its inception, as it relied since its founding on traditional media to spread its message and goals. The group was one of the first political Islamist groups whose employ new media to achieve goals that serve its political project and promote its ideology of “reviving the caliphate.” It has already managed to have a wide online presence across a large number of websites that talk for and support it.
The group had a strong influence in EU since the 1970s, established a parallel media that speaks for its organizations and octopus networks, which was its means of spreading extremist ideology among nations and peoples, relying on a duality of discourse and a sharp contradiction in the reactions and media messages.
First – overview of the MB’s media:
The MB’s first publication in Egypt known as the MB Magazine was published five years after the group’s founding in 1928. It was published weekly and then followed by other editions that varied between daily, weekly and monthly.
The weekly Al-Natheer magazine (1938), Al-Manar magazine (1939), the weekly Al-Ta’arif magazine (1940), the weekly Al-Shu`a magazine (1940), the daily MB (1942), the monthly youth magazine (1947), and the New Kashkool magazine (1948). And (Al-Dawa) magazine, which is the group’s most famous publication in its history, as it lasted from 1951 until 1954, before its advocacy, political, and organizational work stopped following the famous clash with the ruling political authority led by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
When President Mohamed Anwar Sadat came to the authority in 1971, the group resumed publishing the Dawa magazine again and sought to use student pulpits and wall magazines as media outlets inside universities, but this activity soon ceased following the group’s clash with Sadat in the late seventies.
The group’s entry into a struggle with authority in Egypt, Syria and other countries, and its desire to achieve expansion and spread prompted many of its leaders and supporters to move to EU, where it founded many intellectual, proselytizing and educational centers at the initiative of the Egyptian Said Ramadan from Germany. These centers soon established media offices to address Muslim communities through publications focusing on matters of Islamic faith, but according to the MB’s understanding, they also did not neglect to address Western societies and authorities there in another language through which they tried to promote that it was a “peaceful group pursuing democratic work” and that its ideas put forward were “moderate reformism.”
Later, the MB and its European networks found in digital media their way to face the media ban imposed on them in most Arab countries. The MB’s first engagement with new media dates back to 1998, when the group launched a website for its print magazine, Dawah. Soon after, it also launched a number of websites that served as an integrated electronic media system, such as Ikhwan Online in 2003, Ikhwan Web in 2005, Ikhwan YouTube in 2009, Ikhwan Wiki in 2009, and Ikhwan Book in 2010, as well as Ikhwan search, a search engine similar to Google’s search engine. The group has also used social media sites extensively, most notably Facebook, Telegram, and Clubhouse.
Officially, the group today has two websites, one representing the Istanbul Front (the main website of the Ikhwan Online – the official website of the MB (ikhwanonline.com), and another website launched by the London Front in November 2021 under the name “ikhwan.site as the official website of the group. The new website contains seven windows, starting with defining the group, then its official position on current events, statements, television interviews, then press interviews conducted by the leaders of the group, then the flags and leaders of the group, up to the news, and finally the window of the founding imam Hassan al-Banna.
The Ikhwan Online website expresses the view of Mahmoud Hussein, who leads the Turkey Front, and the other website expresses the view of the Deputy General Guide of the MB and his chargé d’affaires, Ibrahim Mounir, who leads the London Front.
By analyzing the content of the MB’s (Arabic) pages on social media, they can be classified into:
- Pages with news content, some of which are spokespersons for the MB or independent pages close to them, which are the most popular pages in terms of the number of subscribers (e.g., the website of the Rassd network, the Khobar network, the MB News Network, the Publishers News Network, Ikhwan Online).
- Official pages of the MB’s spokesperson (e.g., the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy and Reject the Coup, the Official Page of the MB, and others).
- Pages of a social nature that include discussions and propaganda publications (e.g., MB Lovers League).
- Pages spoken by the group’s leaders and some prominent figures run by some of the group’s youth.
- Pages in solidarity with a member of the group or against the death sentences or imprisonment of a member of the group.
- Incitement pages, which contain content against states opposed to MB ideology. These include calls for demonstrations and vigils (e.g. pages of Ultras Nahdawi, Rabawiya, Shabab al-Matariya against the coup, etc., and the Revolutionary Alliance).
- Random Violence Groups pages, which include the promotion of their violent operations, invitations to participate, call for incitement to violence, methods of bomb-making and strategies of indiscriminate violence, and data of police and army officers (e.g. Molotov pages, revolutionary punishment, terrorist, fondness, etc.).
- Individual pages created by a member or sympathizer of the group, which are very widespread, and whose content varies according to the basis of them, including pages that call for violence and pages for political criticism.
In general, the functions of the mass communication of the MB can be determined by the following points:
- Shaping the social, political and ideological values of the group.
- Promote its intellectual and political project.
- Preparing societies to accept their ideas.
- A tool to tarnish the image of anti-group opponents and incite against them.
Second: The basic features of the MB media:
The MB’s active networks in the EU have developed new functions of propaganda discourse, as this discourse is characterized by a set of characteristics, most notably that it is of an ideological nature that focuses on religious vocabulary that attracts the general public from the masses, such as: “Islam is the solution” and “Islamic jihad and caliphate”, and secondly that it is inseparable from the main value system of the group that seeks to establish among its members, especially the values of loyalty and obedience, as it forms the basis of maintaining the organizational and administrative structure of the group. Third, this discourse is the group’s most important tool in managing its political conflicts, as it aims to tarnish the image of regimes and governments that disagree with it and incite violence.
- Ideological discourse: The MB’s media discourse is primarily ideological and religious, rejecting peace and calling for war and the continuation of conflict, always using these words in mobilization, as well as politically employing them in various events, reaching the atonement of the violator (as in the case of the likes of Wajdi Ghoneim) or calling for jihad and encouraging violence in the late Mufti of the MB, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
- Emotional discourse: The discourse addressed to Arabs is characterized as an emotional and mobilizing discourse that is absent from reason and logic, and that alters Qur’anic verses, prophetic hadiths, and facts from Islam to indicate the validity of the group’s thought. For example, this media always leans to the past in the face of the excesses of modernity, amplifying the extent of Islam spread in the world, the alleged positive impact of Turkish hegemony on the development of Southeast Europe, and the influence of Arab culture on scientific progress, with the aim of pushing all Muslim refugees and immigrants to adopt a sectarian MB understanding of Islam.
- Duality of discourse: The group relies on the duality in its speeches issued in Arabic and English, where it adopts in its speech in Arabic an inflammatory language against the violator politically and ideologically, while the group’s speeches in English are opposite in which it calls for reconciliation and rejection of violence, in an attempt to beautify its image externally and gain international sympathy. For example, the MB’s website in English is different from the site in Arabic both in terms of the topics that are addressed and the images that are placed on the two sites, the group is fully aware of the topics that interest the Western world, especially with regard to the rights and freedoms, as well as the difference of the logo between the two sites, as the logo of the Arabic site is “The swords, the word and prepare”, which is completely different from the English site that does not carry this logo and the word Ikhwanweb is written on it.
- Machiavellianism: Anyone who thinks that Islamists really believe in democracy and the rule of law is delusional because they relied on Machiavelli’s famous saying that the means justify the ends, and they are allowed to resort to any means to reach power or to achieve their true ends.
- Political hypocrisy: The group’s ideologues and leaders of its media landscape legitimize political hypocrisy under the name of “the jurisprudence of empowerment and the jurisprudence of vulnerability”, which will allow the wearing of various masks until the main goal is reached. To achieve this, the group is attracting some foreign writers and journalists or contributing to the support and funding of some platforms such as Middle East Eye (MEE) a London-based news website.
- The call for isolationism: The media discourse addressed to the Arab reader is imbued with what can be described as “faith superiority” that idea that was established by al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, and passed on to generations after them. The writings of the group’s theorists reveal the enormous space occupied by the isolation idea in this organization’s imagination, as the terms “isolation” or “migration and distance from society” and “the formation of the faithful league” are a prerequisite for organizational belonging.
Qutb reinforces the idea of isolation in his book Milestones in the Way, where the League of Believers should separate and isolate from these societies, in order to preserve their purity: “Therefore, in the approach of the Islamic movement, we must be stripped of all the influences of ignorance in which we live. We must go back to the pure spring… It is necessary to break with ignorance, to transcend it, and then change it.”
- Exploitation of Islamophobia: The ideology of the MB is based entirely on the incompatibility between Islamism and secular Western society. Any criticism or restriction on Islamism is exploited by the group and framed within the framework of the “war on Islam” to deprive them of their rights because they are Muslims!
- Inciting tendencies: The MB media deals with the opponents in different ways, and it has resorted to the method of spreading rumors in order to influence these opponents or blackmail countries for the benefit of its allies, Qatar and Turkey. For example, the campaigns launched by the MB’s media platforms about Sweden under the flimsy pretext that the Department of Social Affairs, known by its acronym as Social, “kidnaps the children of Muslims”, and that campaign has been adopted by dozens of Arab accounts and channels, among them is the page “Islamic Affairs”. Prior to that, the incitement campaigns affected France and led to the boycott of its products in some Arab countries.
Third: Samples of the media discourse adopted by the MB (entities and individuals):
- The Council of European Muslims, the new name for “The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), is an umbrella European Islamic body that forms a unified framework for European Islamic organizations, institutions and associations, and serves as the European wing of the global MB organization.
The English content of the council’s website (https://www.eumuslims.org/en) focuses on exporting a positive image of Muslim communities in EU. Arabic content provides an example of the Islamic media’s method of provoking religious emotions through the quality of the topics it presents, which can be summarized as “the persecution and marginalization of Muslims in Europe and the phenomenon of Islamophobia.”
- In September 2022, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), Britain’s National Authority for Muslim Students, threatened to launch a separatist campaign against the National Union of British Students (NUS) after it suspended the mission of its elected president, Shaimaa al-Dalali, over Dalali’s outspoken anti-Semitism and homophobic tweets dating back to 2012. Following the media uproar, al-Dalali apologized for the post, which she said was “false” and “unacceptable,” and argued that the tweet was teen.
Dalali was also previously accused of raising funds for Cage during Ramadan in April 2020 – a group critical of the UK’s counter-terrorism policies, and Cage has faced heavy criticism for defending “Jihadist John” who has beheaded several Western hostages in Syria. The organization denies that it supports terrorists and says its goal is “simply to ensure that the pursuit of justice is done fairly.”
- “We do not accept to take a verse and to leave another one , we call for peace but do not abolish jihad”! According to Suhaib Hassan, president of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, in the eulogy of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
The Council Headquartered is in the Irish capital, Dublin, it aims to convince official institutions in European countries that it is the only body to represent EU’s Muslims. The Council makes attempts to limit views on religious issues specific to Muslims in EU to its members, issues collective fatwas to regulate the affairs of them in Europe (according to the MB’s understanding of religion), and organizes events that attract Muslim communities in EU.
- In Sweden, Mahmoud El-Khalfi, a MB leader and director of the Islamic Center and the Great Mosque of Stockholm, considered during an interview conducted by the Komps Arabic news website on February 2, 2021 that Muslims in Sweden are subjected to political ethnic cleansing and evidenced this by forcing his political comrade Kaplan to resigned from his position as housing minister in the Leuven government a few years ago.
Khalfi questioned Sweden’s goal of receiving hundreds of thousands of Muslims “without adequate political representation,” which can be classified as deepening the political polarization practiced by MB officials to achieve political and material interests in Sweden.
Sweden’s governments are not bringing this number of Muslims to be led by Khalafi to demand quotas in governing the country on a sectarian basis. Rather, because they are refugees, most of them have fled governments that use political Islam to varying degrees to suppress dissent.
The previous Swedish government’s treatment and support of the MMB for more than three decades as representatives of Muslims in Sweden was highly controversial at the local level, as the group’s leaders there ran an empire of associations and institutions controlled by a small minority. According to the annual reports of three organizations founded by the MB, they received 437 million crowns of public funds in 2016.
Contrasting with Khalafi’s speech to Arabic speakers about the “marginalization of Muslims in Sweden”, online sources refer meetings he has had with presidents, ministers, politicians and diplomats as a cleric, as he was nominated on the Social Democrats’ lists in the 1998 elections. Most recently in October 2022 he participated, in the ceremony of the “2022 Child10 Award”, an award given to ten organizations working across EU to stop the crimes of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children and the event was held at the Royal Palace in, in the presence of Queen Silvia.
- In France, the dean of the Grand Mosque of Paris, Shams al-Din Hafeez, sparked a wave of indignation and anger on social media after he posted a violent tweet addressed to “infidels” the day after the attack on British writer Salman Rushdie in August 2022.
After presenting himself as an open-minded Muslim cleric who supports Islam compatible with the French Republic and its principles, he posted on Twitter on August 13 a strange text that read: “The believers will prostrate themselves while the infidels will never be able to do so, their back will remain stiff, if someone wants to prostrate their neck will go in the opposite direction as the infidels in the world did, unlike the believers.” He appears to have deleted the tweet later, but reputable media outlets have reported on the issue.
It is noteworthy that French President Emmanuel Macron participated in mid-October 2022 in the celebration of the Grand Mosque of Paris to commemorate the centenary of the laying of its foundation stone, and during the visit Shamseddine Hafeez was awarded the French Order of Merit “in recognition of his efforts in interfaith dialogue field and the definition of the tolerant values of Islam.”
- In the Netherlands, Syrian-Lebanese preacher Fawaz Junaid stands out as a model in how Islamists deal with ideologically different people, even though he was removed from The Hague for inciting violence, and is known for being the imam of the Sunni mosque and one of the instigators of the murder of director Theo van Gogh after being accused of “insulting the Qur’an.”
- Qatar and Turkey: It is known that there is a strategic partnership between Qatar, Turkey and the MB, this relationship is clearly visible in the media directed to the Arab reader, considering that most of the media institutions cadres in the two countries are supporters of the group.
For any Arab, Qatar’s name is associated with Al Jazeera, as the channel, which was founded in Doha in 1996, is not just an Arab satellite channel that meets information needs and news services, but it came up with strange and bold agendas together outside the norm in the region, using a highly literal style huge studios and advanced technologies, until it became a political platform par excellence serving the agendas of its operators.
Al Jazeera’s discourse to Arabs is based on sympathy for extremism and the forces of political Islam and criticism of everything that contradicts the MB’s project. On the other hand, the discourse addressed to the West reflects a different position that defends democracy, freedoms and openness and criticizes extremism and terrorism.
Al Jazeera’s duality has been demonstrated on more than one occasion, such as in the way it follows the death of the famous writer Nawal al-Saadawi in March 2021, where it has adopted a contradictory discourse, one “keen on the Islamic religion” addressed to the Arab public, and the other supportive of freedoms directed to the West in English. On its English channel, it spoke of Saadawi as an Egyptian feminist icon defending women’s rights, while on the Arabic channel it said that the late woman “attacked religions, questioned the Qur’an, and left after 90 years of ideas contrary to the culture of society.”
The same goes for Turkey’s Arabic-language state or quasi-governmental media, whose editorial policies often coincide with the MB’s agendas.
Challenges and proposals:
The MB media is facing many challenges at the moment, the most important of which are:
- The ideology weakness on which it is based, especially as it incites violence and hatred.
- The lack of a unified media vision for the group on how to deal with the West, as it adopts a dual discourse on this matter.
- The disharmony and division between the MB’s fronts reflects negatively on its official media.
- The confidence of the new generation of young people in the MB’s media discourse, as this media is still captive to the ideas of the founder of the group, Hassan al-Banna, and therefore its ability to influence is declining day by day.
- The terrorist crimes that took place in France and Austria showed the Western European the seriousness of the extremist media discourses of political Islam groups, especially the MB.
A clear strategy must be adopted to confront the MB’s media discourse that incites violence and hatred, as it is possible in this context:
- Develop media discourse directed at the West to clarify the contradictions in the MB’s media and intellectual discourse.
- Investing the European and Western concerns in urging the European authorities to monitor the sources of funding for the MB media.
- Refute the statements and slogans raised by moderate religious institutions and employ them politically, and work to increase people’s awareness of the seriousness of the MB’s media discourse.
- Establishing English-language channels in the West to combat the MB’s media discourse and the movements of political Islam, to expose the falsity of this discourse hostile to the modern nation-state, and to the values of tolerance and coexistence between cultures and peoples.