Middle East

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood under fire over tailored language

Muslim Brotherhood nominated deputy leader Khairat el-Shater pauses during an interview with the Associated Press in Cairo, Egypt.
Image caption An English tweet by MB Deputy Guide Khairat al-Shatir in the wake of anti-American protests contrasted with posts at the time in Arabic

A duality in the language used by the Muslim Brotherhood in English and Arabic has emerged as the crisis between the Egyptian government and Muslim Brotherhood continues.

Egyptian media commentators have been increasingly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood's use of double-speak - using a particular language and themes when addressing English-language audiences that starkly contrast with the message they have delivered in Arabic to their supporters.

Peace v 'million martyrs'

When addressing international audiences, the key themes in the Muslim Brotherhood discourse have consistently been that of liberty, democracy and legitimacy. A narrative of victimhood is invoked against the might of the Egyptian army and police. In contrast, the language used by the group's leaders when addressing its supporters in Arabic is laden with emotional Islamist rhetoric, including references to martyrdom and violence.

Jihad al-Haddad, the group's media spokesman, has been particularly prominent in English language media. His Twitter feed has repeatedly stressed the group's non-violent nature, tweeting on 15 August "#MB's organizational capacity, discipline & commitment 2 non-violence ensures its peacefulness. Our peacefulness is our strength."

On 11 July 2013, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he asserted: "It's democracy at the end of the day. We're all different as human beings and that's why we have to agree to the rules of democracy that govern these differences."

However, Mr Haddad came under fire from some Egyptian social media users who accused him of misleading the Western media about events on the ground in Egypt. In June, the hashtag "Gehad Haddad is a big liar" was trending on Twitter, and is still a popular hashtag for Twitter users pointing out discrepancies in the Muslim Brotherhood's version of events in Egypt.

Senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed al-Beltagi has been especially vocal since the current crisis began. A regular on the stage at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiyah area, where a key pro-Morsi sit-in was held, he authored an opinion piece for The Guardian newspaper on 21 August. In the piece, he condemns the "brutal and humiliating" actions of the Egyptian army but maintains that the Muslim Brotherhood "is committed to peaceful protests and has pledged never to resort to violence in response to the violence perpetrated against it… We believe that our peacefulness is a more powerful weapon than all the killing machines employed by the army or the police".

In contrast, Mr Beltagi has taken a more hardline tone when addressing Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Arabic-language media. Privately-owned daily Al-Tahrir quotes Mr Beltagi as telling protestors in Rabaa al-Adawiyah on 3 July: "Say goodbye to your mother, father, and wife, because you will sacrifice your soul to defend Muhammad Morsi's legitimacy."

As the Egyptian Presidency began to warn protesters that they would break up pro-Morsi sit-ins if they did not voluntarily vacate, Mr Beltagi urged supporters on 11 August to remain in Rabaa square, telling them "your brothers in Algeria gave the greatest example when they offered a million martyrs. We, for the sake of peoples' freedom and dignity, are capable of offering more than that in exchange for the ouster of the occupation".

A video circulating online and on television in July shows Mr Beltagi saying: "[The Muslim Brotherhood] are not controlling the current violent upheaval in Sinai, however what is happening in Sinai is in response to that military coup, [the violence] will stop once [Army Chief] Abdul Fattah al-Sisi ends the coup."

Supporters' rhetoric

The Islamic preacher Safwat al-Hijazi has also adopted a similar tone. While not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is a staunch supporter and considered one of their strongest allies. In an interview with Al-Arabiya's Al-Hadath al-Misri talk show on 18 June, he warns those planning to protest against Mohammed Morsi that "those who spray water on him [Morsi] I will spray with blood". He repeated this warning on 21 June when addressing Morsi supporters at Rabaa al-Adawiyah.

Similarly, Tariq al-Zumur, an Islamist with ties to Jihad groups and a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, was granted the stage at Rabaa al-Adawiyah on 21 June and tells the crowd that those protesting against Mohammed Morsi on 30 June will be "crushed… it will be the decisive blow".

Established practice

The use of doublespeak is not a new Muslim Brotherhood practice. In September 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood English-language Twitter account retweeted a message from Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Guide Khairat al-Shatir to the US Embassy in which he says he was "relieved none of @USembassycairo staff was hurt". The US Embassy responded: "Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too". In Arabic, the Muslim Brotherhood Twitter account and official website had been praising protests taking place by the US embassy, even publishing an article on the website entitled Egyptians rise to defend the Prophet.

In April 2013, a similar situation occurred in the aftermath of the Boston Bombings. Ikhwanweb, the official English website of the Muslim Brotherhood, strongly condemned the bombings and offered its condolences to the American people. However, the vice-chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, Isam al-Iryan, posted a slightly different take on the events on his personal Arabic language Facebook page.

While he described the attacks as "criminal", he insisted that "our sympathy with the families of the victims, and the American people do not stop us from reading into the grave incident." He went on to raise suspicions over recent global developments, saying that these bombings followed a "series of events" that include the French intervention in Mali, increased violence in Syria, Iraq and Somalia and ponders: "Who disturbed democratic transformations, despite the difficult transition from despotism, corruption, poverty, hatred, and intolerance to freedom, justice tolerance, development, human dignity, and social justice? Who planted Islamophobia through research, the press, and the media?"

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