The “About Us” page of the English-language Freedom and Justice Party web site (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) is 4000 words long. It begins with a “Foundation Statement,” moves on to “Vision and Methodology” and then to three numbered lists of “Principles,” “Policies” and “Objectives.”
The home page is a dense grid of news headlines, menus, cheerful banners which lead to deeper sections of the FJP site, media clips, and at the bottom right, a ‘poll’ (‘Do you think the government crackdown on several NGOs is 1.) Politically Motivated, 2.) Legitimate, 3.) Can’t tell’). I count 55 individual headlines, including two scrolling news feeds. The word ‘Sharia’ does not appear, nor does ‘Quran,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Jihad,’ or ‘military.’ There is a section with several articles that trumpet the place of women in the party, and two that specifically highlight good relations with Christians. The tone of the headlines is technocratic – committee meetings, visits from foreign officials, strategy discussions. The site also links to a Twitter feed and Facebook page.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 and has been banned there twice following militant activities. It was not instrumental to the Arab Spring uprising that overthrew the Mubarak regime, but as the largest opposition party during the final years of Mubarak’s reign, it was naturally poised to step in to a significant governing role. Fjponline.org, as an English-language site, tells the story of a busy, secular political party dealing with all the daily chores of political life. It makes an announcement to the outside world: “We are serious, sober and trustworthy. We ready to govern.”
What it is really doing is trying to divert foreign attention from the aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s mission that are objectionable to the West. The Brotherhood’s motto (not to be found on jfponline.org) is “God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” Their first principal is the introduction of Sharia law, and their second is to “unify Islamic countries and states.”
Oddly enough, of the other groups presented in class, the Freedom and Justice Party reminds me most of Educators for Excellence, in the sense that both organizations have built sites framed around a core misrepresentation of themselves. E4E professes to be apolitical when its true mission is to influence legislators. Both FJP and E4E use social media as part of their outreach efforts, but are only interested in the outgoing channel of these tools. They do not give outsiders any easy way to engage in conversation with them – or to contradict their message. In essence, both groups are using social media as one facet of a cynical PR strategy: they wish to appear open and friendly without having to endure the inconvenience of actual public engagement.