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Muslim Brotherhood's media machinations

Although the Muslim Brotherhood complains of media bias favoring Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, their own media apparatus under President Mohammed Morsi was no better.
Muslim Brotherhood's President-elect Mohamed Morsy is seen on screens at the Egyptian Television headquarters control room during his first televised address to the nation in Cairo June 24, 2012. Morsy's victory in Egypt's presidential election takes the Muslim Brotherhood's long power struggle with the military into a new round that will be fought inside the institutions of state themselves and may force new compromises on the Islamists. Picture taken June 24, 2012. To match Analysis EGYPT-ELECTION/STRUGGL

On July 1, Al-Monitor published an article I wrote commenting on how similar the AIDS cure lie is to the propaganda of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership that tirelessly echoed through their far-reaching media network. The following day, the official Freedom and Justice website, which remains active after the shutdown of their newspaper, published a misleading translation of the story and shared it thousands of times on its social media pages.

This incident is a microcosm of the Muslim Brotherhood media's performance since their powerful rise in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak's resignation in 2011. In fact, many Egyptians, including myself, believe that the Muslim Brotherhood media apparatus is responsible for a great part of their catastrophic losses, the general chaos in Egypt and in different incidents has blood on its hands.

Soon after Mubarak's resignation in February 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood not only took to the front lines of the political arena, but also surrounded itself with a rabid assault line of newspapers, satellite channels and social media activities. By November of the same year, every corner of Egypt's media world had someone cheering in support of the 85-year-old organization and they won an overwhelming 47.5% of the first post-revolution parliament.

With Mohammed Morsi's rise to power in June 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood's media apparatus became too aggressive for its own good: It gradually became self-destructive.

"They claim that the media conspired against Morsi, but the truth is they hastily controlled the state-owned television and newspapers and established more than a dozen private media outlets that continually attacked the opposition and cheered their administration despite its failure," prominent Egyptian blogger The Big Pharaoh, whose real name remains unknown to the majority of tens of thousands of his followers, told Al-Monitor. "One main reason why people turned against the Muslim Brotherhood and followed a few opposition channels is how deceiving and hostile their rhetoric became, their attitude eventually helped topple Morsi."

Dec. 5, 2012, was a watershed moment. Clashes erupted in front of the eastern Cairo presidential palace after a call by the Brotherhood's strongman Khairat El-Shater for his followers to attack opposition protesters camped outside of the palace walls. The call virally spread across the Brotherhood's media sphere, leading to the death of 11 and hundreds of injuries.

"They are responsible for the victims including their followers who were harmed on that day," said The Big Pharaoh, who, along with many Egyptians, believed that the Brotherhood's media was similar to the current pro-Sisi media they have continually criticized since Morsi's ouster and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's rise to the presidency.

"They lie, incite violence, and are equally responsible," said The Big Pharaoh. "Amany al-Khayat [a Sisi-cheering TV presenter] is the same to me as Khaled Abdalla [a Morsi propagandist]."

Khayat, a top presenter at the leading ONTV, was fired a week ago by the channel's billionaire owner Naguib Sawiris after insulting Morocco on air. "Do you know that one of the main economic sectors in Morocco is prostitution?" Khayat asked her viewers while commenting on Morocco's possible role in the war in Gaza after a speech addressed to the kingdom by Hamas' political chief, Khaled Meshaal.

Khaled Abdallah, on the other hand, was one of Morsi's leading TV propagandists who appeared on the Islamist Al-Nas channel that was shut down following Morsi's ouster. Abdallah's TV appearance was banned by a court ruling in 2013 after he dedicated several episodes of his show to attacking a prominent Egyptian actress, Elham Shahin. Such attacks on the actress began after the detention of another Morsi propagandist, Abdalla Badr, who was jailed for defamation and falsely accusing Shahin of promoting "immorality and nudity" through her films.

Despite the audacity of the Muslim Brotherhood's media throughout their stint in power, its performance after Morsi's ouster was even more catastrophic. In many observers' opinions, they blinded their most vulnerable followers and indirectly led to their deaths in a series of crackdowns that began with the dispersal of pro-Morsi protesters at the Rabia al-Adawiya compound in August 2013 and ended as what Human Rights Watch described as "the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history."

"The stage erected in Rabia Square and its insistence [on] spreading false information led to what finally happened to the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins," said Muhammad Sayyed, whose ailing mother's story I told in my writings, and which were intentionally mistranslated by the Muslim Brotherhood media.

For five weeks at Rabia Square, I was the field producer of the PBS "Frontline" film, “Egypt in Crisis," and I listened to this stage every day, sat for prolonged interviews with at least a dozen Muslim Brotherhood officials from all levels, and personally witnessed the first round of killings — a clear sign of the bloodiness of the looming end — as it unfolded in front of the Republican Guards Club. On that day, 51 of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters, pushed by their leadership's rumors that Morsi was held at the military facility, were killed.

"The Muslim Brotherhood media selects what portrays them as a victim because the reality is sometimes incriminating to them," Sayyed said. "Their translation this time is an example: It was ill-intended and deceiving."

The Big Pharaoh and Muhammad Sayyed, both liberals, said that nothing justified the massacre committed by Egypt's regime, but nothing cleared the Muslim Brotherhood of its responsibility, either.

The liberals weren't the only ones. Ahmed Qassem, a Salafist who personally knew several people who participated and others killed in the Rabia al-Adawiya dispersal, harshly criticized the Muslim Brotherhood media despite disputing the extent of their responsibility for the bloodshed.

"The Muslim Brotherhood media doesn’t try to reach others; it is dedicated to informing and directing their followers according to their agenda. Their media did not only waste their golden opportunities when in power, but also destroyed their reputation and the public sympathy they once received," Qassem said. "As for the Rabia dispersal, it is a complicated matter that they take little responsibility for it, while the regime takes full responsibility."

That being said, Qassem agrees that ethically, the Muslim Brotherhood should have at least given their followers an honest assessment of their deteriorating situation and the freedom to peacefully disperse, while the Big Pharaoh believes that the Brotherhood leaders "were capable of diffusing the deadly situation and didn't. Instead, their media continued to deceive their followers."

On a similar yet significantly more controversial level, the Islamic Jamaa top officer Abbod Al-Zomor, who masterminded the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and led the ideological recantations that renounced violence later on, published an article on June 29 questioning "the details of what happened between June 30 [the beginning of anti-Morsi mass protests] and July 3 [when he was toppled]," in light of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's knowledge that "he had two options, to step down or be toppled by the military."

Al-Zomor's more critical question was: "What was the Islamic justification behind leaving thousands of men, women and children in Rabia Square without ordering them to disperse before the crackdown? What is the justification of ordering them to stand under fire with bare chests, and what is the greater interest accomplished throughout this scene?"

"We beg for clarification," said Al-Zomor.

Meanwhile, the misleading translation of my Al-Monitor article was never handled by the Freedom and Justice website despite my official complaint, and my repeated calls for comment were ignored, despite delivering them to the Freedom and Justice website, a former Brotherhood spokesman and the current social media officer.

I beg for clarification, too.

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