Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1335, (9 - 15 March 2017)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1335, (9 - 15 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Brotherhood clamour, Egyptian silence

Regardless of how repugnant the group is, the Muslim Brotherhood succeeds in one respect: it understands the value of public relations propaganda

The US press these days seems engaged in some kind of competition to brighten the image of the Muslim Brotherhood and clear it of the bloodshed it is causing now and has caused in the past in the name of Islam. The purpose of the campaign is obvious. It is to prevent the Trump administration from fulfilling one of his electoral pledges, which was to enter the Muslim Brotherhood on Washington’s list of terrorist organisations. To accomplish this end, press authors have taken the greatest liberties with the “facts” while barring all points of view and information that could rectify distortions, expose disinformation and respond to flagrant lies. The question is how long are we to sit back and ignore that cacophony that has grown louder and more widespread in the US media since the 30 June 2013 Revolution?

The campaigners stepped up their activities since Donald Trump took office. They organised conferences, held interviews with the press, contacted their friends on Capitol Hill. Last week I came across an article in The New York Times written from prison by the Muslim Brotherhood’s former official spokesman. The Muslim Brotherhood was totally innocent of all violence and terrorism, he claimed, as though with the stroke of a pen he could erase that blood-drenched record of violence and terrorism that organisation has built up since its founding in 1928. Even the student of modern Egyptian History 101 is aware of the train of assassinations and assassination attempts undertaken by the Muslim Brotherhood.

To my surprise, the main reaction among the people here who read that letter — and they are very few — was to ask how that letter managed to get out of prison and to demand that the authorities responsible for the negligence be held accountable. However, the problem, as I see it, is less how that letter was smuggled out of prison than how we are incapable of producing a comparable opposite one. I hope readers will forgive me for provoking them further, but I have to take my hat off to the author of that letter whom I had frequently criticised for his statements to the Western press during the Muslim Brotherhood’s militarised sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya. I also have to take my hat off to the Muslim Brotherhood’s public relations firm, especially for its astuteness in choosing the right moment to act before the Trump administration moves on the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist designation bill. Lastly, I have to congratulate that anti-Egyptian newspaper which has consistently opposed the will of the Egyptian people as manifested in the 30 June Revolution. The New York Times must feel proud of the “scoop” it presented readers in the form of a letter written from behind bars in Egypt on a topic of immediate concern to public opinion in the US.

It is very easy to criticise prison personnel for laxness in allowing letters to be spirited out of an Egyptian jail and on to an editor’s desk at 620 Eighth Avenue, New York. It is easy to tighten prison security. However, the crucial question is why the voice of the Muslim Brotherhood is that which is heard in the US press while our voice (the voice of the Egyptian people) remains unheard there and in the international media in general.

I am reminded here of an incident that epitomises the wrong way to handle things related to the Muslim Brotherhood. In the aftermath of the 1993 earthquake, the former first lady Suzanne Mubarak, accompanied by a delegation form the Egyptian Red Crescent, went to a shelter for earthquake victims in order to deliver tents, blankets, food and other relief supplies. Upon arrival, they discovered that the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the charities it operates had reached the centre before them and already handed out necessities. This should not have come as a surprise because it was part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s tactics for currying favour with the public. Unfortunately, the authorities’ response was to ban the provision of aid to earthquake victims through all channels except the Red Crescent. This was a continuation a decades-old policy that essentially held that the solution was to bar competitors rather than improving speed and efficiency in the delivery of services in order to win the race.

How long are we going to continue to follow that outdated policy that keeps proving a failure, year in, year out, from one race to the next? Are we just going to tighten up restrictions to keep letters from getting out of prison? Or will we take this latest incident as a warning bell, reminding us for the umpteenth time to address a problem that we keep trying to ignore? This problem is how to make our voice heard abroad as clearly as that of the Muslim Brotherhood.

If we are to benefit from this experience, we need to consider, firstly, what the other side does in order to sustain such a tangible presence in the Western media. This is not such a difficult task. That Western media persist in broadcasting pro-Muslim Brotherhood views and ignoring views that reflect the will of the Egyptian people is not due to some global conspiracy against us or to some universal sympathy with the mother organisation that bred all the takfiri groups that now constitute the gravest threat to the Western societies that had once embraced them and offered them refuge. Rather, it is the product of a thorough familiarity with how the institutions of US society work and, above all, the vital role that is played by major public relations firms in this process. This applies to Congress, the media and other institutions. Perhaps some among us recall how one of the public relations firms that the Muslim Brotherhood deals with in the US managed to arrange for a visit by a member of Congress to the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in. Naturally, all guns, swords and other weapons had been stashed away in advance of that visit during which the congressman stood before the cameras and testified to how peaceful the sit-in was.

Engaging a major public relations firm is the key to getting things done in the US, whether in a presidential or legislative election campaign or a battle to influence decision-making circles through the press or Congress. This route is costly, but the costs of losing the battle are greater, because the loss is not just material but also political and economic.

I wonder whether anyone has worked out how much it cost to fly in the aforementioned congressman from Washington to Rabaa, to put him up at the Four Seasons, to pay for the camera teams that followed him around to record his visit and to have that footage edited, aired and re-aired over and over again. How much did the PR firm rake in from this? A tidy fortune, no doubt. But thanks to that, the Muslim Brotherhood reached influential public opinion centres in the US. Meanwhile, we are still at the point of speaking of the need for the General Information Services to do its job, which various circumstances prevent it from doing.

The Jewish lobby in the US is also aware of the power that PR firms have to influence US society at all levels. Through this means and others, it has succeeded in controlling US policymaking. The Muslim Brotherhood and its international funders have latched on to this fact. Is it not about time that we learn the same lesson applied by our enemies?

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