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The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – a question of communication and structure

by on December 1, 2013

BBC News, Cairo, Egypt, 2012, The Muslim Brotherhood´s presidential candidate Muhammed Mursi (the Freedom and Justice Party) wins over Ahmed Shafik (former Prime Minister of Egypt) with 51.7% of the votes in the second round of the election in Egypt (BBC News:YouTube 2012).

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt was for a long time, a banned Sunni Islamist political, religious and social movement in Egypt, but the revolution and the removal of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (the National Democratic Party) made space for the MB and 2012, Muhammed Mursi became the first democratically elected president in the history of Egypt.

The reason why the Freedom and Justice party was elected has a much deep and complex history and the question is: Did communication or social institutions and services play the most significant role for the Muslim Brotherhood´s success in Egypt 2012?

Please observe that this piece of work is not made to take a political stand and it is focused on the relationship between the Egyptian people and the MB within Egypt and does not include any outside relations or connection to the Egyptian military. Also it does not include any further developments after the election 2012.

Fig. 1: Egyptian flags during the revolution at the Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt 2011.

Communication and welfare system –a successful combination

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was established in 1928 by Hasan al Banna, and the long term aim was to develop an Islamic reform of the society and the state, with an Islamic order based on Sharia. The MB was banned 1954, because of an assassination attempt directed at Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt, but even though it was banned then, it was the strongest party against the government 2011 (IRIN 2006, Munson 2001:12). The MB:s internal structure that was made to resist repressive efforts from the state was one main point that made the MB able to survive, but I would like to outline and discuss two other main reasons for the MB:s success which are 1) the social institutions, activities and communications that were intertwined with beliefs in such way that each was strengthened and attractive to supporters and (2) that the messages were rooted in Islamic ideas and symbols and connected to everyday Egyptian life.

This first part of the radio programme “The Brotherhood” by Magdi Abdelhadi at the BBC, shows the importance of the MB:s structure and why they managed to get a large support (BBC Documentary 2010).

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/docarchive/docarchive_20100816-1002b.mp3

Fig 2: Universal symbols of health care.

Skillful usage of platforms and concrete actions

To be able to maintain and uphold their power and advanced federal structure, spreading and empowering their message and gain support among people, the members of the organization had to be very skilled in communicating and attracting their target groups within the Egyptian society (around 90% of the Egyptian population is Sunni Muslim)(CIA 2013). Excellent platforms for communication were the MB:s solid structure of welfare institutions and welfare services, mosques and non-political activities like for example football, (Dhar 2008:12, Brown 2010:6, Trager 2011, IRIN 2011) but also the recruitment system, built as a three-tiered membership structure, allowing the organization to embrace new Muslim members with a variety of different perspectives. New members didn’t have to ultimately commit to the ideology at the first level, but they became part of an audience that constantly was exposed to the PR of the MB:s agenda, which gradually blurred the lines between new members regular life and the life of the organization.

The MB:s ideas and organizational structure were interlinked and the latter provided an introduction to and knowledge about the former in a way that was connected with the everyday experiences and needs of the Egyptian people (Munson 2001:14). The MB:s network and actions fit into the classic functional definition by Clifford Geertz (Leustan 2005:5), since they linked to already existing belief systems, symbols and structures of loyalty in the society and according to Charles Kardushin, that shapes a multiplex sociological relationship between a various of nodes (Kardushin 2004:1-3) which increased the organization´s importance, respect and power (Munson 2001:17).

By being an important part of many middle class and poor peoples daily life (for example welfare services and activities) and customizing their agenda (containing vague policy stances) to fit the audience (fighter for the poor in rural areas or voice for democracy within educated urban neighbourhoods), they successfully combined practical services and communication (Disler 2012, Munson 2001:12). With the rapid development regarding technology and media, the MB was able to expand and could effectively reach out to a larger audience. (Dhar 2008:12, Brown 2010:6, Trager 2011)

Fig 3: Daily life activities like for example football games, connected the youth to the MB organization and the message of Islam as the solution for development and progress.

Winning “hearts and minds”

As we can see MB:s success is based on a very advanced, interlinked communication and social structure, where actions and empowering of their Islamic agenda are merged together. By these services and activities the Muslim Brotherhood won the “hearts and minds” of people (Tunisia Live 2013) and they benefited largely on governmental failures, which decreased the government´s credibility. One example was when the MB provided relief help (for example medical support, food and money), during the earthquake crisis in Egypt 1992 in comparison with the Mubarak government which did not come to rescue at all and also never provided the promised financial assistance to families that lost their homes or main source of income (Brown 2010:6-7, Dhar 2008:15).

By using Talcott Parson´s Structural Functionalist Model, it is possible to say that the MB:s system embraced the institutional, political but also social structure in Egypt (Bailey 1994) and, as Herbert Spencer would say, the MB became a vital organ for the body to function properly (Harper 2011:3) and that is also why they gained power and did not fade away during the time they were banned.

Fig 4: Explaining Parson´s Model.

The legitimacy of the agenda – a matter of concrete actions

Together, the communication system and the social institutions and services played the most crucial roles in why the MB became elected 2012. Key to the organization´s success  and support was the way in which the ideas were meaningfully related to practices and connected directly to action in concrete, identifiable ways. (Munson 2001:16).

The fact that the MB could show an ability to deliver on promises regarding social and economic issues gave them large credibility and material legitimacy to their message that Islam is the answer to development (Munson 2001:16, Disler 2012, IRIN 2011) and their work became a vital organ for the body of Egypt.

Fig 5: While waiting during the election´s results announcement speech 2012, people were making jokes on Twitter (please observe that these persons are not necessarily pro-Mursi).

References/Bibliography

Images

Fig 1: Voice of America (2011) Anti-government protesters hold an Egyptian flag during demonstrations in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 8, 2011 (Online) Available at: http://www.voanews.com/content/egypt-government-offers-reforms-as-protests-enter-3rd-week-115572414/134758.html

Accessed: 28 November 2013

Fig 2: Dexigner (2013) Universal Symbols in Health Care (Online)

Available at: http://www.dexigner.com/news/21460

Accessed: 1 December 2013

Fig 3: BBC One Match of the Day 2 (2013) BBC Sport: Football (Online)

Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007t9yb

Accessed: 1 December 2013

Fig 4: – (–) Family Crisis – Five Major Theories – Structural Functional Theory (Online) Available at: http://www3.uakron.edu/witt/fc/fcnote5.htm

Accessed: 1 December 2013

Fig 5: Scoop Empire (2011) TwitterFun:@sarahebeid vs @Ikhwanweb (Online)

Available at: http://scoopempire.com/twitter-fun-sarahebeid-vs-ikhwanweb/

Accessed: 1 December 2013

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Available at: http://0-web.ebscohost.com.emu.londonmet.ac.uk/ehost/detail?sid=b42b5ade-b7ad-4a32-bd2b-3d223afd7eab%40sessionmgr4002&vid=5&hid=4109&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=9410256488

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Available at: http://www.academia.edu/1973019/STRUCTURAL_FUNCTIONALISM_GRAND_THEORY_OR_METHODOLOGY

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Available at: http://0-web.ebscohost.com.emu.londonmet.ac.uk/ehost/detail?vid=3&sid=257f190c-e62f-424c-805a-136ccc2661cf%40sessionmgr4002&hid=4214&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=18660487

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Available at: http://0-web.ebscohost.com.emu.londonmet.ac.uk/ehost/detail?vid=7&sid=1a444d34-daba-4468-b9c5-9f49d4141722%40sessionmgr4004&hid=4201&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=6281671

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Foreign Affairs. Sep/Oct2011, Vol. 90 Issue 5, p114-126. 13p. 1 Black and White Photograph. (Online)

Available at: http://0-web.ebscohost.com.emu.londonmet.ac.uk/ehost/detail?vid=5&sid=1a444d34-daba-4468-b9c5-9f49d4141722%40sessionmgr4004&hid=4201&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=64464674

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BBC News (2012) BREAKING NEWS: EGYPT ELECTION RESULT MOHAMMED MORSI WINS. FULL REPORT, YouTube

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Webpages

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Articles

Disler, Matthew (2012) The Muslim Brotherhood and Political Power (Online)

Harvard University Institute of Politics

Available at: http://www.iop.harvard.edu/muslim-brotherhood-and-political-power

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Laub, Zachary (2013) Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (Online)

Council on Foreign Relations

Available at: http://www.cfr.org/egypt/egypts-muslim-brotherhood/p23991

Accessed: 27 November 2013

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