Website takes on Muslim Brotherhood critics
By Muhammad Shokry BBC News
Supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are squaring up to Western “Ikhwanophobes” – a term they have coined to refer to the group’s critics – via a new watchdog website.
Ikhwanophobia.com highlights articles and statements by prominent Western media and political figures that are critical of the Brotherhood and Islam.
In a section called Meet the Smearcasters, the site takes aim at Fox News personality Sean Hannity, televangelist Pat Robertson and far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, among others.
Western critics accuse the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamist group in the Arab world, of spawning violent groups and seeking to establish an Islamic rule.
Through the Ikhwanophobia website, the Brotherhood’s sympathisers aggressively attempt to refute criticisms of the group and to show the world what they consider to be “the true face of moderate Islamists”.
The manager of the website, Omar Mazin, told the BBC that the site was launched in June to address Ikhwanophobia in the West – Ikhwan being the Arabic word for brotherhood.
The website defines Ikhwanophobes – another term it coined – as those who believe Muslim Brotherhood members are religious fanatics, violent towards non-Muslims, and contemptuous of values such as equality, tolerance and democracy.
The site operates without censorship or direct supervision from the Brotherhood’s leadership, Mr Mazin told the BBC, and is managed from Egypt and abroad in consultation with Arab and Western intellectuals and academics.
“We monitor the Ikhwanophobes and their allegations and republish their material and comment on it in order to expose the Islamophobes and Ikhwanophobes,” he says.
Mr Mazin says the website has made a “very good start”, but that it is too early to evaluate its success.
“We have reached new audiences and we have also run very important debates over the Muslim Brotherhood,” Mr Mazin said in a written statement to the BBC.
The Brotherhood has several websites, some directly run by the group and others by affiliates and sympathisers.
But the Ikhwanophobia website is unique in that it directly responds to criticism and accusations, and sometimes hits back at critics.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest Islamist movement in the Arab world, established in 1928.
It has offshoots in many Arab countries and followers throughout Europe and the US. The Palestinian movement Hamas is considered one offshoot of the group.
In Egypt, the Brotherhood is officially banned, but politically tolerated.
It is regarded as the main political opposition. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated members, running as independents, won 88 parliamentary seats in the 2005 polls – one-fifth of the total seats.
The group enjoys strong grassroots support at home for its development and charity work, but faces accusations abroad of seeking to impose an Islamic model of government.
The Brotherhood, which supports Hamas in what it views as the legitimate armed resistance against Israel, has also been much criticised in the West for its position on suicide attacks inside Israel.
The Brotherhood says it accepts their legitimacy when there are no other means available to “resist the Israeli occupation”.
The site claims to shed light on the Muslim Brotherhood’s stance on issues such as violence, terrorism and democracy.
- Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organisation
- Founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1928
- Has influenced Islamist movements worldwide
- Mixes political activism with charity work
- Banned from open political activity
- Rejects use of violence and supports democratic principles
- Wants to create a state governed by Islamic law
- Slogan: “Islam is the Solution”
In response to a query about its commitment to democracy, it says: “The Muslim Brotherhood believes that Islam has no identified shape of authority, Khilafah [caliphate] was the nature of its ages, and Muslims will develop their own style of leadership.
“The Koran and [Islamic texts]… do not force any regime or political regulations on the Muslims,” it adds in the section entitled Listen to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think-tank, says it is “refreshing” when groups feel confident enough to argue their point of view directly, but says the site is not likely to have much impact on Western thinkers.
Ultimately, the Brotherhood will be judged on “its actions and not by a website”, Mr Rubin says.
There is also a fear that the website may divert from its original purpose, he says.
“The website might undercut its purpose by engaging too much in ad hominem attacks against individuals with whom it disagrees, rather than arguing proactively for what the Muslim Brotherhood believes,” Mr Rubin says.
The Ikhwanophobia.com manager sees things differently.
“I believe that Ikhwanophobia will be one of the most important sources for researchers and academics who want to offer a real and true view on the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Mr Mazin.
For now, that view is shared by the Brotherhood’s deputy leader Muhammad Habib.
“This website is, certainly, a good step in defending the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Mr Habib.
“I think Ikhwanophobia will be influential in responding to any accusations and misperception and to the attempts to tarnish the group’s reputation,” he adds.