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The Muslim Brotherhood Takes Twitter
The Muslim Brotherhood Takes Twitter
Miriam can't stop talking. And when she does, it's mostly to look down at a torrent of emails, SMSs, and tweets flooding her smartphone. It's been a heady nine months for the soft-spoken but sharp-witted 24-year-old Egyptian student turned activist.
Friday, November 18,2011 08:20

 Miriam can't stop talking. And when she does, it's mostly to look down at a torrent of emails, SMSs, and tweets flooding her smartphone. It's been a heady nine months for the soft-spoken but sharp-witted 24-year-old Egyptian student turned activist. She's juggling the ordinary demands of a heavy course-load at Egypt's top university with a slew of extracurriculars (she's embarrassed to admit she's an avid squash player), but also working through the existential hangover of heavily participating in a leaderless revolution that's now causing more of a headache than a thrill. While polishing some academic work on the role of social media in Egypt's uprising, she's been ferociously tweeting on the country's virtual front-lines, fielding 140-character blows left and right. And she's doing it for the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Miriam" (she prefers to use a pseudonym, for "security reasons") is one of the admins of @Ikhwanweb, the official English-language Twitter page for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most prominent Islamist organizations in the world. Ikhwanweb, the Muslim Brotherhood's official English website, started the twitter account @Ikhwanweb back in 2009. For years, the account was a robotic-curated Twitter feed which did little more than link to the website's posts. But Miriam has recently helped transform the account into a virtual coliseum for some of Egypt's most heated debates.

For the last few weeks, @Ikhwanweb has been fastidiously engaging journalists ("You got the schedule for our daily rallies, right?"), critics ("We have a lot more important things to focus on and an election to win," in response to a flurry of questions regarding their funding) and curious lay-tweeps alike ("Check chapter 4 of our party platform for our position, the economy section at this link"). Their goal? "To spread the truth," they say, and engage with an English-speaking audience and liberals who wouldn't otherwise interact with them. But their critics accuse them instead of presenting a falsely forthcoming English-language front that masks their true political intentions.

"We're tweeting to humanize the Brotherhood and correct misconceptions," Miriam says. "We're not this big, scary terrorist organization." The social media enthusiast grew up with the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood. Her parents are something of Brotherhood stalwarts -- her mother, a journalism professor, is running for parliament in an affluent Cairo suburb. But she's also very much a digital native, who came of age alongside the activist generation made famous by January's uprising. "There are so many people in the Brotherhood like me, who are young, educated, speak many languages, travel," she explains. "I'm not an anomaly, but everyone has the wrong idea about us."

Miriam's partner-in-tweeting Hazem Malky, 36 -- a self-described "certified Twitter addict" who previously tweeted prolifically at @hazemmalky publicly, but recently locked his account to avoid "hate-tweets" -- is an editor at Ikhwanweb and medical doctor by training. Currently based in New York, he also prefers to use a pseudonym, citing worries over "Zionist elements" and the United States government. He talks a mile a minute with a vaguely Brooklyn drawl, adroitly weaving arguments together with an easy mix of American vernacular and Classic Arabic. He says he tweets from his iPhone on the road, at the dinner table, even in his sleep. "Actually," he concedes, "it's sort of pathetic."

In part, their turn to Twitter reflects a broader need for the Muslim Brotherhood to engage with and reassure Egyptians and the West. The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954 and long held down by autocratic regimes. However, their recently established political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, seems likely to have the upper hand in upcoming parliamentary elections. After twenty-four protesters, mostly Coptic Christians, were killed outside Egypt's State TV building, Maspiro, in early October, sectarian tensions ran high. Malky said it was important for the Brotherhood to use Twitter more aggressively to respond to those concerns. "Many were implicating us, saying we had a special deal with the military," he says over Skype, blaming both Egyptian state and independent media for habitually bashing Islamists. "But we're used to fighting back and this is just a new frontier. We know we won't change everyone's mind in a few months, but we're using every channel we can to correct and inform."

tags: Revolution / Muslim Brotherhood / Ikhwanweb / Liberals / Parliament / Zionist / United States / Freedom and Justice Party / Parliamentary Elections / Protesters / Maspiro
Posted in MB News  
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