False narratives continue to play a dangerous role in the turmoil in Egypt. No group knows that better than the Muslim Brotherhood. Unsubstantiated claims of the group’s role in violence in Sinai and other parts of the country, along with rumours surrounding the Brotherhood’s links to foreign and domestic actors have made their way to state institutions and mainstream media, which has largely unabashedly rooted for the government in its ongoing crackdown.
The fatal bombing in Mansoura was met with outrage. Almost every non-Islamist political party released a statement essentially blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for the blast and the aftermath. Shortly after, the cabinet classified the Brotherhood as a “terrorist organisation”. Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based militant group that has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, was largely ignored in the rhetoric of state actors and its supporters, which implicitly and explicitly blamed the Brotherhood.
Unsubstantiated rhetoric relating to the Brotherhood was constructed by those who felt threatened by it. The group and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had proven that it was the most potent electoral bloc and was in a position to mass mobilise and capitalise on the interim government’s missteps and the public frustration that would come with it.
It is sad and unfortunate to see that the Brotherhood has turned to the same tactics, constructing false narratives and facilitating the spread of baseless information for its own gain, often employing smear campaigns that closely resemble those from which they suffer.
The group is no stranger to employing sectarianism through various mediums. Even when Mohamed Morsi was president, party leaders made public statements blaming Christians and the Coptic Church for sabotaging the government while its satellite channel Misr25, which was promptly shut down on 3 July, repeatedly made claims that armed Christians were sparking violent protests.
After a summer of bloody massacres at the hands of security forces, the MB resorted to the same sectarian rhetoric, this time to paint the current conflict as one split along sectarian lines.
The FJP’s newspaper regularly publishes sectarian-driven misinformation, and has resorted to some of the most desperate forms of propaganda. It has done everything from blaming the Church’s alleged coordination with military intelligence and the US government for terrorist attacks in the country to publishing articles quoting a fake Pope Tawadros II Twitter account declared that Egypt is a Coptic state.
Following the Brotherhood’s defeat in the Doctors Syndicate elections, the FJP’s paper once again blamed the Church for playing a role.
Christians serve very useful for the Brotherhood’s narrative. In the group’s eyes, the fact that most Christians supported Morsi’s ouster is a convenient way to show that there is an ongoing “war against Islam.”
Many articles on Brotherhood-affiliated sites refer to the constitution as “drafted by the church,” while neglecting to mention the roles of other institutions including Al-Azhar. The Brotherhood’s sectarian rhetoric leaped another level following comments made by Naguib Sawiris, who threatened protesters with violence if the army and police failed to quell dissent on the street. The inflammatory comments were irresponsible, hateful, and encouraged the dangerous practice of vigilantism that continues to plague the country and wreak havoc on peaceful demonstrators.
Sawiris is the founder of a prominent political party, a billionaire, and a subpar political commentator. However to the Brotherhood, Sawiris is first and foremost a Christian. The Brotherhood and supporting parties condemned what they considered “sectarian” statements, even though the comments in question made no reference to anything remotely related to religion.
Nevertheless the FJP’s news portal quoted “experts” proclaiming that Sawiris’ tirade “raised questions” about the Church’s relationship with “armed groups”, referencing rumours the MB has helped spread for years about “church militias” and churches stocked with weapons.
In an official statement on Thursday the Muslim Brotherhood said the freezing of Islamist charity organisation’s assets would open the door for the Coptic Church to prostelitise to “poor Muslims” through its own charity programmes in another alleged ploy in the nonexistent war on religion in Egypt.
Needless to say the Muslim Brotherhood’s bigotry does not serve as justification to indiscriminately detain its supporters, respond to its demonstrations with disproportional force, violate a myriad of human rights standards, or even call it a terrorist organisation.
However it demonstrates that even when it suffers from the consequences of mass misinformation, the Muslim Brotherhood and FJP are willing to play a part in the game of false narratives, even if it means fomenting hatred and consequently jeopardising the safety of other Egyptians.