CAIRO: Away the streets of Gaza, the infighting between Hamas and Fatah has moved to a new battleground – that of the internet.
Aside from the conventional electronic warfare on each group s website, on YouTube, the popular video uploading site owned by Google, supporters of each faction engage in yet another type of armed struggle, in which carefully edited video clips and powerful slogans become the bullets in a new-generation media war.
Hassan Abu Taleb, expert on online media at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told The Daily Star Egypt that the web war is simply another facet of the Hamas-Fatah conflict.
Now there is a big dispute between the two, with factions within each trying to push towards an open dispute, using accusations, false statements and what not. The internet war is just part of the game…
In one pro-Hamas video clip, entitled “A Debate with the Illegitimate Mahmoud Abbas Who Turned Against the Law, images of Hamas PM Ismail Haniya embracing little children and religious figures are juxtaposed with pictures of Fatah-leader Mahmoud Abbas embracing Condoleeza Rice and Israeli officials to a background of patriotic Palestinian songs.
Then a headline flashes on top of the screen asking viewers in Arabic: Can you find the ten differences? In the next frame, the questions change to Can you find the thousand differences?
The video ends with a mock-up ad for a detergent on special offer. Pictured on its label is the coat of arms of Izz Eddin al-Qassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas – hailed for its ability to exterminate infidels, corruption, agents and beneficiaries…
An equally patriotically versed Fatah clip, shows a picture of Mahmoud Abbas with the slogan Fatah: the Force of Law, displayed side-by-side with an unclear image of an armed man, identified as Hamas: the Law of Force, all set against images of glorified Fatah martyrs and photographs of Yasser Arafat.
In another pro-Fatah video, graphic images of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades Commander Samih Madhoun – assassinated at the hands of the Shia in Palestine – Hamas (as yet another video is titled) are shown, followed by a photo collage of Hamas members with horns over their heads describing them as the Doorkeepers of Hell and the promise Fatah Will Not Forget.
Portrayed by one side as a hero and martyr and by the other as a spy and Zionist traitor, the assassination of Madhoun becomes a recurrent theme in the YouTube war between pro-Fatah and pro-Hamas users. Each group fights to present itself as devout and patriotic while depicting the rival faction as collaborating with external powers (whether the West, Israel, or Iran), corrupt and betraying its own people.
According to Naila Hamdy, a professor of journalism in the American University of Cairo, while the idea of using media [for disseminating the groups ideologies] is not new. On the YouTube battlefield, a new form of media is used, which is more instant, with quicker feedback.
However, the impact of the web propaganda is bound to remain limited, she adds, as only people interested in the topic will look for it; motivation is key – you will not find it unless you look for the message.
And while it remains unclear who is going to win the internet war between web-savvy Hamas and Fatah supporters, the outcome on the YouTube Palestine battleground is less likely to be determined by military strength as much as on successful PR.
The internet is an open space. How successful your online propaganda will be depends on what part of your energy you commit to your ideology, says Abu Taleb