Egypt's Muslim Brothers in online fight

A dispute over the Muslim Brotherhood's website has led some to believe that a power struggle is going on inside the Islamic group. But caution is warranted; there has been no real change in the group's ideology since it was founded in the 1920's.
By John Ehab, Correspondent
Egypt, Cairo, Al-Azhar. ©S.M /
Some Egyptian media are interpreting the founding of an alternative website as a split within the Muslim Brotherhood. © S.M. /

CAIRO, Nov. 22, 2007 (MENASSAT.COM) - News about a split in the Muslim Brotherhood spread in Egypt this week after the formation of a parallel website allegedly started by reformists from the Islamist group.

The new website is called "Ikhwan off-line" (Muslim Brothers off-line), a play on the name of the group's current website, "Ikhwan on-line."

The founders of the controversial site said the aim was to push for reform inside the Muslim Brotherhood movement rather than to break away from the group altogether, as has been suggested by some of the local media.

"It was a scream of protest for the Muslim Brotherhood group to change the policy of its website", the founder of "Ikhwan off-line" told MENASSAT.COM in a phone interview, and on condition of anonymity.

He said that he - along with other reformists - had suggested enhancing the Muslim Brotherhoods' website "Ikhwan on-line" but had been  rejected.

"Much news that happens within the group that members should know about is not mentioned on the website," he said, added that the direction the site is taking does not represent all the currents within the Muslim Brotherhood.

Unprofessionalism was another motive behind the founding the rebel website. "Many times they would take photographs from other blogs and simply stamp the 'Ikhwan on-line' logo on them."

The Muslim Brotherhood is probably the most powerful Muslim fundamentalist group in the Arab world, and it is especially well represented in Egypt.

Some local media have interpreted the website dispute as a power struggle between conservatives and reformers within the Muslim Brotherhood.

The independent daily El-Masri El-Youm wrote that the reformers have established their own group, parallel to the Muslim Brotherhood, and are traveling around Egypt to attract members to the new organization.

But media members of the group reject this interpretation, saying it is a "one-man case."

"It is a single unknown individual who has defaced our site. The news was widely circulated in order to discredit the [Muslim] Brotherhood's image", Ikhwan on-line's editor-in-chief, Abdel Geleil Sharnoubi, told MENASSAT.COM

"Seventy percent of what the media say about the Brotherhood is incorrect," added the 34-year old editor, adding that the group's website is open to any suggestions for reform. 

The "Ikhwan off-line" website has disappeared from the Internet since the article in El-Masri El-Youm was published.

Diaa Rashwan, an independent expert on the Muslim Brotherhood warn against jumping to conclusions about a group which has seen no real changes in its ideology since it was founded in the 1920's.

"News about internal disputes within the Brotherhood are often wishful thinking more than anything else", said Rashwan, a researcher on Islamic movements at the Al-Ahram Strategic Center. "Even if there are reformers out there, they will still be Ikhwan, [members of the Muslim Brotherhood]."
Parties have split off from the Brotherhood before, such as the Wasat [Middle] Party. "But these respresent no more than slight individual moves", Rashwan told MENASSAT.COM. "There has been no meaningful split within the Brotherhood since it was founded, and objecting voices do not necessarily affect the core ideology of the group, which is a society based on Islamic decrees."

Abdel Moniem Mahmoud, one of the most famous blogging Mulsim Brothers, agreed with Rahwan's interpretation. "This is a personal case that doesn't represent the Muslim Brotherhood bloggers as a whole", Mahmoud told MENASSAT.COM. "Saying that a few bloggers constitute an organization or a group is wrong", Mahmoud said.

Mahmoud runs the "Ana Ikhwan" (I am a Muslim Brother) blog, and was only recently released from prison after being arrested in April 2007 because of his writing online.

On his blog, Mahmoud regularly diverts from the official party line by suggesting, for instance, that a woman or a Copt [Christian] run for president.

"But what I write on my blog is an expression of my own opinion, not that of a group. There is no consortium of Muslim Brotherhood bloggers."