Egypt's banned opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is putting the final touches on a new Facebook-like social networking site. The new service is just the latest in a series of new media ventures to circumvent Egyptian controls.
Egypt’s largest Islamic opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, announced this week that it planned to launch its own social media network. The new service will reportedly have similar features to popular social networks like Facebook and My Space. However, a spokesman for the group said the purpose of the site was not solely to make friends but also to “promote moderate Islam and clarify who we are.”
Ikhwanbook.com is currently operating on a trial basis with only 5,000 users and it will reportedly be open to the public at large beginning next month. The new service is designed for Muslims around the world who are apparently uncomfortable with the more liberal content rules on non-Islamic social networks. Muslim Brotherhood officials say the content guidelines on their new site will be stricter, as will privacy rules to protect its users.
The Muslim Brotherhood is becoming increasingly sophisticated with its social media endeavors. The Facebook-like Ikwanbook is just the latest in a series of new media ventures the group has employed to sidestep the government’s tight restrictions of its use of so-called traditional media like radio and television.
is the group’s video sharing site. With almost the same functionality as You Tube, the Muslim Brotherhood’s version allows its users to view and share videos that are supposedly more in keeping with traditional Islamic values. Additionally, the group also maintains IkhwanWiki, its own version of the popular encyclopedia website Wikipedia.
Analysts believe the Muslim Brotherhood is increasingly leveraging new media because they constitute the only remaining communication channels available to the group. Although officially banned in Egypt, as are all religious parties, the Brotherhood nonetheless controls almost a fifth of the seats in parliament through its allies. The group’s members are regularly arrested by authorities for violating both state religion and terrorism laws.
While the Muslim Brotherhood’s new media initiatives may help it improve communication with its members and reach new audiences, they may also present the group with new challenges. “The problem here is that IkhwanBook is a gift for Egyptian authorities, who can easily follow who exactly is sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Egyptian researcher Houssam Tammam, who closely follows Islamic movements like the Brotherhood.