In September 2007, the Society of Muslim Brothers, Egypt’s largest organized political force, released a draft political party platform to a select group of around 50 Egyptian intellectuals. The response was scathing. Planks such as those advocating formation of a “higher council” of religious scholars with what looked like a legislative role and a ban on a female or Christian head of state triggered an avalanche of complaint from friend and foe alike. For the Brothers’ enemies, the draft platform was a gift from heaven, revealing at last the Islamist organization’s “true face” and justifying the constitutional ban on political parties with a “religious basis,” strengthened by the government in March with the clear purpose of preventing the Brothers from becoming a legal party. As the debate unfolded, however, a novel feature of the Brothers’ “true face” began to emerge: sustained criticism of the platform posted by young Muslim Brothers on their personal blogs. “Is this the platform of a political party or a religious organization?” queried one youthful blogger, ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Mahmoud. The posts, in turn, generated another sharp debate, not only about the platform, but also about what it means to be a member of the Brothers and the limits of public dissent.
These online discussions are a manifestation of a new trend among young Muslim Brothers and a dynamic new force inside the organization. As of the spring of 2007, there were an estimated 150 bloggers in the organization—an impressive number given that less than a year before there had been virtually none. At home in cyberspace, blogging Brothers have more in common with other young Egyptian activists, whether leftist or nationalist, than they do with their less wired peers. Their jibes at the draft platform, along with those of secular commentators, were undoubtedly one reason why the draft party platform was withdrawn for revision in late October (though leaders have said the offending clauses in the platform will not be altered). [complete article]