Why the Muslim Brotherhood won't go underground

The Muslim Brotherhood, dubious though its outlook certainly is, is far more adept at getting its message across than many, in the Egyptian government or the West, know or understand

More than a rabble...
Ahmed Abdel-Raheem
On 25 September 2013 12:45

An Egyptian court this week banned ''all activities'' of the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered its assets confiscated. One senior security official has been quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, ''The plan is to drain the sources of funding, break the joints of the group, and dismantle the podiums from which they deliver their message.''

Here's why the plan won't work.

The Egyptian authorities tend not to understand how messaging works. They view messaging as short-term and issue-based, rather than long-term and morally-based.In cognitive science, messages employ words. The words evoke frames. Effective messaging requires existing strong high-level, long-term, morally-based frame systems.

The Muslim Brotherhood's messaging system has existed and has been extended and strengthened over 85 years. In other words, like conservatives in the US, the MB activists have, over a long period of time, consistently and patiently strengthened their moral worldviews, prototypes, and versions of vital political concepts (e.g, in America: Life, Freedom, Responsibility, Government, Accountability, Responsibility, Equality, Fairness, Property, Security, etc.).

As a result, the MB's language is constantly heard in many parts of Egypt, especially inside universities, schools, mosques, etc. Such a language automatically and unconsciously evokes the groups' frames and the high-level framing systems they are part of.

On this view, the Muslim Brotherhood has a large effect on the public even when they're out of office. Importantly, their communication system is never out of the scene. It is already deep in the minds of bi-conceptuals, those who are partly Islamist and partly secular. As a result, there is always a chance for the group's moral system to be activated.

This would explain why the group, through its long history, has successfully fought off every threat to its existence. It also explains why the MB wins elections, and also changes policies even without winning elections.

The MB activists very much understand this. So they will never take up arms against the state, as some commentaries have alleged.

This is the point that the government should realize. Importantly, if the current authorities in Egypt want to ''compete'' with the MB, they must first understand how political messaging works. Then they must construct their own long-term framing for their own high-level, moral system and basic policy domains.

Conceptual framing, according to George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, can be done by long-term careful messaging, or through education (e.g., by controlling school textbooks). The government, instead, sends its security forces to schools and universities to stifle freedoms, and dissolve the MB so as to control the ''mainstream'' thought and language that reside with the group.

Again, this won't work. The ''liberal'' authorities must be sincere and direct. More crucially, what they say must go hand-in-hand with what they believe and do.

The writer is an Egyptian artist and essayist

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