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Decoding and deconstructing the Muslim brotherhood’s political communication strategy: 2013-2016

Koa, M. (2018) Decoding and deconstructing the Muslim brotherhood’s political communication strategy: 2013-2016. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

This study explores the political communication strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood following Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s dramatic removal from power in July 2013. Combining content and discourse analysis to comprehensively examine the Arabic communiqués issued by the Brotherhood from July 3, 2013, to March 22, 2016, the study seeks to provide a better understanding of the movement’s identity, evolving ideology, communication practices and its politics amidst a heated debate amongst scholars about these topics. The thesis makes an important theoretical contribution to social movement theory, suggesting that propaganda techniques can be used to systematically codify precisely how the organisation has sought to frame itself and its opponents. It thus contributes valuable knowledge to existing literature about the Muslim Brotherhood itself and social movements in general. It argues that since 2013, the Brotherhood have followed a political communication strategy that seeks not only to resist regime representations of the movement as a terrorist organisation but frames itself to domestic, regional and international audiences as a moderate movement committed to democracy and progress. The thesis argues that the movement designed its political communication strategy to achieve three strategic goals: (1) discrediting and delegitimizing the military regime that ousted President Morsi (2) winning the hearts and minds of the public and constructing itself as a legitimate representative of the Egyptian people and the Islamic faith (3) establishing the group as a legitimate political actor by presenting itself as a moderate, non-violent movement that upholds and adheres to democracy and a civil state. Accordingly, this study shows that social movement theory’s concept of legitimacy as a crucial moral resource has been central to the Brotherhood’s communication strategy in the face of widespread demonization. The Brotherhood’s communication thus suggests an ideology that has become more politically pragmatic and moderate in tone. Indeed, the content of what the Brotherhood say about themselves has arguably consolidated the movement’s ideological evolution from hard-core Islamists to avid defenders of democracy and advocates of minority rights. In particular, the Muslim Sisters have served as crucial female human resources as the group faces unprecedented persecution by Egyptian regime. Paving the way for the emergence of female leadership, this suggests that negative political opportunity can lead to the empowerment of marginalized groups within a social movement. Contrary to much existing literature that suggests a repression-radicalisation nexus, I argue that moderation has been the movement’s official response to the state’s demonization of the Brotherhood. To reinforce its moderation, the movement has introduced a new term, not previously in the Brotherhood’s dictionary: “the peaceful Jihad,” thereby articulating an alternative conceptualisation of religious struggle. The ousting of Morsi afforded a political opportunity to deploy cultural and moral resources of legitimacy, moderation and democracy manifested through strategic self-framing. Finally, the thesis examines the discursive mechanisms the Brotherhood has used to communicate these messages. Using strategic framing as a theoretical framework and the seven devices developed by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) in the late 1930s as a deductive tool, the thesis demonstrates that the Brotherhood’s communication strategy strongly aligned with the seven devices developed by the IPA: more than one technique was identified in 98% of the movement’s communiqués. The thesis thereby advances scholarly understanding of “strategic framing” by suggesting that the IPA’s persuasive techniques can be used to reveal the specific mechanisms through which the Brotherhood seek to achieve their communication goals. By raising awareness of these techniques as a critical means of setting the Brotherhood’s agenda, the thesis also serves to empower audiences and policy makers consuming these messages.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Rezk, D.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanities
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities
ID Code:85501

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