Talk to the Hand: Global information operations for the Post-Coup Muslim Brotherhood

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News reports claim that one of the last senior Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders was taken into custody in late October, which may lead some to believe that the radical Islamist organization had been effectively defeated by the new Egyptian military government. But Eric Trager, a Washington Institute for Near East Policy analyst and a specialist on the Egyptian MB’s hierarchy, has noted on Twitter that Erian’s influence was primarily that he spoke English, and was well known to Western journalists. Other, far more senior MB leaders remain at large in Egypt.

So while it may be true that the Brotherhood has been heavily rocked in the aftermath of the coup, which ousted MB president Mohammed Morsi, how badly off is the group really?

While many senior MB leaders have been arrested, the fact is that the organization is used to its senior leaders facing prison. Ex-President Morsi, although far from the most senior of the Muslim Brotherhood leader, was himself broken out of prison during the events of the Arab Spring.

More troubling for the Brotherhood is the breakup of the usras, the cell-like groups to which each Brother member belongs. Usras are tight-knit almost familial groups, which serve to rapidly transmit information from senior leaders to even the lowest ranking members. The Egyptian security forces know this, and have been seeking to disrupt Brotherhood operations by targeting these key structures.

Time will tell whether they will be successful.

Although weakened, the Muslim Brotherhood still has capabilities. Its success in being able to roll out the ‘R4bia” (pronounced Rabia, meaning 4 in Arabic) campaign demonstrates this. The R4bia symbol consists of a black hand raising four fingers on a yellow background. The image, which is now ubiquitous in pro-MB protests as well as in social media, is ostensibly an “anti-coup” symbol commemorating the death of Pro-Morsi protestors in the Rabia al-Adawiya Square. The yellow background is supposedly representative of the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the black color of the hand of the Kabaa in Saudi Arabia, illustrative of the pan-Islamic nature of the Brotherhood. The symbol additionally has deeply esoteric religious references, and contains within it, as the website notes, a connotation of violence:

“…R4BIA is the arena of martyrdom, R4BIA is the mother of martyrs, R4BIA is a smiling martyrdom.” The same website notes that the symbol stands for “…an end to Zionists.”

The MB’s ability to roll out a new global brand with speed and have it successfully adopted ought to be the envy of any corporate marketing executive. It indicates that in the “Information battle space,” the Brotherhood remains effective despite setbacks.

The R4BIA campaign originated out of Turkey, whose governing Islamist AKP party led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, remains staunchly pro- MB. This strong support has elevated Turkey to a chief operations center for the global Brotherhood. As Mohammed Abdel Kadar writes in Al Arabiya:

“Since the June 30 revolution in Egypt, Turkey has become the regional hub for the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization. Istanbul has played host to many meetings planning what steps are to be taken against the military-backed Egyptian government after the July 3 ouster of President Mohammad Mursi.”

While Turkey’s influence has been strongly felt, other Brotherhood operatives have fled to Qatar, under the care of the pro-MB Qatari regime and its television network Al Jazeera, while London has been transformed into the MB’s media headquar ter s, according to reports. That decision is deeply interesting, since it’s a reflection of the importance of influencing western media in the MB’s response.

Speaking of the West, The black “R4BIA” hand has also made an appearance in the United States, displayed on the personal Twitter account of Department of Homeland Security advisor Mohamed Elibiary. Elibiary, who openly displays his admiration for the Muslim Brotherhood, was also the subject of substantial scrutiny after he posted on Twitter that he considered the U.S. an “Islamic country” with an “Islamically-compliant Constitution.”

Another American resident and strong Muslim Brotherhood proponent is Imam Shaker Elsayed, the Imam of the Dar al-Hijrah Mosque. If the name Dar-al-Hijrah sounds familiar, it is because it was the mosque where Al Qaeda ideologue Anwar Al-Awaki was Imam, prior to his traveling to Yemen and subsequent death in a drone strike.

As the Investigative Project on Terrorism has reported, ElSayed also prominently displays the R4BIA hand in his social media presence via Facebook. Although Elsayed denies his Muslim Brotherhood connections, he is formerly the head of the Muslim American Society (MAS), which Federal prosecutors have called the “overt arm” of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States.

So far the Brotherhood ’s ability to leverage western opinion through information operations, like the R4BIA campaign, have been moderately successful. The U.S. and EU have both cancelled or withheld some forms of military aid to Egypt, something Muslim Brotherhood groups in the West have called for.

Whether the Brotherhood will be able to successfully leverage its ability to influence opinion outside Egypt in order to preserve what remains of its operations in Egypt remains unclear, but for now that appears to be a key part of the strategy. As for the large numbers of Egyptians within Egypt who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and have been supportive of the military’s efforts to uproot it, for now the Brotherhood’s message to them is “Talk to the Hand.”

Originally published at

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About the Author

Kyle Shideler
Kyle Shideler is the Director of Research and Communications for the Endowment for Middle East Truth

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