Islam’s High-Tech Backlash

After the Arab Spring: A chilling reminder that social media can foster political oppression.

  1. Beneath the arched, soaring, pale yellow ceiling of a room in the maze of Al Azhar University, past the wall of black-and-white portraits of imams dating to the 12th century, Heba Zakaria, age 32, sits across from a blackboard scrawled with the email address (English is still the lingua franca of the Internet.) Zakaria is a member of the ascendant ruling party in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. She is one of the new generation of postrevolutionary, politically active, religious Egyptians using social media, cell phones, and other ostensibly liberating technologies—tools that just may end up tamping down intellectual freedom and women’s rights. When I asked to meet with members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s new media outreach team, their spokesman sent me to her.

    With the world watching, Egyptians revolted against the repressive regime of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011. During 18 heady days in Tahrir Square, liberals and theocrats joined hands and the Egyptian people seemed unified. When the first postrevolution elections arrived, however, just one voice dominated: The Muslim Brotherhood and other hard-Islamist parties gained control of 71 percent of the parliamentary seats in what international observers ruled a fair election. The Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, subsequently took the presidency as well.

    It remains unclear how much power the military will actually cede to Egypt’s new civilian authorities. But secular libera...

Originally published in Discover, September 2012