Controversy and general rejection over Facebook's decision to include a person closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood such as Yemeni writer and journalist Tawakkol Karman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, in its new Supervisory Board. The also activist is better known for her Islamist advocacy than for her commitment to public service and her appointment has generated a lot of controversy.
The social network founded by Mark Zuckerberg decided to create this Board as "an external organization" to which participants in the virtual community "can appeal some of the most significant and challenging content decisions". The creation of this new entity is intended to ensure that its decisions influence content moderation guidelines on both Facebook and Instagram, and that they comply with the intention of avoiding as much as possible the proliferation of false news, hoaxes and disqualifications.
The discordant note was caused by the appointment of Islamist Tawakkol Karman by a group of vice presidents, elected by Facebook, who subsequently selected the other 16 members.
For radicalisation experts, Karman's selection means that Facebook has failed to consider the link between Muslim Brotherhood ideology and extremist activity. This is remarkable considering that the Muslim Brotherhood, as the organization is also known, is directly declared a terrorist organization by several countries, including the United States. The entity's terrorist links are being investigated in several Western nations; moreover, a significant number of Al-Qaeda leaders have been involved in past dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Facebook has been repeatedly criticized for not adequately addressing the proliferation of extremist ideologies on its platform. After being heavily criticised, including by European lawmakers, the social network last year declared its intention to update its policy on "fighting hatred and extremism". This position does not fit now with the inclusion of a person like Karman in its supervisory board. Going into the matter further, last September the social network issued a statement in which it ruled out the link between terrorism and extremist ideology. "We are always looking to see where we can improve and refine our approach and recently updated the way we define terrorist organizations in consultation with experts in counter-terrorism, international humanitarian law, freedom of expression, human rights and law enforcement. The updated definition continues to focus on behavior, not group ideology," the American company said.
When Tawakkol Karman won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her "role in the Arab Spring protests", especially in her home country, the Muslim Brotherhood's website, Ikhwanweb, posted a statement on Twitter identifying her as a "member of the Muslim Brotherhood of Yemen", which provoked strong controversy and criticism for her connection with this formation.
Despite tactical disagreements over alliances in the Yemeni war, Karman is a leading figure in the Yemeni party Al-Islah, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a group considered radical and which is attached to Salafism, a religious tendency in Islam considered to be very extreme and rigid. The journalist and writer has repeatedly defended the Muslim Brotherhood, even describing the group as "one of the victims of official tyranny and terrorism in the region, which Trump supports and helps". She has also said she believes the movement's role in the region will "necessarily" grow in the future. In fact, Karman grew up in an area of the Taiz Governorate where important elements of the Muslim Brotherhood emerged, and his father, Abdel Salam Karman, was a leader of the Brotherhood, as the UK-based Al-Arab media has noted. Her career began in Sana'a as a human rights activist driven by the principles that the Muslim Brotherhood established against the republican regimes that emerged after the Arab Spring. The activist led a series of protests against the Yemeni government and security forces that were violently resolved, resulting in deaths and injuries. As Al-Arab notes, she even received criticism inside her family, specifically from her father and brother Tariq Karman, who understood that she was destroying her homeland.
Many media reports questioned the awarding of the Nobel to Karman and Qatar's role in supporting him through financial donation to the committee that grants the award and the relations that the Gulf country has with these institutions, as published by Al-Arab. Although Karman's award is related to peace, this did not influence his political discourse, which is related to violence and the overthrow of political regimes. His great approximation to Qatar and later to Turkey, where she has a great presence in the sphere of media related to the state power, made possible for him to obtain the nationality. This closeness was evident in his stance on the events in Egypt, where she aligned herself with the Muslim Brotherhood. Karman's media role has even been defended by Al-Jazeera, the Qatari state channel, which gave extensive coverage to all the appearances of the Yemeni writer and journalist in which she attacked Yemeni political leaders and addressed leaders of other nations.
In the media and social networks of the Middle East and North Africa, the reaction of many users to Karman's election on Facebook has been one of confusion and rejection, seeing the Yemeni writer more as a reference point for radical Islamist activism than as a person committed to public service. Other experts say that the election of Karman to Facebook's advisory board will increase suspicions about the social network's political trends and is unlikely to improve the company's credibility in the Arab world.
There is thus an indignation among Facebook users in many Arab countries. The Yemeni woman is considered the leader of the so-called 'Jasmine Revolution' against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and received the Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful defence of women's rights in her country. She won the prize 'ex aequo' with Liberian activists Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee.
However, Karman's sympathies for the Muslim Brotherhood have drawn much criticism about their suitability for the position they received in the American social network. Karman has been associated with the aforementioned Yemeni Islamist party Al-Islah (Reformation), considered one of the main political arms of the Brotherhood in the Middle Eastern country. Although Karman has presented herself as a member of the more moderate line within her political formation, she has radical connotations and has not hesitated to defend the Muslim Brotherhood against the United States. "They are still an anti-Tyrian movement in spite of Trump," she even wrote on her official Facebook account.
Her detractors argue that holding a position that involves preventing the proliferation of hate speech is incompatible with harboring sympathy for an organization that has such a close relationship with jihadist terrorism, as several nations point out.
Many users, in fact, have already begun to launch social media campaigns against Karman, and even closed their Facebook profiles, leaving negative comments online against the U.S. company.
On a collective level, a citizen petition was also initiated through the Change.org platform to have Karman removed from office. In total, the initiative already has more than 35,000 signatures. Among the participants in this group demand are writers Abdul-Rahman al-Lahim, Ibrahim al-Suleiman and Amani al-Ajlan, who have called on people to join together to "silence the voice of extremism and terrorism".
In 2011, Karman's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize was already surrounded by controversy. In the midst of the social revolts that brought her name to light, her leadership style was already described as "dictatorial", with a lack of acceptance of dissenting opinions. Even according to the consideration of some of her colleagues, according to Reuters news agency.
Another case of fierce opposition is that of French Senator Nathalie Goulet, who demanded a boycott of Facebook because of her controversial decision to integrate the Yemeni woman into their team.
Goulet stressed in a television interview that Karman's appointment is a mistake; and that, in general, it is understood that this is a big problem because in France, among many other countries, all this raises many questions, while they are fighting against the Brotherhood's organization. "Choosing someone to support them brings up questions," said Goulet.
The French senator, who chaired a Senate committee of inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood and the means of fighting jihadist networks in France and Europe, also said that there are many active women in the Arab world who have worked at many levels, and therefore one should not choose a person like Karman who causes controversy, as this is a big problem in itself.
From Egypt, they have also spoken out strongly against the appointment of the Yemeni activist to the Facebook Oversight Board. In Egypt there have been numerous calls for a boycott of the social network, which is seen as the best way to protest against the decision of the US company. In addition, Karman supported the former president of Egypt, former leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers and radical Islamist Mohamed Morsi during his conviction and sentencing.
It should be remembered that the Muslim Brotherhood movement is banned in many countries and that its charismatic leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a refugee in Qatar and wanted in the United States, is banned from entering France and Britain and is also unwelcome in Arab League countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia (the latter being major international enemies of the Qatari country, which has been under an economic and political blockade since 2017 because it believes that the Gulf monarchy supports cross-border extremist terrorism). The number of social network accounts that have a direct or indirect link to the Brotherhood group in Egypt is estimated at more than two million and the internet remains the preferred channel for the dissemination of their controversial ideology.
At this point, it is difficult to understand why the Supervisory Board of Facebook, a site that has nearly 2.6 billion users per month, not counting the billions of users on Instagram, would include an advocate of the Muslim Brotherhood in its sphere.