The List: Rebel Web Sites to Watch
From fundraising to media relations, the Internet has fundamentally transformed the way opposition groups do public outreach. Here are five once shadowy rebel movements that today are just a click away.
The Muslim Brotherhood
Web Address: IkhwanWeb.com (English) or IkhwanOnline.com (Arabic)
Why theyre in the opposition: Founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood is banned but often tolerated in Egypt. Government harassment has been a consistent problem for the group, and only in recent years has it been able to run candidates for Parliament (though they have done so as independents). Today, the Brotherhood advocates Islamic government, but moderates in the group insist they would achieve this through democratic elections.
Why they need a Web site: In 2005, the Brotherhood launched an Arabic site geared toward the local population and an English-language version aimed at Westerners. In addition to supporting a large volume of news and background information, the sites field requests from journalistsusually three to four a weekand arrange interviews.
Although the Arabic site has been relatively free from government intrusion, English site editorial board member Ibrahim El Houdaiby told FP that the server has repeatedly been shut down by the Egyptian government. [A]t the end of the day, this is a regime that heavily relies on foreign support, which is based on portraying its opponents as terrorists, radicals, anti-human, whatever. So having our voices heard is the one thing that the regime doesnt want to see.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Country: Sri Lanka
Web Address: Eelam.com
Why theyre in the opposition: For the last three decades, the Tamil Tigers, as they are popularly known, have been fighting the Sri Lankan government to create an autonomous ethnic homeland. Equally well known for violent guerrilla tactics, suicide bombings, and high-profile assassinations, the group is currently engaged in an all-out civil war with the government-controlled south.
Why they need a Web site: As they are on the United Nations list of terrorist organizations, winning positive press is an uphill battle for the Tigers. Through their official site, www.Eelam.com, and other independent Tamil media such as www.TamilNet.com, the organization has sought to convince the world of its secular political credentials. But a Human Rights Watch report in 2006 criticized the organization for taking its outreach a little too faroften pressuring or threatening members of the 800,000-strong Tamil diaspora into offering financial contributions.
The Web site itself, which dates back to at least 1997, offers the usual rebel fare: press releases, media coverage, and a somewhat dated section entitled Freedom Struggle, recounting the ideology behind the Tamil revolt and explaining why the Tigers are an armed freedom movement, not the terrorists the Sri Lankan government claims them to be.
For more recent updates from the Tamil diaspora, check out Eelam Nation.
Justice and Equality Movement
Web address: SudanJEM.com
Why theyre in the opposition: The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) was founded in the early 1990s after President Omar Hassan al-Bashir removed parliamentary speaker and Islamic leader Hassan al-Turabi from his post. In response, Turabis supporters in the Darfur region started protestingand intermittently fightingwhat they view as unequal treatment from the government. Today, much of the movements funding comes via neighboring Chad, whose leader Idriss Dby is just as keen on overthrowing Sudans president.
Why they need a Web site: One word: media. In a conflict that is widely reported and even more often misunderstood, JEMs Web site offers an inside look into Darfur from the rebels perspective, as well as a means to contact them. The rebels got back to FP within 20 minutes of our e-mail (though they failed to respond directly to our questions).
The Web sites main attraction is the infamous Black Booka manifesto proclaiming the rebels grievances and goals. This book is an expos of the injustice that was visited on the Sudan by successive governments which ruled it since independence, it reads. The authors explain that services, wealth, and political favors have been lavished upon the northern region (a neat chart claims that 76 percent of national wealth is concentrated there), where the capital Khartoum is located.
The Union of Forces for Change and Democracy
Web address: ufcd-tchad.org (French)
Why theyre in the opposition: After nearly two decades in power, the Chadian president has all but quashed the opposition, arresting his adversaries and chasing the more militant wings into the east, near the border with Darfur. After a rebel assault on the capital in February came just meters from the presidential palace, a handful of opposition leaders went missing. A month later, leaders from several of the rebel factions who assaulted NDjamena, the capital, formed the Union of Forces for Change and Democracy (UFCD), calling for an end to Dbys bloody regime.
Why they need a Web site: The UFCD has little need to fundraise through its Web site, as Sudan seems to provide a fair amount of the groups cash in retribution for Chads funding of the JEM. The Web site is instead a clearing house for statements from all rebel factions operating in Chad. These are intended to inform national and international opinion and reassure observers of the insurgents anti-Dby focus. A recent declaration for example, assured Europe that the rebel forces had not harassed or attacked French interests in Chad, nor bothered the EU-backed peacekeeping force deployed in the countrys east.
Movement of Nigeriens for Justice
Web address: m-n-j.blogspot.com (French)
Why theyre in the opposition: The Movement for Nigeriens for Justice (MNJ) was founded in early 2007, but its conflict with the government of Niger dates back far longer. The Tuareg people, a nomadic group of herders in northwestern Africa, have protested their non-inclusion in government since the countrys independence in 1960. Mining in the region is a key grievance because it damages valuable grazing land without compensation for the loss of the Tuaregs livelihoods.
Why they need a Web site: The MNJ blog boasts the most colorful and up-to-date posts of any rebel site, as well as the best video presentation (complete with guns, background music, and big puffy letters). The group blogs about its latest battles with government forces and the booty it claims. On Oct. 10, the site proudly trumpeted the killing of four soldiers and the destruction of a Toyota 4×4.
The Web site has proven an especially useful tool for the MNJ since the government banned all televised discussion of the conflict in the summer of 2007. And just in case the government manages to filter Blogspot, MNJ appears to have a Facebook profile as a backup.
Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
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