Conspiracy theories exist everywhere in the world, but they’re especially common in the Middle East and are rampant in Egypt even by regional standards. They’re generally harmless when only crackpots on the margins believe them, but when they go mainstream and infect the highest levels of government and the media—watch out.
National Geographic has the story on the latest ludicrous theory making the rounds in Egypt, this one put forward by the governor of Minya province.
Local mobs looted a museum and burned fourteen churches to the ground a while back, and he’s blaming the United States in general and the White House in particular.
“It was Obama,” he said. “And all of the American politicians who have divided all of the world. They are the only people who supported the Muslim Brotherhood because they knew that the Muslim Brotherhood would destroy all of Egypt.”
This kind of talk is typical in Egypt and has been for decades. If you don’t think so re-read the essay Samuel Tadros recently wrote about Egypt’s Jewish problem in The American Interest.
“Israel, Turkey, the United States, the European Union, and Qatar are all conspiring against Egypt, screams a self-proclaimed Egyptian liberal; the United States is working against Copts for the benefit of Jews, shouts a Coptic activist; the Brotherhood is implementing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, writes the newspaper of what was once Egypt’s flagship liberal party; Israel aims to divide Egypt into a number of smaller and weaker states, writes another; Brotherhood leaders are Masonic Jews proclaims a Sufi leader; no, it’s the coup that is working for the benefit of the Jews, declares the Brotherhood’s website. These are all symptoms of a decaying society.”
The only difference between those outrageous theories—which span the political spectrum—and the latest is that the United States rather than Israel is at its center.
First let’s get the obvious out of the way. American politicians can’t be the only people in the world who supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Their candidate Mohammad Morsi won 51 percent of the vote in the presidential election, the first and only free and fair one in history.
The Brotherhood’s support cratered, of course, after an epic bout of buyer’s remorse, but nobody—nobody—forced millions of Egyptians to vote for Morsi and his party. That’s on them.
I’m not sure why so many Egyptians think Israelis and Americans are hell-bent on destroying their country. Maybe it’s related to the spotlight effect. But for whatever reason it’s a startlingly common belief. I heard some version or another repeatedly in Cairo even, occasionally, from people who otherwise seemed semi-reasonable.
Tarek Heggy, one of Egypt’s few genuinely liberal intellectuals, put it this way in Alexandria a few years ago: “Egyptians believe Israel gets up in the morning, asks itself what it can do to hurt Egypt that day, implements whatever scheme it comes up with, goes to bed, and gets up the next day and repeats.”
I didn’t swoon over President Obama’s famous speech in Cairo like some people did, but at the very least it should demonstrate that whatever the faults of the White House right now, a desire to destroy Egypt is not one of them.
Let’s clear something else up, too, while we’re at it.
American politicians didn’t support the Muslim Brotherhood so much as they were duped by the Muslim Brotherhood and their apologists into believing the organization is moderate.
Okay, yes, the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate compared with Al Qaeda, but so what? That hardly tells us anything useful. Benito Mussolini was moderate compared with Adolf Hitler. The Ku Klux Klan is moderate compared with the Spanish Inquisition. Fidel Castro is moderate compared with Pol Pot. Vladimir Putin is moderate compared with Ivan the Terrible. Colombia’s FARC is moderate compared with Peru’s Shining Path. But none of those individuals or organizations are moderate in any real sense of the word. The word “moderate” in American English generally refers to conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, not the likes of Fidel Castro and Vladimir Putin. And not—not really—to the Muslim Brotherhood either.
President Obama and his advisors truly believed that if they reached out a hand to the Brothers that Islamist hostility to the United States would diminish, at least among the relative “moderates.” They believed the same thing about Russia and Vladimir Putin and to this day think the same about the Islamic Republic regime in Iran. They’re missing that hostility toward the West is based primarily on a rejection of Western ideas and culture. The Mr. Nice Guy routine that plays well in Berlin, Paris, and Ottawa fails utterly in Moscow and Cairo. It might work in Tehran when the Islamic Republic regime is no more, and it will work wonders in Havana when the Castro regime is out of power, but the only time it works with ideological hostiles is when a greater enemy that threatens us all must be confronted. (Recall the American alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany.)
Americans suckered by the Muslim Brotherhood should have known better. Every Sunni Islamist terrorist organization in the Middle East is either a spin-off of the Muslim Brotherhood or a spin-off of a spin-off. There’s no excuse for getting this wrong, but making that unforced error is a long way from using the Muslim Brotherhood as a weapon in a plot to destroy all of Egypt.
Egypt can’t even begin to dig itself out of its hole until it faces up to the fact that Egyptians—not Israelis, not Americans, not the Turks, and not the Qataris—are the authors of their own tragedy. As addiction therapists like to say, you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.
The country has a host of problems, but the largest, from which so many others spring, is its ideological rejection of liberal political values. The majority of Egypt’s secular parties are just as vehemently anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israeli, and anti-liberal as the Islamists. Egypt doesn’t need to copy the West down to the last detail in order to flourish, but there’s no getting around the fact that people who reject everything the West stands for are guaranteed to live in poverty with a boot on their neck.
And it’s about time we realized that nobody in power in Egypt right now, including the most militant anti-Islamists, is our friend.