My latest post for the Latitude blog of the New York Times takes a look at the truly mind-boggling conspiracy theories being woven by the security services and an eager-to-please press in Egypt today.
On Tuesday, a front-page story of the state-owned newspaper Al Ahram was titled: “A New Conspiracy to Shake Stability Involving Politicians, Journalists and Businessmen.” Citing anonymous “security sources” the article purported to reveal the details of an agreement to “divide Egypt” allegedly struck between Khairat el-Shater, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, which involved helping 300 armed fighters enter the country from Gaza. It also claimed that the police foiled a plan to take over government buildings and declare an independent state in southern Egypt (“with the previous promise of recognition from the United States and some European countries”). The piece concluded by promising that charges would soon be brought against the unnamed conspirators.As I argue in the piece, the point here is to create a black-is-white, up-is-down alternate reality in which the military is fighting a US/Muslim Brotherhood alliance and in which the police and state security are national heroes rather than reviled criminals. In crafting this narrative, Fox News has played a surprising supporting role: segments on Obama's supposed support for the Muslim Brotherhood have been subtitled into Arabic and broadcast here.
The more serious concern with these conspiracy theories is that they are being used to prepare the ground for a wave of further prosecutions, and this time not just of Islamists. The charge of تخابر takhaabir ("sharing intelligence" with foreign powers) which has been brought against Morsi but also against April 6 activists is so vague as to be applicable to almost any contact between an Egyptian and a foreigner.
Sameh Naguib, a member of Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists, has written an in-depth analysis of the "foreign plot" phenomenon:
The objective of linking the Islamic movement and its resistance (whether armed or unarmed) to foreign conspiracies is not only to demonise the Islamists and others who oppose the counter-revolution. It is also a promotional campaign falsely claiming the army’s patriotism and its leader’s symbolic link to Gamal Abdel Nasser and the era of national liberation.Unfortunately many Liberals and those formerly on the Left are contributing to this campaign. An example is this statement from the Egyptian Communist Partythat refers to “Islamic terrorism and its links to the Zionist American alliance that aims to break-up and dismantle our nation and the region with the aim of redrawing the map within the framework of the Greater Middle East project that places the United States as the world leader, Israel the strongest nation in the region and weakens the state of Egypt. The rest of the Arab nations would simply be tentacles of the Turkish-Israeli American alliance.” The statement also refers to the necessity of “standing by the police and the army in its war against terrorist religious fascism” etc. It is as though it were a battle of national liberation and Sisi had just nationalised the Suez Canal.
The Socialist Popular Alliance Party suggests the same regarding “the conspiracy” and ends one of its recent statements with “working together to confront the Zionist American plot.” All the above is in stark contrast to events on the ground. The main backers of Sisi’s bloody campaign are the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates on the one hand and Israel on the other. In other words, the main centres of counter-revolution in the Arab worlds over the last six decades and the staunch backers of the Mubarak regime.