“The country’s military rulers would have Egyptians believe that ongoing protests are the work of “foreign agents”, “hidden hands”, and other mysterious third parties bent on driving a wedge between the Egyptian people and their beloved army and/or destroying the institutions of the state — even suggesting that activists are paid 200 Egyptian pounds (about $33) a day to protest in Tahrir. The SCAF’s recent crackdown on several pro-democracy NGOs, including the criminal indictments of 19 Americans on charges related to illegal funding and fomenting public unrest, is the direct if unspoken ancillary to this fanciful conspiracy.
Such conspiracy theories may strike a populist chord, but there is no shortage of actual reasons for Egyptians to feel unhappy — even angry — at their current condition. With foreign investment and tourism in sharp decline and youth unemployment hovering around 25 percent, the country’s economic crisis is edging toward disaster. This is on top of the SCAF’s gross mishandling of the transition at virtually every stage and in nearly every respect — from its erratic decision-making to its brutal repression of all forms of dissent to its blatant manipulation of the political process.
Khaled Elgindy, Egypt must look back before it can move forward. Elgindy’s observations reminded me of an article by Bret Stephens, published in the Wall Street Journal in early January 2011 under the title “Egypt’s Prison of Hate” (subscription required; but some of the relevant passages are quoted here). Stephens wrote about the popularity of conspiracy theories in Egypt, arguing:
“The ultimate source of Arab backwardness lies in the debasement of the Arab mind. When the only diagnosis Egyptians can offer for their various predicaments is that it’s all a Zionist plot, you know that the country is in very deep trouble.”
While it seems that by now, Egyptians have broadened their list of scapegoats far beyond the “Zionists,” conspiracy theories have apparently remained as popular as ever. Indeed, following a tweet by Omri Ceren, I chanced today on this short blog post aptly entitled “conspiracy cab” that offers a glimpse of the amazing conspiracy theories of a Cairo cab driver – who still seems very focused on blaming Israel. As blogger doctorzamalek notes in conclusion:
The common element in all of his theories, I was disappointed to note, was the assumption that no Arab person is capable of doing anything wrong at any time. At least conspiracy theories in America usually blame Americans.