Conspiracy theories in the Arab world

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Conspiracy theories are a prevalent feature of Arab culture and politics. Prof. Matthew Gray writes they "are a common and popular phenomenon." "Conspiracism is an important phenomenon in understanding Arab Middle Eastern politics ..."[1] Variants include conspiracies involving colonialism, Zionism, superpowers, oil, and the war on terrorism.[1] Roger Cohen theorizes that the popularity of conspiracy theories in the Arab world is "the ultimate refuge of the powerless",[2] and Al-Mumin Said noted the danger of such theories in that they "keep us not only from the truth but also from confronting our faults and problems..."[3]

Gray points out that actual conspiracies such as the British-French-Israeli 1956 Suez Crisis encourage speculation and creation of imagined conspiracies.[4] After the 1967 war, conspiracy theories became popular. The war was perceived as a conspiracy by Israel and the US—or its opposite: a Soviet plot to bring Egypt into the Soviet sphere of influence.[5] Thomas Friedman notes the numerous conspiracy theories concerning the Lebanese civil war. They "were usually the most implausible, wild-eyed conspiracy theories one could imagine ... Israelis, the Syrians, the Americans, the Soviets, or Henry Kissinger--anyone but the Lebanese--in the most elaborate plots to disrupt Lebanon’s naturally tranquil state.”[6]

Zionist conspiracies[edit]

The Anti-Defamation League lists Zionist conspiracies including spreading poisons (Jan 1995, Al-Ahram), spreading AIDS (Al-Shaab), blood rituals (June 1995, Al-Ahram), leading an international conspiracy against Islam (March 1995, Al-Ahram), and creating the myth of the Holocaust (Dec 1995-Feb 1996, Egyptian Gazette).[7]

Conspiracy theories holds the Jews responsible for killing Lincoln and Kennedy, and causing the French and Russian revolutions.[8] Zionists are seen as a threat to the world.[8] A widespread conspiracy theory after the September 11 attacks blamed Israel and Mossad for the attacks.[9][10][11][12]

American conspiracies[edit]

Following Egypt's 2012 presidential election, an Egyptian television station[13] stated that the United States government and Egypt's ruling military council had rigged the election in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi.[14] The theory was seen as fueling a 15 July 2012 attack of tomatoes and shoes by Egyptian Copt protestors on the motorcade of the visiting US Secretary of State.[15][16] The widespread view that America was conspiring to support Morsi prompted President Barack Obama to note that conspiracy theories abound both alleging US support for and against Morsi.[11][12] [17][18]

Other conspiracies[edit]

After the fall of Morsi, xenophobic conspiracy theories have singled out Palestinians and Syrian refugees as part of a plot to bring the Muslim Brotherhood back to power. Pro-Morsi supporters single out Saudis and Emiratis as part of a counter conspiracy.[11]

Further reading[edit]

  • Gray, Matthew (2010). Conspiracy Theories in the Arab World. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415575188. 
  • Pipes, Daniel (1998). The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0312176884. 


  1. ^ a b Matthew Gray (2010). Conspiracy Theories in the Arab World. ISBN 978-0415575188. 
  2. ^ Roger Cohen (Dec 21, 2010). "The Captive Arab Mind". New York Times. 
  3. ^ Steven Stalinsky (May 6, 2004). "A Vast Conspiracy". 
  4. ^ (Gray 2010, p. 59)
  5. ^ (Gray 2010, p. 60)
  6. ^ Thomas L. Friedman (1998). From Beirut to Jerusalem. p. 36. 
  7. ^ "Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian Media". ADL. 1997. 
  8. ^ a b (Pipes 1998, p. 105)
  9. ^ Eric Weiner (Aug 18, 2005). "U.S. Conspiracy Theories Abound in Arab World". NPR. 
  10. ^ Fawaz Turki. "Conspiracy theories in Arab discourse". Arab News. 
  11. ^ a b c Peter Schwartzstein (Sep 12, 2013). "Egypt's Latest Conspiracy Theories Target the Country's Syrian Refugees". The Atlantic. 
  12. ^ a b Tim Marshall (Aug 19, 2013). "Egypt 'Conspiracies' Are Paranoid And Stupid". Sky News. 
  13. ^ Tawfik Okasha and the amazingly appalling atrociousness of the fellahin
  14. ^ Robert Mackey (28 June 2012). "'Egypt's Glenn Beck' Says". The New York Times. 
  15. ^ David D. Kirkpatrick; Mayy el Sheikh (13 July 2012). "Egypt's New President Is Being Undercut by State-Run Media". The New York Times. 
  16. ^ "US: We did not support particular Egyptian presidential candidate". Egypt Independent. 16 July 2012. 
  17. ^ Nordland, Rod (Aug 25, 2013). "As Egyptians Ignore Curfew, Talk of a U.S.-Brotherhood Conspiracy". New York Times. 
  18. ^ Patrick Kingsley (18 Sep 2013). "Egypt: Frenchman dies in police custody amid rising tide of xenophobia". The Guardian.