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, which may be referred to as a War against Islam.[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 American Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. 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]

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous hoax document purporting to be a Jewish plan for world domination, is commonly read and promoted in the Muslim world.[13][14][15]

Conspiracy theorists in the Arab world have claimed that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is in fact an Israeli Mossad agent and actor called Simon Elliot. The rumors claim that NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal this connection. Snowden’s lawyer has called the story “a hoax.”[16][17][18]

Animal-related conspiracy theories[edit]

Animal-related conspiracy theories involving Israel are prominent, alleging use of animals by Israel to attack civilians or to conduct espionage. These conspiracies are often reported as evidence of a Zionist or Israeli plot. Examples include the December 2010 shark attacks in Egypt and the 2011 capture in Saudi Arabia of a griffon vulture carrying an Israeli-labeled satellite tracking device.[19][20]

Writing in The Times, James Hider linked the responses to the shark incident with those to the vulture incident and ascribed the reactions in Arab countries to “paranoia among Israel’s enemies and its nominal friends”, adding that “evidence of Mossad using animals is scant.”[21]

Gil Yaron wrote in the The Toronto Star that “Many animals undoubtedly serve in Israel’s army and security services: dogs sniff out bombs and alpaca help mountaineers carry their loads. […] But tales about the use of sharks, birds, rodents or, as has also been claimed, insects in the service of the military are more the fruit of imagination than hard fact.”[22]

American conspiracies[edit]

Different groups of Egyptians have accused the United States of supporting and opposing Mohamed Morsi.

Following Egypt’s 2012 presidential election, an Egyptian television station[23] 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.[24] 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.[25][26]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][27][28] The rise of the Islamic State gave rise to conspiracy theories that it had been created by the USA, CIA, Mossad, or Hillary Clinton.[29][30]

Conspiracy theorists in the Arab world have advanced rumors that the US is secretly behind the existence and emboldening of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as part of an attempt to further destabilize the Middle East. After such rumors became widespread, the US embassy in Lebanon issued an official statement denying the allegations, calling them a complete fabrication.[31]

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]

A common conspiracy theory is about soft drink brands Coca-Cola and Pepsi, that the drinks deliberately contain pork and alcohol and their names carry pro-Israel and anti-Islamic messages.[32][33][34]