Egyptian media have reacted with fury as Britain and the United States increasingly point to a bomb as the cause of the Oct. 31 Russian plane crash in Sinai, with many outlets hammering home the same message: Egypt is facing a Western conspiracy that seeks to scare off tourists and destroy the country’s economy.
The warnings of a plot have been widely promoted by opinion-makers in print, online, and on TV, sometimes hinting and sometimes saying flat-out that the West has restricted flights to Egypt not purely out of safety concerns for its citizens but because it wants to undermine the country or prevent President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi from making Egypt too strong. And though they seem wild, these conspiracy theories have apparently tapped into the Egyptian mindset – so much so that when Russia last Friday grounded all flights to Egypt, some media speculated that Moscow had fallen victim to British pressure and manipulation.
Well, Sharm el-Sheik has never been high on my list of vacation spots, but hey…
“The people defy the conspiracy – Egypt will not cave in to pressures,” the state-owned Al-Gomhuria newspaper proclaimed in a front-page headline this week. “Egypt stands up to ‘the West’s terrorism,'” an independent daily, El-Watan, headlined.
“Denial on behalf of the state that there is a crisis and then trying to point to some kind of third party is very normal” in Egypt, Hebatalla Taha, an Egypt-focused analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Associated Press. Conspiracy theories often run rampant in the Middle East for a variety of reasons – poor education, suspicion of others, a lack of government transparency, limitations on speech, and the historical fact that powers inside and outside the region do often work behind the scenes to sway events and conflicts. Often, the theories are politically fueled.
Taha said the rhetoric is the “standard fallback” for the state. Private citizens, she said, likely wouldn’t have come up with the conspiracy theories on their own, “but they’re very likely to adopt what state media is saying.” Egypt’s media often point to “foreign hands” amid crises.
Until the Muslim world learns to take responsibility for its own actions, it’s going to be very difficult to deal with.