May 10, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 91

Egyptian Intellectuals Fight Common Arab Misperceptions

May 10, 2000
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 91

Making a public statement seldom heard in the Arab world, two Egyptian intellectuals in both government and opposition papers strongly criticize the common misperception among the Egyptian cultural and political elite that events are driven by conspiracies. In no uncertain terms, they describe the tendency to blame Israel for Arab failuresas an "evasion of reality," and the creation and endorsement of conspiracy theories[1] to explain every event as "leading to helplessness, passivity, surrender and suicide."

Conspiracy Theories are a form of Helplessness

In a November 18, 1999 article in the Egyptian weekly, Al-Ahram Al-Arabi, which is affiliated with the government, the Head of the Al-Ahram Research Centre, Dr. Abd Al-Mun'im Sa'id writes:

"Egypt Air flight 990 was explained by many conspiracy theories, all blaming the crash on the US and Israel…"

"We thought that by the end of the 20th century, the Arab mind would be open enough not to explain everything with a 'conspiracy theory.' [It is true that] those who reject the conspiracy theory do not totally exclude the possibility that a conspiracy could occur. A secret conspiracy to achieve political goals is plausible in international relations. It does not mean, however, that every historical event is a plot or that history is one big 'conspiracy…'"

"For example, the Sykes - Picot agreement [1916] was indeed a conspiracy, because it was signed secretly by Britain and France, while violating the promises made to the Arabs… The 1956 trilateral attack on Egypt, by France, the UK and Israel, was also a conspiracy."

"On the other hand, the wars of 1948 and 1967 were not conspiracies… We all know that the closure of Tiran Straits [by Egypt in May 1967] meant war. The Egyptian leadership knew it and that is why Abd Al-Nasser gave the Egyptian military command an early warning [that war may erupt] after closing the straits."

"The term 'conspiracy' must not be overused, lest confusion prevail. …The Gulf War was not a conspiracy. The international and regional decisions were made on the basis of the need to liberate Kuwait. For seven months the Arab states implored Iraq to withdraw, and the Western states threatened it. The war came [only] after all other efforts failed. Where is the conspiracy here?"

"All those 'conspiracies' exhaust the Arab mind and prevent it from seeing the truth and exploring it seriously. All the conspiracy theories about Egypt Air flight 990 involving missiles and bombs just do not hold…"

"But the biggest problem with conspiracy theories is that they keep us not only from the truth but also from confronting our faults and problems. …This way of thinking relates any given problem to external elements, and thus does not [lead] to a rational policy to confront the problem. He who speaks of ghosts [as the reason behind any given problem] can do nothing to solve it."

"Anyone, who adopts the conspiracy theory becomes so helpless that he ends up surrendering or committing suicide. The thinking of conspiracy theorists shifts between surrender and suicide, between helplessness and passivity, between negligence and failure."

Stop Blaming Israel

In the nationalist secular opposition daily, Al-Wafd, February 26, 2000, columnist Hassan Hafez criticizes another aspect of the public Arab debate: blaming Israel for all Arab faults and failures. In an article entitled: "Let us Excel in our Writing and Stop Blaming all our Problems on Israel" he writes:

"We must excel in our writing… and stop blaming all our problems on Israel. I wonder why we blame Israel for every fault in [Arab] society. This is the logic of the weak, who seek a peg on which to hang all their mistakes in order to evade a true confrontation with reality."

"An Egyptian plane crashed last November [and they say]: 'This is an operation by the Israeli 'Mossad.'' [Egyptian Muslims clash with Christian Copts in] Al-Kushekh [in Southern Egypt] …and everyone blames the Israeli 'Mossad.'"

"Then, something even stranger happens: the price for a tank of gas rises up to 15 Egyptian Pounds, and one newspaper claims that the reason for it is the export of gas to Israel! …We blame Israel for failures in marketing or for the rise of prices. This is illogical and unacceptable… I wouldn't be surprised if they say that the 'Mossad' is responsible for the social security problems in Egypt too…"

"Slow down, you who get into fits when you talk about Israel! Let us first undertake our own soul-searching. We have to grab those responsible for our failures by the collar instead of blaming Israel for all our problems like cowards… [Blaming Israel] causes us to look ridiculous before the world and it makes the small Israeli state look great. We have to be honest with ourselves before we blame others! When we blame others we are being untrue, we mock common sense and we scorn our people…"

[1] For some examples of this tendency see: MEMRI {{nodeurl-}}, "Egyptian Reactions to the EgyptAir Crash Investigation," (December 6, 1999); and MEMRI Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian Media; Part III: International Jewish Conspiracies, "Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian Media – Part III: 'International Jewish Conspiracies,'" (March 20, 2000).

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