A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Conspiracy Theories Accumulate

I know I already have posted a couple of items today about the Imbaba sectarian violence and the continuing demonstrations emerging from Saturday's events, but as I look over the blogs and tweets from Egypt I seem to detect several emerging conspiracy theories for those who assume that something more than just Salafi Muslim versus Coptic Christian hostility is in play here.

Without going into detail, the conspiracy theories seem to divide into three main categories:
  1. The Saudis are behind it. Certainly Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs have supported various Salafi groups in Egypt from time to time. Certainly too the Saudis supported Husni Mubarak to the bitter end. And certainly they are not enthusiasts for the Revolution. None of this explains why they would provoke sectarian violence as a matter of policy. (A variant of this is that the Americans are behind it too, though radical Salafism would not seem to be our likely client.) Except for the idea that chaos might bring back the old regime.
  2. Mubarak Supporters and the old NDP loyalists are behind it. Here again the idea is to promote chaos and civil war, so that the old regime will be missed and yearned for. One possible piece of evidence: the burning of the apartment building and shops was reportedly carried out by young men not in Salafi "garb," suggesting they might have been NDP baltagiyya.
  3. The Army Council is Behind it. Or at least standing aside to let it happen, presumably to hold on to power and find an excuse to postpone elections.
None of these is as totally absurd as the old regime claim that the uprising was some sort of Israeli-Iranian plot. Both the Saudis and Mubarak loyalists would like to put a brake on change, and the Army has been ambivalent in these events, to be generous.

But I tend not to turn to conspiracy theories unless there is real evidence. The Army has been slow to act, partly I think through a cumbersome command structure that does not encourage initiative on the part of local commanders. Partly perhaps through inefficient communications. The Salafists may have Saudi or other Gulf support, but are pursuing their own interests, and the rapid spread of rumors over Twitter and Facebook says that those social networks not only helped make a revolution, but can help provoke intolerant sectarian Flashmobs as well.

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