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

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

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

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

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]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Matthew Gray (2010). Conspiracy Theories in the Arab World. ISBN 978-0415575188.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Roger Cohen (Dec 21, 2010). "The Captive Arab Mind". New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Steven Stalinsky (May 6, 2004). "A Vast Conspiracy". National Review. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. (Gray 2010, p. 59)
  5. (Gray 2010, p. 60)
  6. Thomas L. Friedman (1998). From Beirut to Jerusalem. p. 36.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian Media". ADL. 1997.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 (Pipes 1998, p. 105)
  9. Eric Weiner (Aug 18, 2005). "U.S. Conspiracy Theories Abound in Arab World". NPR.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Fawaz Turki. "Conspiracy theories in Arab discourse". Arab News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Peter Schwartzstein (Sep 12, 2013). "Egypt's Latest Conspiracy Theories Target the Country's Syrian Refugees". The Atlantic.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Tim Marshall (Aug 19, 2013). "Egypt 'Conspiracies' Are Paranoid And Stupid". Sky News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Wakin, Daniel J. (October 26, 2002). "Anti-Semitic 'Elders of Zion' Gets New Life on Egypt TV". New York Times. Retrieved 26 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "2006 Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Intolerance" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-08-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Report by Center for Religious Freedom of Freedom House. 2006
  15. "The Booksellers of Tehran", The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2005
  16. "'Password 360' Conspiracy Theories Linking CIA To Isis Actually Bring A Serious US Denial". The Huffington Post. 14 August 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Hassan, Mehdi (5 September 2014). "Inside jobs and Israeli stooges: why is the Muslim world in thrall to conspiracy theories?". New Statesman. Retrieved 29 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Baker, Aryn (19 July 2014). "Why Iran Believes the Militant Group ISIS Is an American Plot". Time. Retrieved 29 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Shark Attack in Egypt? Must Be the Work of Israeli Agents". Discovery Magazine. 13 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. O’SULLIVAN, ARIEH (6 December 2010). "Egypt: Sinai shark attacks could be Israel... JPost - Middle East". Retrieved 27 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. James Hider (7 January 2011). "Vulture held as Mossad spy by Saudi Arabia". The Australian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Gil Yaron (5 January 2011). "Secret agent vulture tale just the latest in animal plots". Toronto Star.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Tawfik Okasha and the amazingly appalling atrociousness of the fellahin
  24. Robert Mackey (28 June 2012). "'Egypt's Glenn Beck' Says". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. David D. Kirkpatrick; Mayy el Sheikh (13 July 2012). "Egypt's New President Is Being Undercut by State-Run Media". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "US: We did not support particular Egyptian presidential candidate". Egypt Independent. 16 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Nordland, Rod (Aug 25, 2013). "As Egyptians Ignore Curfew, Talk of a U.S.-Brotherhood Conspiracy". New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Patrick Kingsley (18 Sep 2013). "Egypt: Frenchman dies in police custody amid rising tide of xenophobia". The Guardian.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Peter Weber (September 2, 2014). "America created the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Meet the ISIS 'truthers'". The Week.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Inside jobs and Israeli stooges: why is the Muslim world in thrall to conspiracy theories?. Mehdi Hassan. The New Statesman
  31. The US, IS and the conspiracy theory sweeping Lebanon. BBC
  32. Israeli sues Coca Cola for containing alcohol
    Globes, Israel Business News, February 20, 2011
  33. Myths & Rumors/Middle East
    Official Coca-Cola website, August 3, 2004
  34. Interview with Hamas MP Salem Salamah - Al Aqsa TV, April 23, 2008

Further reading

  • Gray, Matthew (2010). Conspiracy Theories in the Arab World. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415575188.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Pipes, Daniel (1998). The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 978-0312176884.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>