“Egypt is fighting a war on terror and the people are confronting conspiracy,” this is the slogan that many Egyptian journalist have taken to in the past few days in order to divert the public’s attention from the Russian jet that crashed in Sinai last month, which claimed 224 lives.
Talk of conspiracy is the new veil that the authorities are using in Egypt to cover for their failure to achieve safety and security, and their inability to protect the lives of foreign tourists. All of this began taking place after it was reported that a Russian aircraft Metrojet 9268 crashed leaving the aircraft in two. Debris from the aircraft was scattered across 13 kilometres.
From the moment of the catastrophe, Egyptian authorities have refused any of the scenarios that have been proposed to explain the accident and it denies the possibility of a terrorist act. At a time when the world is sympathising with the victims’ families, a press release issued by Wilayat Sinai a few hours after the plane crash saw the group claim responsibility for it. Egyptian authorities responded by saying that this type of scenario could not have happened. It is as if the Egyptian authorities do not fully comprehend the full magnitude of this catastrophe on both the local and international levels. Instead, they have chosen to hold on to an inconsistent and unconvincing narrative. What has worked to the Egyptian state’s advantage is that these types of events are natural and sometimes expected and that anything is possible. We must, therefore, wait for the end results of the investigation.
At the same time, the alternative narrative in regards to this plane crash was that a terrorist attack is what led to the plight of the Russian plane. Many international and local (Arab government officials) are keen to accept this narrative. After many countries, such as the UK and Russia, announced their divestment from Sharm El-Sheikh, the Egyptian state changed the manner in which it discussed this event on official news and media outlets. In fact, Egyptian authorities began to voice their belief in a conspiracy which saw that the West targeting Egypt.
The political sing-song claims that this is conspiracy began after Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said: “Western governments are not sharing the facts that they have available with regards to the plane crash.” Sukri went on to point out that Western officials (from France, Germany, Ireland and Russia) failed to attend the press conference organised by Ayman Al-Muqadem, which was intended to launch the investigation.
It was after this point that we saw the launching of a new media campaign, one that claims that the West is conspiring against Egypt. In fact, Egyptian officials have even gone so far as to ask the public to boycott goods from countries that are conspiring against Egypt, as they would describe the situation.
The talk of conspiracy is falsified by the factors and the realities at hand regarding this case and there are many. On the one hand, the current Egyptian regime, which has been in power since the coup that took place on 3 July 2013, has been reaping the benefits of European foreign aid from the very countries it now claims are conspiring against it. Egyptian officials have called these same countries Egypt’s partners in its “War on Terror”. Were it not for foreign aid, the Egyptian authorities would not have had the privilege of enjoying its position of power until now.
And on the other hand, the countries that are allegedly conspiring against Egypt (the UK, the US, Russia and Israel) are among the biggest strategic allies for the current regime. The UK is the biggest foreign investor in Egypt with investments reaching approximately $24 billion. British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi in London despite a great deal of protests both inside and outside Britain. Furthermore, the US represents the longest-standing and most powerful ally to the Egyptian regime; were it not for American support, the coup would not have succeeded for more than a few weeks or even a few days. In fact, the Egyptian regime is the second largest recipient of US foreign military aid after Israel with sums reaching nearly $1.3 billion a year.
Al-Sisi does not hesitate to seize an opportunity in which he could ask US President Barack Obama for continued monetary support and aid for his “War on Terror”. Not to mention that there are on-going meetings between the Pentagon and its Egyptian equivalent, the last of which took place a few days ago.
Moreover, Russia continues to be the Sisi regime’s biggest ally as there are many military and strategic relations between the two of them. In fact, since his tenure began, Al-Sisi has visited Moscow more than any other foreign capital, averaging more than three visits per year. Because of this, it is not possible to think of Russia as being a member of this alleged conspiracy against Egypt. Finally, Israel also constitutes an important ally for the Egyptian regime, as Egyptian officials have been quoted as describing Tel Aviv as a “strategic treasure”, while Tel Aviv’s rabbis view Egypt as the “most important miracle to befall Israel”.
It can be concluded then that the current reality of the facts on the ground negates the possibility of a conspiracy against Egypt. The Egyptian government’s claims further expose the manner in which they have failed to gain the public’s trust or even to conduct their business truthfully. We have achieved a situation in which it has become normal for the regime to claim that it is a victim of a conspiracy at every instance in which it is unable to provide answers. This has been the go to explanation that the regime has used since it came to power. It began with placing the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood and later developed into an excuse for every shortcoming.
With every natural disaster - from flooding in the Nile Delta and beyond - the Sisi regime does not hesitate to use the rhetoric of the Brotherhood conspiracy but what is new is the phenomenon of accusing Prime Minister Cameron of being a member of the Brotherhood after he cancelled his latest trip from London to Sharm El-Sheikh.
The “modern conspiracy” is an integral part of authoritarian regimes that are always looking for an external enemy in order to justify their repression and violence, on the one hand, and as a cover for their failures on the other. This ploy has been used by countless authoritarian regimes throughout history and has often been part of the propaganda carried out by the state to promote and ensure its survival.
Often the regime uses a conspiracy theory in conjunction with its state propaganda in order to validate the official narrative of the state. As German thinker Hanna Arendt writes in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, many states use propaganda to maintain their claim to power and this in turn turns into a doctrine of ideology aimed at scaring the people. It is clear that since the coup on 3 July 2013, Al-Sisi has been using such propaganda to renew popular support for the regime. He employs this propaganda in every channel from the media to the government to mosques and churches.
But as time goes on this talk of conspiracy merely gets repeated and it does not work to mask the increasing problems in the country or the inability of the system to deal with issues of this nature realistically. As a result of this, sometimes a regime will go so far as to claim that a conspiracy has been held within the system itself as happened with famed businessman Saleh Diab who, despite his public support for Al-Sisi, was arrested and later released on bail.
If Al-Sisi’s regime succeeds in implementing the use of the “conspiracy” ploy in an effort to avoid launching a proper investigation into the Russian plane crash, then at least we know that the final result will lead to many problems for the regime. If this were to happen then the least of the Sisi regime’s problems would be the lack of international allies against their alleged war on terror.