Egypt’s national media in grip of bird-brained conspiracy theories

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan drew widespread criticism last month when he accused Israel of orchestrating the military coup in Egypt.

His “proof” was an anti-Muslim Brotherhood diatribe delivered two years earlier by Bernard-Henri Levy during a conference at which the French philosopher was seated next to Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

While the Egyptian regime responded angrily to Mr Erdogan’s theory, Cairo is rife with similar conspiracies regarding the purported, nefarious interference of Israel in its affairs.

Trending in the Egyptian press are “revelations” of a secretive alliance between Israel and Western powers that has been working with radical Islamist partners to subvert and weaken Arab governments.

According to this theory, the first target was Iraq which, following the 2003 war and the downfall of Saddam Hussein, is now ruled by a Shia-dominated government. Now, it’s suggested, it is the turn of Syria and Egypt, which are under attack both by Shias and Sunni Muslim Brotherhood groups, with the covert backing of Israel, the US and Europe.

While this type of conspiracy theory is usually the preserve of shadowy websites, in Egypt respectable papers such as the best-selling al-Masry al-Youm and the government-owned al-Ahram are publishing them. The papers are backing up their claims with documents alleged to have been captured by Egypt’s security services.

Last week, Egyptian newspapers reported the story of a crane that was found in the southern Qena province with spying equipment attached to its wing.

- Anshel Pfeffer

While these reports typify the deep-seated prejudice against Israel and suspicion of the West that exist in Egyptian society, they are meant strictly for internal consumption and to link the military regime’s rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood, to dastardly anti-Egyptian forces.

Rumours of “Mossad spies” mingling among the demonstrators have been put out by various sources in Egypt throughout the unrest of the past two-and-a-half years. These rumours have served the authorities trying to blame the protests on “foreign meddling”.

Such is the level of paranoia that migratory birds found with electronic tagging devices have been identified by the authorities and the media as agents of spy services.

Last week, Egyptian newspapers reported the story of a crane that was found in the southern Qena province with spying equipment attached to its wing.

A few days later, veterinary authorities admitted that the “spyware” was actually a tracking advice used by French ornithologists to study migratory patterns.

This was not the first such instance of birds being accused of spying for Mossad. Since Israeli researchers are world leaders in the study of migratory birds, various species have been found in neighbouring countries with tags bearing Hebrew letters, giving rise to more conspiracy theories.

Probably the most bizarre of these episodes was in December 2010 when, following a number of shark attacks on swimmers near the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, the governor of Egypt’s South Sinai province accused Mossad of sending killer sharks to destroy Egypt’s tourism industry.

Last updated: 9:45am, September 4 2013