Growing confidence among Western intelligence agencies that a terrorist bomb brought down the Russian Metrojet airliner over Sinai on Oct. 31 is not being received well by some in Egypt, where tourism is a major part of the economy.
Egyptian newspapers, websites, and TV shows are filled with conspiracy theories about Britain and the United States floating false bomb theories to damage the Egyptian economy and weaken President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The Associated Press quotes sample editorials with headlines such as, “The people defy the conspiracy – Egypt will not cave into pressures” and “Egypt stands up to the West’s terrorism.”
A somewhat more guarded editorial from prominent Egyptian pundit Ibrahim Eissa complained that even if the Russian jet was destroyed by a bomb, “it doesn’t require an instant and large-scale punishment and criminal defamation against Egypt.” This refers to the flight bans imposed by several countries and the growing number of Western media reports about shoddy security at Egyptian airports, especially Sharm el-Sheikh.
At the other end of the spectrum, the AP found commentator Hazem Moneim of independent daily El-Watan implying the British were conspiring with the bombers: “Why would Britain issue this statement coinciding with the beginning of al-Sisi’s visit, as if they know the truth from its source? The evil side contributes to committing the crime, then accuses the other side.”
Another El-Watan writer came right out and claimed the British were “very pleased” with the bombing, because they are in “political agreement and ideological and strategic harmony” with ISIS.
The myth-making went far enough to see several big Egyptian papers falsely claiming the British government was forcing unwilling tourists to abandon their Egyptian vacations, with the tourists angrily declaring they wanted to stay. The UK Daily Mail notes a scene from one encounter between a tourist and British Ambassador John Casson was captioned “We want to resume our trip and don’t want to leave,” when in fact the tourist was saying the exact opposite.
The Russians were swiftly looped into these conspiracy theories after they suspended flights to Egypt—portrayed as either dupes of sinister Western forces, or the target of pressure ginned up by falsely claiming ISIS had destroyed a Russian plane with a bomb.
The AP notes that conspiracy theories are a common feature of discourse in the Middle East—driven, among other factors, by opportunistic governments looking for scapegoats and the fact that actual conspiracies are not unheard-of in the region.
One analyst suggested the Egyptian government was using state-run and regime-friendly media sources to work up Metrojet paranoia among its people. With insecurities high and internal conflicts running hot after the fall of first Hosni Mubarak and then his successor, Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, it is not surprising to see conspiracy theories sown among the public to keep them unified. If travel to Egypt is no longer safe, its tourism industry most certainly will suffer.