About a year ago, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was wrapping up an important diplomatic mission in Cairo when her motorcade was confronted with angry protesters, many of whom threw shoes and tomatoes, while using Monica Lewinsky taunts. And why were these Egyptians so upset? Because they’d heard from right-wing extremists in the U.S. that the Obama administration “harbors a secret, pro-Islamist agenda” and backs the Muslim Brotherhood.
None of the claims were true, but there was a problem – the protesters in the streets of Cairo were relying on comments made by U.S. clowns like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). You know she’s ridiculous and not to be taken seriously, and I know she’s ridiculous and not to be taken seriously, but all Egyptians heard was that an elected member of Congress’ majority party had made provocative claims about U.S. policy in Egypt that many found credible.
A year later, as Sahil Kapur reports this morning, the problem persists as Rep. Louie Gohmert’s (R-Texas) nonsense about the White House and the Muslim Brotherhood, which Americans know to ignore, is “complicating U.S. foreign policy in the region.”
Anti-American conspiracy theories are rampant [in Egypt], for a variety of reasons related and unrelated to U.S. foreign policy, and hearing it from a United States congressman lends credibility to the theory that the U.S. is teaming up with the Muslim Brotherhood – and even Al-Qaeda – to destroy Egypt.
“I guarantee you nobody in Egypt really knows who Louie Gohmert is or what he’s about. So they could very well point to this and say ‘Look! He’s a member of Congress. This must be serious. There must be something to it,’” said Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It doesn’t help in a political environment where everyone is already angry at us to be fueling conspiracy theories against us. In that way it enables an overall level of hostility toward the U.S.”
Shadi Hamid, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, told TPM, “[L]ook, this does provide real ammunition to the conspiracy theorists when you have American sources seemingly verifying what they are saying…. It lends these bizarre theories a new code of legitimacy and amplifies them. When Egyptians see this, they don’t realize that just because a U.S. congressman is saying this that it can be wrong or that he can be lying publicly.”
Congratulations, far-right activists, your nonsense now has a global reach and is actually influencing international events among those who can’t tell the difference between serious policymakers and circus clowns from thousands of miles away.
The TPM report added:
The New York Times reported Monday that the U.S.-Brotherhood conspiracy theory has become “widespread” in Egypt, even to the point of being seen by some as common knowledge. Billboards and posters in Egypt tie President Obama to the Brotherhood and accuse him of supporting terrorism against Egypt. And segments of the pro-military Egyptian media have been playing a YouTube clip of Gohmert speaking on the House floor, spliced with ominous background music, likening the Obama administration’s aid to Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi’s government with assisting terrorists.
Gohmert defended his remarks in a statement to TPM, saying was merely opposing President Obama’s policies and that Egyptians “are able to” make that distinction.
But they’re not able to. Most fair-minded political observers recognize Gohmert as a national embarrassment more in need of counseling than political power, but it’s not realistic to think Egyptians will have a sophisticated understanding of American politics. When they see YouTube clips of elected officials on the floor of our legislative body in Washington, and they hear outrageous conspiracy theories involving Egypt, they haven’t the foggiest idea that Gohmert is a few fries short of a happy meal.
Yes, in fairness, it’s important to note that many who are inclined to believe absurd conspiracy theories don’t really need proof – that, of course, applies to any country – and many Egyptians who want to believe in imaginary U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood are going to embrace the non-existent ties whether Gohmert talks them up or not.
But the point is, the right-wing Texas congressman, by recklessly spouting garbage, is making it easier for Egyptian conspiracy theorists to persuade others. Gohmert is obviously free to be as foolish as he wants to be, but one can only hope real-world events in Egypt will push him and his cohorts to be a little more responsible.