The dust had barely settled in Boston last week when, like virulent microorganisms, conspiracy theories began to multiply exponentially on cyberspace in an attempt to ascertain who was responsible for the bombings—and, in keeping with the genre, some of the answers were typically atypical.
The human mind is a pattern-finder par excellence, like no other in the known universe. And in the face of an unexplained event or occurrence, the uncomfortable, seat-shifting uncertainty drives us to find explanations, culprits, and, ultimately, a rationale.
And here in Egypt, and the Middle East at large, we love our conspiracy theories like we love our sugary tea and our suicide bombers (boom!).
I’m no different, here. The only difference between myself and the hordes of amateur conspiracy theorists I’ve spoken to (usually taxi drivers and random mustachioed men at coffeehouses), is that I don’t necessarily believe in the truth of these theories. I’m pretty much just happy to sit back and admire the creativity behind them—the miraculous linking of disparate elements and groups into an interesting, usually bizarre, theory, is, to me, as beautiful and crazy as a Gaudi building or a Fellini movie. And, after all, truth is boring, sterile, final; imaginative reveries, on the other hand, are limitless and potentially never-ending—like a perpetual orgy of the mind, fractalising and hyperlinking into infinite mindspace.
There are so many interesting conspiracy theories out there—from David Icke’s contention that various world leaders, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (happy birthday, Ma’am), are shapeshifting reptilian aliens from the constellation Draco, to the faked moon landings, to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—that I cannot possibly even scratch the surface.
And sociologists and psychologists have expended untold efforts and oodles of time attempting to explain the thought processes, motivations and patterns behind them. So I won’t even try. Not in any detail, anyway.
One thing I have noticed, though, especially with those conspiracy theories popular in the Middle East, is what I like to call ‘Wizard of Oz syndrome'; a familiar trope or pattern that just keeps popping up again and again. More on that later.
Anyway, I’ve heard some wild theories since I’ve been here. One, (which I have dubbed, a la Icke, “And Hamas shall set you free”) involves members of Hamas, and not the police on orders from Habib Al-Adly as many believe, opening up the prisons on the Friday of Rage, in order to free their Muslim Brotherhood allies, and others. On this account, the snipers on the roofs in Tahrir on the night of the Camel Battle are Hamas militants and not Interior Ministry snipers as previously thought.
An allied idea is that it was the Muslim Brotherhood who instigated the Camel Battle itself, a day after Mubarak’s tearjerker speech which affected even some of those in the Square, and which perhaps threatened to derail the uprising. The idea here is that the Brotherhood and Hamas saw an opportunity that would simply never be repeated, and jumped on the bandwagon.
“There was no revolution,” said an amateur conspiracy theorist to me a few weeks ago. “A bunch of kids went out on the 25th, but by the 28th, it was the Brotherhood that was pulling the strings. Do you think anyone, apart from the Brotherhood, could organise and mobilise such numbers on the streets?”
He went on: “And since then, all these events that have been occurring—the result of a deal worked out between the Brotherhood and SCAF, each looking after their own interests—are part of a nefarious ploy to distract the Egyptian population from what is really happening.”
What is really going on here, according to this mentally hyperactive fellow, is that, while you have been worrying and wringing your hands about all that’s been happening—the economy, the violence, the vigilantism—the Brotherhood have been (most Mossad-like) insidiously implanting their members (inserting their fingers?) into every institution in the country. “You can tell someone is a Salafi as soon as you look at them, but a Brother is much more inconspicuous. Can you point them out walking in the street?” (I, for example, have friends who are Brotherhood members, and who kept it secret from me until after the revolution, when, of course, it suddenly became hip—or more accurately, safe—to be Ikhwan).
“Soon, every major institution will be in their hands, and this time, we won’t be able to do anything about it.” Hit the streets? Hit the streets, and according to this fellow, Hamas operatives and allied Jihadists covertly stationed in the Sinai and elsewhere will turn Egypt into Syria. “When that happens, you will have to choose a side, and it will be pandemonium; a war in every harra and alley and street in Egypt.”
And that will be just the start of their evil and cunning plan to establish a global Islamic Caliphate (with Doha no doubt as its capital); the first step towards establishing the Ikhwani Nirvana of ustathia—the global ascendancy of the (so-called) Islamic world.
So, ‘Wizard of Oz syndrome’. In the film, Dorothy, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City in Oz to seek out the “great and powerful wizard”, whom they are told will be able to grant each of their wishes: to return home to Kansas, and to gain courage, a brain, and a heart, respectively. In the end, it turns out this supposedly powerful wizard is actually a feeble, incompetent (testicle-scratching?) cretin, who can do nothing of the sort.
Perhaps, then, our greatest fear, which such conspiracy theories shield us from, is not that an evil cabal or elite controls everything, but that they, the ones “tending the light at the end of the tunnel” as Hunter S Thompson puts it, actually have no idea what they are doing—that they are, say, spending their precious time playing with their little blue mushroom-eating friends rather than managing the country and its finances, for example.
And if that is true, then what a schizoid nightmare it would be.