How an American Right-Wing Conspiracy Traveled to Egypt and Has People Thinking Obama Is in Deep with the Muslim Brotherhood
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On July 26, a cable news host leaned across his desk, stared into the camera and let his audience in on what he believed was the Obama administration’s deepest, darkest secret. “The issue is not whether Obama is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or not,” he declared. “The issue is that it is a fact that Obama used the help of the Muslim Brotherhood in his administration.”
Reading from notes in a tone of total omniscience, the host began to name names. He cited six figures, all Muslim American activists or intellectuals, accusing them of operating a Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cell inside the White House. They were Mazen Asbahi, Arif Ali Khan, Eboo Patel, Salam Marayati, and Mohamed Elibiary.
“Write these names down,” the host told his audience, “look them up during the break and when I come back let me know if what I say is right or wrong.”
Though he sounded like Glenn Beck or any other Tea Party-style Islamophobe, the host was not American and did not even speak English. He was Yousef El-Hosseini, a popular and famously reactionary personality on the private Egyptian cable network, ONTV. Founded by Egypt’s wealthiest man, Naguib Sawiris, a key financial backer of the forces behind the overthrow of the country’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, ONTV has emerged as one of the country’s central instruments for spreading pro-military propaganda.
Since Egyptian security forces commanded by strongman Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi began massacring supporters of Morsi, arresting and disappearing activists in droves, and shutting down unsympathetic news outlets, the Obama administration has ratcheted up its criticism, canceling a joint military maneuver with Egypt while stopping just short of suspending aid. Fearing that external pressure could lead to a crisis in internal morale, Egypt’s military regime has cranked up its Mighty Wurlitzer.
During the past two weeks, pro-military networks like OnTV have begun blending footage of Egypt’s glorious security forces waging a “war on terror” with the kind of conspiratorial screeds familiar to far-right members of Congress like Michele Bachmann and Islamophobia hustlers like Pamela Geller. The propaganda blitz has successfully reinforced the view of many average Egyptians that if Obama cannot respect the heroic Sisi’s war on “terror,” it is because he is caught in the invisible tentacles of the Brotherhood – or perhaps he is an undercover Brother himself.
Targeted by Gohmert and Bachmann
As the lone Muslim member of the Department of Homeland Security’s advisory council, the Egyptian-born Mohamed Elibiary has been routinely named by American Islamophobes as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s US “sleeper cell.” Elibiary operates a private security firm in Texas and has consulted extensively for the FBI. In order to enter the administration, he had to first clear a thorough background check. Soon after his 2010 swearing in, Elibiary was bombarded with smears, with the anti-Muslim researcher Stephen Emerson accusing him of “support[ing] terror-related individuals and organizations,” a charge echoed in a letter to the DHS by a cadre of far-right Republican members of Congress.
Both the DHS and Republican congressional leaders swiftly rebuked Elibiary’s assailants, depriving them of any hope of mainstream legitimacy. And once the 2012 campaign concluded, the conspiracy appeared likely to fade into oblivion.
But in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had swept to power in the country’s first free elections, setting off months of ferocious protests by a coalition of secular liberals, leftist groups and Mubarak-era dead enders. Desperate to concoct explanations for the Obama administration’s recognition of Morsi’s legitimacy, the opposition recycled a convenient conspiracy theory.