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Saudi Arabia is Added to Egypt’s List of Foreign Villains

April 15, 2011

The Saudis are being added to the list of "foreign hands" -- led by the US and Israel -- believed to interfere in Egypt's social worlds.

One of the oldest stories in Egypt is that of the foreign hand. Whenever anything goes wrong in Egypt, people immediately begin blaming shadowy foreign powers seeking to destroy Egypt.

The classic villain was always Israel. To hear some Egyptians tell it, Mosaad can do almost anything–and it will. The most egregious example I experienced was in 1997, just after I’d come to Egypt. The terrible Luxur incident had just occured, in which terrorists from the Islamic Group and Jihad Talaat al-Fath (“Holy War of the Vanguard of the Conquest”) murdered 62 people. My daughter’s optometrist, a smart, loquacious guy, insisted that Egyptians would never do such a thing, that the entire incident had to have been masterminded by foreign powers–probably Israel–to bring shame on Egypt and wreck the tourist economy.

The U.S. is another popular villain, as is Al-Qaida. As recently as last year, the Mubarak regime was blaming a foreign hand for the Church bombings in Alexandria, and during the January 25 uprisings, Egyptian state television suggested that the protesters were being paid and encouraged by a coalition including the U.S., Israel, Iran and Al-Qaida.

What is really interesting is that this may not only be propaganda. A memo discovered in the people’s takeover of the former secret police building in Cairo suggests that the police actually believed this, and were passing it on as intelligence.

One of the interesting turns in the post-uprising era seems to be a proliferation of possible bad guys as protesters targeted Saudi Arabia.

Shia Muslims gathered in front of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Cairo on April 9th to denounce the Saudis. The Saudi regime supports a doctrine that permits Sunni Muslims to destroy Shi’ite shrines (as they have done in Mecca and Janat al-Baqi), and the protesters believe that recent attacks on Shi’ite and Sufi shrines were encouraged by sheikhs spouting such doctrines from the pulpit.

Demonstrators also said the Saudi kingdom plays a role in mobilizing and economically supporting Salafi Muslims to disrupt Egypt’s social tolerance, endangering Shi’ites, Sufis and Copts.

Clerics in the Saudi kingdom have issued decrees excommunicating Shias, Sufis and the 25 January revolutionaries. The Saudis have also condemned the Saudi opposition to prosecuting President Mubarak.

The protest was small in number, only a few hundred, with no well-known Sufi or Shi’ite leaders in attendance.

In some ways, these accusations of foreign influence are not really absurd. They may be false as explanations for particular incidents, but they do symbolically articulate the fact that Egypt is often strongly affected by decisions made by foreign powers, including the US and Israel.
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