Marc Lynch writes: This week, Hosni Mubarak’s old media boss, Abdel Latif el-Menawy, published an astonishing essay on the website of the Saudi-funded, Emirati-based satellite television station Al Arabiya. Menawy described a wild conspiracy in which the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, directed Muslim Brotherhood snipers to murder Egyptian soldiers.
It would be easy to dismiss the ravings of an old Mubarak hand if they were not almost tame compared with the wild rumors and allegations across much of the Egyptian media and public. Even longtime observers of Egyptian rhetoric have been taken aback by the vitriol and sheer lunacy of the current wave of anti-American rhetoric. The streets have been filled with fliers, banners, posters, and graffiti denouncing President Barack Obama for supporting terrorism and featuring Photoshopped images of Obama with a Muslim-y beard or bearing Muslim Brotherhood colors.
A big Tahrir Square banner declaring love for the American people alongside hatred for Obama rings somewhat false given the fierce, simultaneous campaign against CNN and American journalists. The rhetoric spans the political spectrum: veteran leftist George Ishaq (Patterson “is an evil lady”), the Salafi Front (calling for demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy against foreign interference), the reckless secularist TV host Tawfik Okasha (whipping up xenophobic hatred), leaders of the Tamarod campaign (refusing to meet with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns because the United States “supports terrorism”), and Brotherhood leaders (blaming the United States for the military coup).
Would it be strange for Egyptians not to make a sharp distinction between the American press and the U.S. government? All too often CNN, the New York Times and other pillars of the media establishment display such a cozy relationship with government that even if they are not technically arms of state media, they very often act like that.
To treat what are explicitly attacks on the U.S. government as though they represent attacks on the American people seems just as irresponsible as some of the conspiracy theories themselves. Maybe this difficulty in discriminating between the government and the people isn’t so much a problem for the Egyptians as it is for someone who is both trapped inside the Washington bubble and has been an occasional adviser to the White House.