Egyptians channeling Glenn Beck

The New York Times reports: The sounds made lately by curfew violators here are mostly not shouts or gunshots, but the clacking of dice on wooden backgammon boards, the clicking of dominoes on cafe tables crowded with hookahs and grumbling fueled by years of upheaval.

When the conversation turns to politics, the predominant topic is a surprise to American ears: the conspiracy between the United States and the Muslim Brotherhood to destroy Egypt.

However crackpot that view may sound, it is widespread among supporters of the military, which ousted the Muslim Brotherhood’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi, last month.

For journalists who ventured out Saturday night in violation of the curfew, the biggest danger was not from police officers and soldiers at checkpoints, but from angry men with a chip on their shoulders and a grudge against Al Jazeera, the Western press and America.

The “people’s committees,” which sprung up in Egyptian neighborhoods as a counterweight to the Muslim Brotherhood, in theory were disbanded last week. But that did not stop self-appointed guardians in the Zaki Street market of the Maadi neighborhood from repeatedly demanding identity documents, letters of permission and, especially, proof of not being affiliated with Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news network, which is reviled because it is owned by Qatar, a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

As patrons of the Red Apple Cafe ignored the new 9 p.m. curfew, the presence of an American elicited bountiful conspiracy theories, all of them involving America’s plan to destroy Egypt through its paid Brotherhood confederates. Even innocuous questions about the curfew, which on Saturday was shortened two hours, became ideologically fraught. “What are you doing, why are you asking about curfew?” yelled one man. “It is something internal.” A group of other men surrounding an interpreter, their faces only inches from his, introduced themselves by saying, “We are not thugs,” before proceeding to threaten and berate their interlocutors.

Egyptians have always shrugged off curfews. Cairo’s night life continues pretty much as normal in places like Maadi and especially in poor and working-class areas, where street life provides some relief to people who live in hot apartments.

On Zaki Street, the cafes were full of smokers of shisha, the flavored tobacco burned in water pipes, and of backgammon players. Outside, the driver of a horse-drawn cart full of canisters of cooking gas clanged his cans to announce his presence, and Farouq, a middle-aged man making deliveries to supermarkets with a motorcycle-drawn cart, stopped to talk.

“Americans are with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Farouq stated in a tone suggesting that it was common knowledge. “O.K., you did something good when you killed Osama bin Laden, but now you are with Al Qaeda. You support the terrorists.”

A strong anti-American undercurrent has always existed in Egypt, but such views are more normally associated with radicals and Islamists, and in reaction to American support for Israel.

But now anti-American sentiment is being stoked by an outpouring of dubious pronouncements from both state and private news media. Anti-Americanism has even been given the ultimate imprimatur of state tolerance: billboards. One next door to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for instance, shows President Obama with a beard like those worn by the Brotherhood, alongside a more flattering picture of the clean-shaven military leader, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi. [Continue reading…]

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