Syria? Don't look now, here come Egypt's "moderates"

Keeping one's eye on the ball in the MidEast isn't easy. But as Syria draws our attention, don't miss the latest exciting, insane developments in Egypt

Tally ho! But where are we going?
Ahmed Abdel-Raheem
On 28 August 2013 12:48

As a researcher in cognitive science and cognitive linguistics, I can say that anytime you hear or read anything, your brain is activated, and that repeating narratives, frames, and metaphors over and over again can physically change people's brains.     

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, which is considered loyal to the state, understands this. Earlier this week, it ran a front-page story that reads: ''Egypt's Copts challenge America and Europe and their conspiracy against Egypt''. The newspaper described this as a powerful slam to America and the West who, "sponsor terror.''

Yesterday and today, Al-Ahram repeated the conspiracy narrative, arguing that the US, Europe, and the Muslim Brotherhood had two plots to partition the country. Plot A was to isolate Upper Egypt and declare its independence from the state, and plot B was to destabilize Egypt and to mobilize public opinion against the roadmap.

Dangerously, the newspaper claimed that the American ambassador to Egypt Ann Paterson held a meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood leader Khayrat El-Shater and planned together to enable 300 ''terrorists'' to enter, through Gaza, tunnels to Egypt to carry out a number of attacks in the country, but ''thanks to the Egyptian security forces, the two plots failed''.

The newspaper added that there are some Egyptian media-men and politicians who are involved in such plots, and that it will release their names soon.

What Al-Ahram wants to stress is that the Egyptian army and police are ''heroes,'' and America, Europe, and the Muslim Brotherhood are ''villains.'' In neuroscience, we have neurons that are connected to emotions. So when you hear the word 'hero,' you feel happy; but when you hear the word ''villain,' you feel angry. In this frame, the ''hero'' must be supported, and the ''villain'' must be fought and excluded.

This is the frame that Al-Ahram wants to construct.

The dangerous thing is, repeating such a narrative and a frame of thinking over and over again is a strong call: (1) for violence against innocent people of America and the West, and (2) to exclude the Muslim Brotherhood from the political life in Egypt. More dangerously, it makes of the US and Europe 'vicious enemies' to all Egyptians, needless to say to all Arabs, and it effectively calls for terrorist attacks against American and European institutions. This is how enemies are manufactured, and how framing can manipulate people.

The conspiracy frame hides the fact that America has waged wars against terror both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, it is Europe and America that are expected to direct military strikes against the current terrorist regime in Syria, which has used chemical weapons against innocent Syrian civilians, killing nearly 1,300 people. It is also America that gives Egypt annually $1.5 billion in foreign aid. 

Mrs. Patterson refuted all Al-Ahram's allegations.

Hidden also is that the MB activists are Egyptian citizens and, regardless of what you think of them, may well still represent a majority in Egypt. Furthermore, in a putative democracy, they have the right peacefully to protest against the government's policies.

Nevertheless, as we know from cognitive science, if the facts don't fit a conceptual frame, the frame stays and the facts are ignored. On this account, it is literally vital that moderate and liberal newspapers form a unified voice against the hate and terror that Al-Ahram strengthens.

The writer is an Egyptian artist and a PhD student

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