Egypt's coup leaders aren't friends, they hate us
We've been sold another lie about the Middle East. This time it's the lie that the leaders of the coup in Egypt are our friends. They're not. They hate us, and use their media to propagate lies about us
Before anything, I've an exercise for the reader. The exercise is: Don't think of an elephant! Whatever you do, do not think of an elephant. When he teaches the study of framing at Berkeley, in Cognitive Science 101, George Lakoff gives his students this exercise. Dr. Lakoff has never found a student who is able to comply.
Every word, like an elephant, activates a frame, which can be an image or other types of knowledge. An elephant is large, has floppy ears and a trunk, is associated with circuses, and so on. The word is defined with respect to that frame.
Last week, Egypt's national newspaper Al-Akhbar ran a cartoon that reads ''Family of the Great Satan.'' The family includes Uncle Sam as the father and Israel and the Muslim Brothers as Satan's children.
Interestingly, the cartoon ''frames'' its message so strongly that if you're not a speaker of Arabic or if you are and all verbal elements in the cartoon are to be erased, you will still be able to read the moral message: Uncle Sam is Satan with two children, one on his back (here, a Muslim Brother with a beard and wearing a galabiya), and the other in his hand (here, Israel). In short, ''America is the main evil power.''
Importantly, features of Satan the father include sharp horns and fangs, but oddly no claws. This shape is a visual threat used both factually and figuratively through nature, and so is a subconscious threat playing on people's instincts. Horns bring to mind the danger of wild beasts and the bull that gores.
Satan the father is large and strong and the intentionally comedic elements include America's pot-belly, the porcine Jew and the drooping hat (all clown elements). Satan is evil, cunning, and wily. Crucially, he is the extreme of "bad" and is placed at the top of the hierarchy of immoral values.
Importantly, the image of the Great Satan operates at the levels of ideology, history, and social and political agency. More crucially, it activates the concept "Otherness". Otherness is the enemy. In the cartoon, the Great Satan has two sons. The sons are “others” and enemies. The father loves his two sons and gives them all types of support to destroy the world.
Likewise, the sons love their father and obey him.
Although reproducing the cartoon here is not right, as it activates the frames of the government machine and helps strengthening them in the brains of members of the public, it shows how strong the government message machine is.
The metaphor highlights that America is a ''vicious enemy'' that supports ''anarchy'' and ''fights'' democracy in Egypt, and in the Arab world as a whole. Furthermore, it stresses that Israel is a son of Satan. This son will grow and cause much more trouble in the region. The Muslim Brotherhood is also an ''other.'' It doesn't constitute part of the Egyptian national fabric. It's a member of the Great Satan's family.
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and Israel, the beloved children of Uncle Sam in the metaphor, are thus, from this perspective, dangerous.
This image of America as the Great Satan is common in the Arab world and has been used by many Islamist leaders such as Ayatollah Khomeini:
''You all, the nation of Iran and the nation of Islam are currently confronting a satanic power which for years has determined your destiny. Gradually, the Muslim lands have begun to think about freeing themselves from this power, and this includes Iran, which for some time now has been rethinking about liberating itself from the hands of foreigners and from the grasp of that satanic power.''
The cartoon hides the fact that almost all leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are detained, including the first democratically-elected president Mohamed Mursi, that the Muslim Brothers represent a majority in the Egyptian national fabric, that the police and army committed a massacre against civilians in Rabaa and Nahdah squares, that the coup stifled freedoms in the country and destroyed the economy, including the tourism industry.
Also suppressed by this metaphor is the fact that Israel has many peace-loving people and institutions.
The cartoon also hides the fact that America has made anti-terrorism efforts and has many innocent civilians too. Furthermore, the US is seen by many people as supporting the coup rather than the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, the US is still providing foreign aid to the military of Egypt.
The dangerous thing is that the analogy encourages violence against the Muslim Brothers, America, and Israel. Moreover, it undermines Egypt's foreign relations and adds more fuel to the fire.
In cognitive science, when the facts don't fit your frames, the frames will stay (since they are fixed in the brain) and the facts will be ignored or ridiculed
The government message machine (the media) is strong and keeps repeating such metaphors and frames over and over again. The Egyptian media understand that brain change is slow, long-term, and requires constant repetition.
In the past, the machine has succeeded in demonizing the West as a whole and strengthening the conspiracy frame in the people's brains. Now it has changed the framing a little bit, conflating the Muslim Brotherhood, and the opposition as a whole.
The question is, why don't Israel and America use their message machines to stop the coup-leaders' campaigns of demonization and to change Arabs' brain for the best? Why does America take taxpayers' money and give it to the military that stifled the freedoms of the Egyptian people?
Finally, the opposition in Egypt should, likewise, have their own machine to strengthen their moral frames and fight the coup leaders' media.
In short, America, Israel, and the opposition in Egypt have cognitive powers that they don't use. Now is the time to use them. Now is the time to create a communication system that strengthens principles of peace, tolerance, co-existence, and democracy.
This is what terrifies the military-backed government. In addition, America should stand up for its role and cuts its foreign aid to the coup.
A Contributing Editor to The Commentator, the writer, currently based in Europe, is an Egyptian poet, actor, and political intellectual. He is also pursuing doctoral research in cognitive science
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