Khaled Hassan
Khaled Hassan

From Kabul to Cairo, the West’s misunderstanding of the Muslim world is fatal

Photo in February 2011 taken by Khalid, in Tahrir Square in Egypt. The individual in the photo is dressed like a referee and has a sign that reads "the people are the referee".
Photo in February 2011 taken by Khalid, in Tahrir Square in Egypt. The individual in the photo is dressed like a referee and has a sign that reads "the people are the referee".

In August 2012, almost two months after senior Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohamed Morsi was sworn in, 16 Egyptian soldiers were massacred by Jihadists in Rafah, North Sinai.

I remember vividly the days before and after the attack, and the catastrophic decisions Morsi made within his first 100 days in office.

To mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he issued a presidential decree to release tens of convicted terrorists days before the attack, including those involved in the assassination of Anwar Sadat and a plot to assassinate Hosni Mubarak.

The transition to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood changed life as we knew it.

Free at last, many leading Jihadists took to social media and participated in TV talk shows where they promoted their radical ideology and even called for the pyramids to be blown up.

The pyramids promote idolatry and must be destroyed, they argued. Jihadism was mainstreamed, overnight. It was not, therefore, difficult to imagine that an increase in terrorist activity was to be expected.

Back then, neither I nor anyone I knew, including senior decision-makers, had any doubts that Islamist terrorist groups were behind this attack. It was a simple process of linking the dots and tracing the evidence.

In the UK, however, the public was told a different story by the then backbencher Jeremy Corbyn.

Despite having worked with international organisations, governments and senior Western scholars, I had never heard of Jeremy Corbyn.

It was only after moving to the UK in 2016 that I learnt, to my dismay, that he was promoting an antisemitic conspiracy theory that Israel was behind this hideous attack.

It is astonishing that Corbyn, who promoted an antisemitic conspiracy theory that any Egyptian senior politician I knew would have dismissed as utter nonsense, rose to the ranks of the Labour party to lead the UK’s main opposition party for years.

It is difficult to imagine what his foreign policy vis-à-vis the Muslim world and Israel would have been like had he been elected prime minister.

Misconceptions of the Muslim world, however, are not limited to the Labour party.

American and British politicians, across the spectrum, hold inaccurate and false perceptions of the Muslim world, including the arguments that the Muslim Brotherhood is the legitimate representative of the average Egyptian and that only Hamas’s militant wing ought to be treated as a terrorist organisation.

It is, then, hardly a surprise that president Biden was surprised by Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan. This inherent ignorance of the Muslim world, its culture and history will likely continue to have tragic consequences for peoples of the Middle East, Afghanistan and other parts of concern to the West, and for the US and its allies.

Following the ouster of Mubarak, for instance, I warned that Obama’s warmth towards the Muslim Brotherhood would lead to a substantial increase in conspiracy theories. Today we observe a similar phenomenon across the Muslim world.

The US’s disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan, reportedly leaving behind military equipment, led to the emergence of a conspiracy theory that alleges that the US and its allies deliberately left this equipment for the Taliban.

These inherent misconceptions are somewhat offensive to many of us, native scholars and professionals, whose insight into our affairs would prove invaluable to outsiders.

Regardless of how well-trained, and equipped, your soldiers and intelligence professionals are, change and democracy are not enforced at the barrel of a gun, and there’s much that an outsider would never understand.

I worked and continue to work with exceptional Western scholars and professionals. Although many of them spent years in the Middle East, they still struggle to fully understand our customs, culture and traditions.

While I recognise that it is sometimes difficult to find voices who would provide an honest, objective view due to conscious or unconscious bias, I believe we should be involved in the decision-making process and that our views should carry more weight.

So, next time Israeli, and Egyptian, professionals and scholars explain why they believe the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Hamas are terrorist organisations, do not dismiss their views over fears that they are biased.

Our lives and livelihood have been, and are likely to continue to be, impacted by the decisions you make.

About the Author
Khaled Hassan is an Egyptian political risk and intelligence analyst with over a decade of experience. His research interests include the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, conspiracy theories and propaganda, radicalisation, and terrorism.
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