No radicalisation of anti-Western stereotyping in Egypt

13 October 2014

Anti-Western stereotyping in Egyptian Islamic discourse has not undergone a process of radicalisation, according to a recent study by the UvA’s Amsterdam Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (ACMES). Researchers from the Centre conducted a study on representations of the West in the Egyptian public debate since the fall of Mubarak. The study was conducted on behalf of the Ministry of Security and Justice and the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV).

How has the West been represented in the Egyptian public debate since the fall of President Mubarak? What role does Islamic discourse play in this process, and has the Islamic position undergone significant change or radicalisation? These questions were the focus of a recent study by Robbert Woltering and Josephine van den Bent of the ACMES, conducted in collaboration with Lidwien van den Wijngaert of the University of Twente. In the project – conducted earlier this year – researchers used a broad range of sources ranging from newspapers, books and pamphlets to websites and social media. 

Hypocritical and desirable

All narratives – whether they be of a liberal, conservative, Islamic or revolutionary left-wing nature – present the West as hypocritical. ‘The United States, the European Union or simply the West as a whole is represented as an entity that prides itself on appealing notions such as democracy, human rights and freedom, and subsequently fails to apply these in its Middle East policy’, Woltering explains. 'However, the lack of any substantial debate on these ideals seems to indicate that they are actually widely supported. Furthermore, the Middle East desires the support of the West. This ambiguous representation of the West as a simultaneously hypocritical and desirable entity is not new and is certainly not unique to Egypt.’

Fuelled by nationalism

The post-Mubarak period has seen the gradual emergence of a new status quo whereby two sides dominate the public debate: the Muslim Brotherhood on one side of the divide, and their opponents on the other. Woltering: ‘Interestingly enough, both parties accuse each other of being Western pawns in an effort to delegitimise their opponents. As a part of this rhetorical battle, the West is accused of seeking to dominate and weaken Egypt. In this sense, the West has taken on the role of a stereotypical enemy in the public debate. However, our research has shown that the parties are mainly using the West as an instrument to emphasise their own nationalism and authenticity. Rather than at the West itself, their accusations are therefore more aimed at domestic, political opponents who can be discredited when presented as lackeys of the Western powers.’

Despite the complete and sudden loss of power suffered by the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, the research did not identify any signs that the group is radicalising at an institutional level. Based on an analysis of extensive source material, the researchers determined that the Muslim Brotherhood's narrative is not characterised by hostility towards the West as a culture or civilisation. The other Islamic groups assessed as a part of the research project also showed no signs of radicalisation in terms of their representations of the West.

Published by  University of Amsterdam