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Marc Lynch from Cairo: Why all the anti-Shia rhetoric?

Arab media expert Marc Lynch, wrapping up a trip to Cairo, explains in a long and fascinating post why the Egyptian government might want to promote an Iraqi insurgent channel that contains nasty anti-Shia propaganda:

Why all this anti-Shia discourse now?  One popular theory is that the Egyptian government, backed by the US, wants to prepare the ground for confrontation with Iran. By this theory, the government is stoking hatred of the Shia as a pre-emptive move to shape the political space in such a way as to make it hard for Iran to appeal to Egyptian (and Arab) public opinion in the event of a war - and to prevent a repeat of anything like the outpouring of popular support for Hassan Nasrullah last summer.  One problem with this theory is that mobilizing anti-Shia anger against Iran simultaneously complicates attempts by the government to support American goals of strengthening a Shia government in Iraq - an irony of which at least some officials seem painfully aware.  Another school of thought points to the Iraq war, and especially the Saddam execution video, as fueling anger against the Shia, independently of anything the government is doing. Whatever the case, I've seen a lot more anti-Shia discourse than I expected or have ever seen before, and it alarms me.

Image via the Saddam Is Alive blog

Lynch adds an unrelated, but amusing, side note:

[O]ne of the main bookstores in central Cairo is prominently featuring posters for an instant book declaring that "Saddam was not executed" - it was all an American hoax.  The guy who hanged was actually one of Saddam's doubles -  the author compares a bunch of pictures of Saddam in power with pictures from the trial and execution, and declares that they are obviously not the same man.  It's a nutty book in every sense of the word... I don't know how many people (besides me) have bought it, but I saw the poster in a few places.

So it's not just random conspiracy theorists on the Internet—somebody in Egypt has figured out how to make money off this thing.

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Thursday Video: Egypt aids the Iraqi insurgency

Egypt is one of several Sunni Arab governments that have pledged to support President Bush's new strategy in Iraq. But despite repeated requests from American and Iraqi officials, Egypt continues to broadcast violent propaganda from Iraqi Sunni insurgents, 24/7, on its Nilesat satellite television provider. Today's Thursday Video is a taste of Al Zawraa's programming, provided to FP by Lawrence Pintak, director of American University in Cairo's television journalism program:

Al Zawraa divides its hatred between Americans and Shiites:

Al Zawraa began two years ago as an above-ground, hard-line Sunni TV station, based in Iraq, until the Iraqi government closed it down last November, around the time Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death. Today, it's an underground station with brutal, no-holds-barred content, often amateur, shaky footage showing American soldiers crumpling to the ground after being shoot [sic], and alleged American atrocities against Iraqi civilians. The station's anchors wear military fatigues and rail against the Shiite-led Iraqi government.

The sectarian strife in Baghdad is spilling into the wider region. Al Zawraa appears to be a symptom of Sunni unease about the rise of the so-called Shiite Crescent. Faced with growing threats, the Egyptian government may feel pressure to support its Sunni brethren.  There are probably healthier ways to do that, however.

For another video clip from Al Zawraa, see the MEMRI Blog, which flagged this last week.