Rumors as tools to oppose dialogue

Sent On: 
Mon, 2014-06-23
Newsletter Number: 

Sometimes the rumors are the result of lack of transparency. Mistrust and sensationalism in media reporting are other important factors that contribute to rumors. Framing is another major and widespread problem in Egypt. Ideological biases make people interpret things they see (and want to see) from their particular ideological point of view, not wanting to give interpretations that are not in line with their ideological view a chance. Widespread lack of precision in reporting also does not help since this, of course, adds to an already widespread lack of trust in media reporting. It is often easier to theorize then to search for facts, keep asking questions and finding answers to them, regardless if they fit in a particular theoretical frame.

Rumors divide society. They makes many people prefer to ‘seek shelter’ in their own trusted community instead of being open to meet with others outside your own trusted group. Rumors often intend to deepen those lines of division instead of healing them.

If one searches for the keyword ‘rumor’ in our Arab-West Report database, one finds hundreds of hits throughout the years. That certainly shows that these rumors are a major problem in society.

In October 2013, Christians in Minia were too fearful to meet with foreign journalists of the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazine and decided to cancel any meeting for fear of rumors that could follow the visit of foreigners to their houses, which in turn could have resulted in some local Muslims suspecting them to speak negatively about them or events in an area where churches had been destroyed. Suspicion of a few is the only thing required to cause problems. Their fear was certainly justified. Rumors, deliberately created or not, can cause a lot of harm. We cancelled the planned visit to Minia and went to Shubra, a Cairo suburb with a large percentage of Christians, where no such violence had taken place. Here, Christians had no fear to speak about cordial relations with Muslims. I translated this article from German into English and this work can be found here. I also wrote about Christians in Shubra for the Maadi Messenger. This you can find here.

Rumors also can be very deliberate, in an attempt to destroy someone. This has happened to me on the Mubtada website. An anonymous author, who obviously does know things about me, attacked me for contacts I had last year with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the Brotherhood had been declared a terrorist organization in December 2013, contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood are taboo in Egypt. Referring to old contacts and linking this to conspiracy thinking is thus only intended to  create negative sentiments and troubles for me in Egypt.

I am strongly opposed to any political violence, including that against Egyptian security authorities. I am in favor of a search for non-violent political solutions. I am glad Mubtada has placed my response  on their website. The anonymous author decided to continue to remain silent. For the translation of this attack and my response see here.

I recently received a mail from the organizers of the Day of Dialogue in the Dutch city of The Hague with the quote “Change happens by starting a dialogue with people who are doing something which you believe isn't right." 

Finding non-violent solutions need a lot of listening, talking and honest efforts to understand (which is not at all the same as agreement). The deliberate creation of rumors certainly is not honest.


Cornelis Hulsman

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report