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November 02, 2002

US Ambassador slams conspiracy theorists

And still Egyptian media can not accept reality!
Issandr El Amrani

An editorial by US Ambassador David Welch published in Al Ahram of 20 September has irked Egypt’s journalists and highlighted US displeasure with repeated suggestions that someone other than Osama Bin Laden is behind last year’s attacks on America. The editorial, entitled "Time To Get The Facts Right," denounces the publishing of "incredible conspiracy theories without the slightest bit of evidence to back them up" in both state and opposition press.

"Leading Egyptian newspapers and magazines in the past two weeks alone have published columns by senior columnists who suggested governments or groups other than Al Qaeda were responsible," wrote Welch, urging editors to exercise better judgement. "Sadly, such disregard for the facts in such a serious matter can tarnish the reputation of the Egyptian media in the eyes of the world."

In his piece, Welch said that considering the "voluminous evidence" pointing to Al Qaeda involvement–including a confession by Al Qaeda members aired on Al Jazeera satellite channel–why Egyptian press reports continued to suggest that the US or Israel had staged the attacks were "difficult to fathom." Either Egyptian journalists are incredibly badly informed, he speculated, or they are "simply too upset with American policy on other issues to accept the reality on this one."

A riposte came quickly the next day, when a group of journalists, cartoonists and other "intellectuals" issued a joint statement calling Welch’s article "an American call for imposing restrictions on press freedom." They also asked the ambassador (whom they think the Bush administration should withdraw from Cairo) to "invite American mass media to seek facts and stop seeing the region through Israeli eyes only."

The US ambassador also took a swipe at AUC economics professor Galal Amin, although without naming him.

"A leading Egyptian professor of sociology, in a public lecture on September 11, spent nearly half an hour trying to cast doubt on Al Qaeda’s culpability and even went so far as to implicate the American government by asserting that America had benefited from the attacks," he wrote. Amin was the only "leading Egyptian professor of sociology" giving a lecture on the topic on that day.

The professor declined to comment to the Cairo Times, saying that he did not want the situation to "get any bigger."

Asked to clarify on why Welch chose this time to publish his editorial–after conspiracy theories are nothing new–US Embassy spokesperson Phil Frayne said that the ambassador had planned the article for a few weeks now, but that publishing it around 11 September seemed appropriate. He also denied that the lecture delivered by Amin, a respected (if occasionally quirky) academic, had sparked the idea.

"The Al Jazeera tapes should really put to rest all these conspiracy theories," Frayne said. "That’s seeing a camel where there’s only a donkey."