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“… The war saved everyone from the Corona virus, which was prepared in Ukrainian laboratories. President Putin struck those laboratories and ended the virus. If this had not happened, the virus would not have ended, because America wants to reduce the global population …”
The “Arab street” has largely supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine several polls indicating that Arabs are more likely to blame the conflict on Ukraine or the West than on Russia.[i] Russian influence campaigns have almost certainly played a role given ample evidence that Russia’s Arabic-language outlets have deliberately sought to shape perceptions vis-à-vis Ukraine. There is also data showing that Russian Arabic-language media outlets RT and Sputnik Arabic are more popular than their Western counterparts, such as BBC Arabic or the U.S.-funded al-Hurra.[ii]Several national news agencies in the Middle East have signed content sharing agreements with these Russian outlets. However, focusing primarily on Russian influence operations misses the important social contexts in which these pro-Russian opinions are being formed.
The first accompanying excerpt, from the Arabic-language news website of the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, cites an Egyptian media expert who highlights the extent to which Arabs are registering “protest support” for Russia, based on opposition to Western policies that are seen as biased against Arabs and Muslims. Russian influence campaigns, he argues, need not be particularly strong, as “the audience is more susceptible and obedient to Russian counter-propaganda, without this meaning that the propaganda is good or effective.” The second accompanying excerpt, from the Arabic-language news website al-Bawaba, illustrates the extent to which Russian misinformation has spread to new segments of the Arab public. The excerpt is from an interview with an archbishop in Egypt’s Coptic Church. When asked about the impact of the Ukraine conflict on Egypt, he claims that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has ended COVID-19, which was purportedly created by the United States in Ukrainian laboratoriese to trim the global population to 2 billion people.
According to the third accompanying excerpt, an opinion piece published in the Qatar-aligned English-language news website The New Arab, the current global environment has “opened a floodgate of misinformation tainted with apocalyptic thinking and metaphysical explanations.” The author notes how the combined effects of COVID-19, extreme weather events, and war in Ukraine have led many in the region to seek answers in scripture. Arab skepticism toward the U.S. role in Ukraine is neither novel nor surprising, since narratives portraying the United States as a latent source of regional conflict and instability are pervasive. What is new, however, is that fanciful, apocalyptic-tinted anti-U.S. narratives—made popular last decade by Islamic State ideologues—may be pushing their way into the region’s Christian minority populations with a little help from Russian media outlets.
“غزو أوكرانيا.. هل ربحت روسيا حرب المعلومات في الشرق الأوسط؟
(Ukraine invasion… did Russia win the information war in the Middle East?),” Deutsche Welle Arabic (German media outlet), 25 August 2022. https://tinyurl.com/49783hk2
Yasser Abdel Aziz, an international lecturer and Egyptian media expert… says: “I believe that this support is ‘protest support’ because there are large segments of the Arab public who feel that the Western media is biased and that the West in general is biased against Arab and Islamic issues. There is historical and other bitterness, and because of this the audience is more susceptible and obedient to Russian counter-propaganda, without this meaning that this propaganda is good or effective… Abdel Aziz added, “The West has the right to feel resentment in light of this situation, because its effective and successful communication tools and its prestigious and venerable media outlets are sometimes unconvincing, while the ‘miserable’ Russian media tools, or others that do not have the same luster or capabilities, find popularity at times.
“الأنبا بنيامين مطران المنوفية: الزواج استشهاد دون سفك دماء..
(Anba Benjamin, Bishop of Monofia: Marriage is martyrdom without blood…).” al-Bawaba (Arabic-language news website), 20 October 2022. https://www.albawabhnews.com/4674878
Q: The Ukrainian-Russian crisis. How do you see its impact on the world and Egypt in particular?
A: The war saved everyone from the Coronavirus, which was prepared in Ukrainian laboratories. President Putin struck those laboratories and ended the virus. If this had not happened, the virus would not have ended, because America wants to reduce the global population, there are 7.5 billion people and they want to reduce it to 2 billion.
Emad Mousa. “MENA’s misguided climate change schadenfreude towards Europe,” The New Arab (Qatari-aligned English-language news website), 19 October 2022. https://english.alaraby.co.uk/opinion/menas-misguided-climate-change-schadenfreude-towards-europeBecause the unusual weather conditions came shortly after a global pandemic and coincided with the Ukraine war and a global economic meltdown, it opened a floodgate of misinformation tainted with apocalyptic thinking and metaphysical explanations – similar to the height of the Covid-19 global emergency. During the pandemic, Egyptians reportedly ranked highest in Google searches
[i] Per the May 2022 ArabNews/YouGov poll on who is responsible for the Ukraine conflict (https://www.arabnews.com/sites/default/files/anyg_rusukr_report_web_compressed.pdf), 24 percent of respondents hold NATO responsible; 13 percent hold the current U.S. President responsible; 16 percent hold Russia responsible; six percent hold Ukraine responsible; and 42 percent do not know or are unsure who is responsible. Per the September 2022 Arab Youth Survey on who is responsible for the Ukraine conflict (https://arabyouthsurvey.com/en/findings/#my-global-citizenship-10),
31 percent of respondents hold the United States/NATO responsible; 18 percent hold Russia responsible; 15 percent hold Ukraine responsible; and 37 percent do not know or cannot say who is responsible.
[ii] According to a 2015 Nielsen study, RT’s Arabic-language news channel had higher daily audiences than BBC Arabic, Sky News Arabia, al-Hurra and China’s CCTV in Arabic in Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Iraq. (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/rt-arabic-is-among-top-3-most-watched-news-channels-in-6-arabic-countries-300039119.html)
See also: Norman Cigar, “COVID-19 and the Arab World: Opportunity for Russian Anti-American Disinformation?” MES Insights, Volume 11, Issue 2, The Krulak Center at Marine Corps University, April 2020. https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/MES/Insights/MES%20Insights%20Volume%2011%20Issue%202%20April%202020.pdf?ver=2020-05-01-133622-630
Image 1: RT Arabic Logo
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Image 2: Sputnik Arabic Logo
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