Getting Egypt’s Morsi to Give Up 9/11 Conspiracy Rhetoric
Eleven years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, conspiracy theories about that day dominate Muslim public opinion. Although al-Qaeda routinely brags about its “achievement,” huge majorities in major Muslim countries — 75 percent of Egyptians, 73 percent of Turks — still deny that Arabs carried out the attacks, as a Pew study reported in July 2011. This denial of history has policy relevance for the United States: Mass rejection of the facts of 9/11 undermines U.S. global counterterrorism efforts. Persuading Muslims to set the historical record straight is a precondition of any successful counterterror strategy.
President Obama rightly focused on this from his earliest days in office. In his 2009 Cairo address, the president denounced 9/11 revisionism in no uncertain terms. “I am aware that some question or justify the events of 9/11,” he said. “But let us be clear: Al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. . . . These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.”
This month’s U.N. General Assembly meeting provides a critical test for the president’s commitment to combat 9/11 revisionism. The star of the sessions is likely to be Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s new president. Obama reportedly plans to meet with Morsi, the popularly elected leader of the Arab world’s most powerful and populous state. But Morsi, a longtime leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, embraces some of the most vile conspiracy theories about 9/11.
Morsi has not been shy about airing his odious views. In a May 2010 interview with Brookings Institution scholar Shadi Hamid, Morsi dismissed al-Qaeda’s responsibility for the attacks. “When you come and tell me that the plane hit the tower like a knife in butter, you are insulting us,” Hamid reported Morsi as saying. “How did the plane cut through the steel like this? Something must have happened from the inside. It’s impossible.” Similarly, in 2007, Morsi reportedly declared that the United States “has never presented any evidences on the identity of those who committed that incident.” In 2008, he called for a “huge scientific conference” to analyze “what caused the attack against a massive structure like the two towers.”