Newly hired New York Times columnist Alaa al Aswany’s “disturbing conspiracy thinking” about Israel played a role in World Affairs Journal’s decision to stop publishing his blog in 2012, according to sources at the magazine.
Aswany, an Egyptian novelist and political commentator, blogged for the Journal from 2010 until January 2012. The Times announced last month he would join the opinion page as a contributor.
Aswany is one of Egypt’s “most prolific conspiracy theorists,” according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Eric Trager, and he often alleges that there are Zionist plots behind political events and decisions.
The Journal’s publisher and editor James Denton said Aswany’s “worldview began to reveal itself months after our relationship began,” and contributed to the Journal’s decision to stop publishing his blog.
“We had concerns about Aswany's conspiratorial views, for sure, and that certainly factored into our decision to discontinue the relationship,” said Denton.
Denton said Aswany primarily used his blog space “to condemn dictatorship and promote democracy in Egypt,” but at times he would also include conspiracy theories that would have to be edited out before publication.
“Not so often, but occasionally he also offered insight into the disturbing conspiracy thinking that prevails throughout the Arab world, particularly with respect to Israel,” Denton said. “For the most part these conspiratorial-esque comments were edited out prior to publication. Though, frankly, one or two slipped by.”
Aswany claimed in a 2011 post that former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was an Israeli pawn, and said the Jewish state intervened “forcefully to sabotage the revolution” in Egypt.
Denton said Aswany’s views are hardly an anomaly in the Arab world, and that his “larger concern then and now, is that [Aswany] and rest of the Arab world have been breathing in this conspiracy nonsense for generations without relief.”
“We can't excuse fantasy and bigotry, particularly when it defies reason so nakedly, but it's a tragedy so little effort is exerted to challenge these orthodoxies through a genuine and determined exchange of information and views,” Denton said.
Aswany typically voices his conspiratorial views in Arabic, according to Trager. He has alleged that a "massive Zionist organization rules America,” and that “[President Barack] Obama is not able to go against Israel’s desires,” Trager reported last month in the New Republic.
The Hudson Institute’s Samuel Tadros, author of Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity, said Aswany’s blog at the Journal was “an example of what happens when not a lot of vetting gets done.”
“Thankfully the people [at the Journal] were sensible enough to realize that,” Tadros said. “It’s an open question about whether the New York Times would be similarly sensible.”
Denton also had some counsel for the Times opinion editors.
“The [Times] will have some interesting editing sessions in the months ahead,” he said. “Although maybe Mr. Aswany has come around, I have no idea where he is these days […] though I'm not optimistic on this narrow, but important point.”
A spokesperson for the Times emphasized that Aswany is one of two dozen new contributors from different regions who were brought aboard to expand the international opinion page’s reach.
“To be clear, he will be a contributing opinion writer, one of many,” said Eileen Murphy, the Times vice president of corporate communications. “And no, we’re not commenting.”
Aswany’s representative at the Wylie Agency did not immediately return requests for comment.
Aswany has also been criticized by an Israeli think tank that says he refused to allow them to publish a Hebrew translation of his book The Yacoubian Building. Aswany told the Free Beacon that he was following the rules of his Egyptian writers unions that bar authors from working with Israeli publishers.