American Islamist inspires online campaign against multinationals in Egypt

An American, self-styled anti-capitalist theoretician and a convicted murderer, who converted to Islam, has been thrust into the spotlight as he started to use social media to indirectly call for violence against multinationals in Egypt.

The Colorado-born Shahid Bolsen fuses his anti-globalisation views with the tenets of his new faith, more specifically the ultra-conservative Salafi Islam, as he is described by the authors of an article published in the US news website Foreign Policy,

Bolsen’s views and writings feature prominently in a Facebook campaign aimed at disrupting Egypt’s highly publicised investment conference to be held in March, which the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi hopes will create jobs and growth.

At the centre of the campaign is the Facebook page “Losers Conference-Together against Sisi’s Economic Summit”, which regularly shares Bolsen’s posts translated into Arabic.

In a recent post, Bolsen urged opponents of the conference to “mobilise all our skills and talents”.

“The summit is an auction, selling Egypt to foreign control…investment is not aid, it is ownership, it is the purchase of resources, the industries, the lives and future of the people of Egypt,” he wrote.

The post received 1,080 likes and 438 shares and drew surprisingly very little criticism, which would be expected from Al-Sisi’s online supporters, who normally lash out at his internet critics with profanity-laden attacks, or from the regime’s “electronic brigades” with a high presence on social media.

An enthusiastic Moataz al-Masri commented: “We need leaflets and printouts containing a full summary of all the dangers of this conference; we need to hand out this material to people in the streets promptly".

Mohamed Hassan wrote: “This disgraceful conference will not go peacefully”.

It is worthy of note that Hassan’s profile picture is of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s Islamist president ousted from power in a military coup staged by Al-Sisi in 2013.

Many of the supportive comments suggest that those who wrote them have some sort of Islamist leanings or are outright supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, currently designated a terrorist group in the country.

The paltry few who criticised Bolsen’s doom and gloom warnings about the conference did so on the grounds that he does not provide evidence for his argument.

A disparaging comment, damning Bolsen as “a strife monger who will incur the wrath of God”, sounds restrained in comparison with the usual expletive-filled, xenophobic outbursts of regime supporters on the internet in response to the slightest criticism of Al-Sisi.

In denying the Foreign Policy article, which asserts that he is an advocate of violence, Bolsen wrote on Facebook: “It is entirely inaccurate to claim that I have advocated violence, unless loss of corporate profit is now regarded as the same thing as loss of human life. Or is it just that anything that is not complete surrender will be defined as violence?”

In response to the post, which also contained a link to the FP article, comments were unanimously supportive.

“You said it…to be free and proud these days is to be called a terrorist,” Mohammed Mahmoud wrote.

“You are an intelligent Mujahid [a religious warrior] and you are highly focused on sacred, logical jihad directed against the focal core of enemies of God everywhere in the world,” Raghd Adam wrote.

Another comment by Nour Safieddine decried the conference: “Egypt will be sold in two weeks and the breakup of the country is now underway”.

“I firmly believe, after reading the article, that your views and the actions of the Popular Resistance are having an impact,” Ahmed Nakad wrote.

Two groups, the Popular Resistance Movement and Revolutionary Punishment, claimed responsibility for an attack with Molotov cocktails on the KFC branch in the town of Qesna, south Egypt, last month as well as  similar, recent attacks in Cairo.

According to the FP article, the groups, formed by disgruntled Islamist youth, endorse low-level violence, but not hard-core jihadist tactics, to topple the regime.

Despite his disclaimer of violence in response to the article, Bolsen shared a link to the Facebook page of the Popular Resistance and its statement, in which it claimed responsibility for attacks on branches of telecommunication companies, Vodafone and Etisalat, in Cairo last month.

In response to a comment on Facebook warning against attacks that kill people, Bolsen wrote: “There is no power nor might except with Allah. Yes brother. I urge the rebels to take all precautions to avoid bloodshed.”

Bolsen shared a post by Ahmed Sh شهيد بولسين‎ shared Ahmed Sh's albumthat included pictures showing fires, dead bodies, falling power pylons—all depicting a general state of chaos and bearing the caption “Egypt is not safe for investment”.

Among the recommendations made by Ahmed Sh to disrupt the conference is for regime opponents to bombard Facebook pages of Reuters and other Western media with pictures of individuals “burning power transformers” with the caption “Egypt is not a save [sic] place for investment, tell your country not to participate in the Egypt economic summit”.

He posted links to Facebook pages of international companies, like Siemens and Vodafone—both of which are expected to attend the conference—and various western news agencies and media outlets.

Bolsen advocated the use of the same sabotage methods of European anarchist groups in the campaign to disrupt business interests in Egypt.

He posted a link to an article in Daily Beast.Com about a campaign by eco anarchists to disrupt the drilling of railway tunnels under the Alps by setting fires on high-speed train lines.

He wrote: "The point here is not to advocate disruption of public transport, no services or facilities used by the general population should be targeted, in my opinion. The point here is to highlight the effectiveness of the precise location of the disruption. Rather than target, for instance, a train, or a railway track, they struck at the control center, and were able to inflict much greater impact. I am pointing out the strategic here, not the strategy itself. If rebels apply similar logic for the disruption of corporate interests in Egypt, they can maximize the impact of even small-scale disruptive operations.”