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The ‘Obama is a Muslim’ conspiracy theory is still reverberating in the Middle East


When Barack Obama stepped onto the national political stage almost a decade ago, rumors swirled that he was secretly a Muslim. These rumors have frequently been debunked — the U.S. president is a practicing Christian — but they persist nonetheless: In a poll conducted in 2014, 54 percent of Republicans were found to believe that Obama was a Muslim “deep down.”

The endurance of these conspiracy theories can probably be attributed to Obama’s position as the first African American president of the United States — his two terms as president have been wrapped up in issues of race and identity. But it’s also worth noting how these theories have mutated as they traveled abroad, adapting in unexpected ways to fit regional arguments.

One of the most persistent and widespread of these conspiracy theories gets more specific than its American variant: Obama isn’t just a Muslim, this theory goes…. he’s a Shiite Muslim.

This week, as the Obama administration announced that it was lifting sanctions on Iran as a result of a U.S.-led nuclear deal with Tehran reached in July, Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, the head of general security for the emirate of Dubai, suggested that Obama’s “Shiite roots” had helped him get elected in a bid to bring the United States and Iran closer.

“Mission accomplished,” he added.

In follow-up tweets, Tamim suggested that Israel was actually behind the election of Obama and that the U.S. president would probably visit a number of Shiite religious sites in Iran soon.

It’s worth noting that Tamim isn’t an obscure figure. He is a former police chief of Dubai. His Twitter account has more than 1.2 million followers, and his tweets about Obama were retweeted hundreds of times. And neither is this the first time that this rumor has found voice.

Last year, a video featuring former Iraqi member of parliament Taha al-Lahibi appeared online and showed Lahibi reasoning that Obama’s “Shiite background” had led him to work with Iran. Around the same time, Syrian writer Muhydin Lazikani told the London-based al-Hiwar television channelthat Obama was the “son of a Shiite Kenyan father.” The rumor goes back as far as the 2008 election, when state-run Iranian papers published articles that suggested Obama was a Shiite Muslim. There


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