Click here to read our latest report “Transmisogyny, Colonialism and Online Anti‐Trans Activism Following Violent Extremist Attacks in the US and EU”

Resurrecting the Reich: Middle Eastern and North African Digital Nazi Communities 

Resurrecting the Reich: Middle Eastern and North African Digital Nazi Communities 
27th September 2022 Moustafa Ayad
In Insights

In 1926, the first Nazi Party cell was set up in Alexandria, Egypt. It would soon be followed by one in Cairo, along with similar cells to coordinate “military and SS intelligence”. “Businessmen and academics” would be tasked with spreading Nazi influence across the region. Cells would soon sprout in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Tunisia. While they were composed primarily of German families in the Middle East and North Africa, they would soon expand by enlisting the support of Islamists and anti-imperialists

The historical legacy of these actions lives on to this day — almost 100 years later — through a dedicated network of Farsi and Arabic-speaking Nazis spread across Telegram, Facebook, and YouTube. They represent Egypt, Iraq and Iran, and have increasingly begun to rely on the same aesthetics as their western counterparts. While their numbers remain small, collectively just over 29,000 across platforms, they have expanded their online presence significantly, building out libraries with hundreds of gigabytes of content, e-magazines, and online retailers catering to a small but growing Middle East Nazi community. 

Most research on Nazism in the Middle East has focused on the legacies of the Third Reich’s reach into the region. In contrast, there is scant analysis of the modern, digital networks that carry the torch of National Socialism today. There is a gap in knowledge and understanding created by considering these networks solely as part of the evolving ecosystem of global far-right movements without paying specific attention to their online operations, inspirations, and culture.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) has been monitoring these networks as part of its mandate to understand the global spectrum of online extremists. ISD has so far mapped 38 channels on Telegram, dozens of Facebook profiles, and numerous YouTube channels while analysing linkages to other groups. We’ve also found and analysed stand-alone websites, content repositories, and online stores selling Nazi merchandise to Middle East-based audiences. 

By tapping into what we can understand about these regional Nazi networks, we can also further our comprehension of how authoritarianism morphs into totalitarian fascism. These networks have fused with fascist-nationalist undercurrents in the region, built in the image of present-day regional authoritarians. The modern-day Baathist party, and its figurehead Bashar Al-Assad, is revered within these Arabic-speaking circles, as are Saddam Hussein and the autocrat Abdelfatah al-Sisi. 

Middle Eastern Nazis similarly draw on the rich historical legacies of their countries to buttress their narratives of superiority and purity. They are descendants, they say, of ‘original people’, as they sometimes call themselves. Their ancestors created numbers, mathematics, and science, building the first great civilisations. These storied legacies, so their narratives go, were ultimately destroyed by an alliance of neo-liberal democracies hellbent on keeping their countries and countrymen under their thumbs. This neo-liberal threat, in their eyes, has now infected their countries’ civil society and civic activists, and similarly must be fought. 

They use their own range of symbols, borrowing from other transnational Nazi movements, creating sonnenrads with Arab revolt motifs, and pilfering skullmask aesthetics affiliated with Western accelerationists. While Egyptian Nazi subsets of this online population draw on Ancient Egyptian symbolism, incorporating Gods, such as Horus, into their propaganda. Iranians draw on symbolism from Seleucid Empire claiming alleged Nazi influence. 

The online Nazi communities in the Middle East and North Africa are similarly not monoliths, with subsets within subsets of regional Nazis. Some cling to the idea of a connection between pan-Arabism and the Nazi march across North Africa, while others denote linkages between the clergy of Iran and the Third Reich.  Central to this regional Nazism is the legacy of World War II and its importance in uniting Arabs and Persians around its ideals in the wake of Germany’s defeat. 

One of the primary goals of these regional Nazis is to expand their base of influence, challenging traditional nationalists of the region to debates around the merits of fascism, and their own ethnic superiority. They rely on networks dedicated to the historical legacy of Germany’s military and its superiority in World War II, as well as channels dedicated to modernising the image of Nazism, infusing it with the imagery of parallel chan cultures in both Arabic and Farsi. 

Part and parcel of this goal is building the digital infrastructure to support the mechanisms for radicalisation. To do so, regional Nazis have created both repositories, which include a 275-gigabyte cloud drive with reams of historical footage and books from the Third Reich, as well as e-retailers and e-magazines, such as Stormfront Iran, a Farsi-language Nazi propaganda magazine (its name is not a coincidence). 

Underpinning this architecture is a network of micro-influencers, creating self-managed brands where they promote fascism, racism, and the philosophers and philosophies providing the ideological framework for Nazism. Their channels lionise their countries’ security services and, in many cases, their counter-terrorism units.  These security teams, and their staunch opposition to violent Islamism, play an almost mythic role within these communities: they are the last guardians, in many respects, of the secular order. Some influencers themselves claim to be members of the regional armed forces, providing yet another link in understanding how far-right fascism has infiltrated security services globally. Support for the hard power apparatuses of their states often mixes with more esoteric, soft power support for philosophers such as Fredrich Nietzsche, Julius Evola, and Max Stirner

Within these circles, Ted Kaczynski, also known as the ‘Unabomber,’ plays a significant role in defining their stances against the ‘modern world,’ one in which they hope to reinstate a form of traditionalism. ‘Tradition over modernity,’ is a refrain that has been central to the rise of far-right groups and ideologues for years, and similarly unites this regional cohort. Kaczynski serves as a model for this refrain in the region (though he of course plays a back seat to Nazi ideologues such as Hitler and Himmler). His work has been translated by one Nazi community and is central to “against the modern world,” a branded outlet linked to other regional Nazi groups. Kaczynski has been similarly paid homage to through ‘synthwave videos accessible on YouTube, similarly linked to Nazi micro-influencers producing regional ‘fashwave videos.  

The Iranian Nazi community has a much larger footprint than the Arabic-speaking Nazi community, much of which is linked to the SUMKA party of Iran. Founded in 1952, SUMKA has a shadowy backstory, and alleged linkages to the CIA, along with ties to the assassinated President of Egypt Anwar Sadat. It has been said that the founder of SUMKA taught Sadat in Alexandria, where the first Nazi cell in the region was founded in the 1920s. The SUMKA party of the past has an outsized role in the digital SUMKA ecosystem of today. Its philosophy views Persians as the original Aryans and has an outsized reverence for the former Shah of Iran. Some members of the Shah’s government attended SUMKA events during its heyday. 

Again, the Third Reich is a central pillar of SUMKA ideology, and revivalism is central to its ideology. Unlike the Third Reich, the SUMKA party has adopted its own Swastika-like symbol, which delineates it from other regional Nazi groups. The SUMKA party’s anthem is readily available on YouTube. Much of the propaganda used by supporters of SUMKA, as well as Arab Nazis, is of a historical nature, and they use this to cloak their intentions. By claiming to be historical records rather than overt linkages to current far-right ideologies, the Nazis in the region use the legacy of the Third Reich to fawn over ideologues such as Goebbels, Himmler, and Hitler himself on popular platforms such as Facebook or YouTube and use Telegram to organise and build out their communities regionally. 

Antisemitism runs through the heart of these communities, much like their Western counterparts. This is often linked to conspiracies around the ‘New World Order’ linked to the state of Israel. Derisive, dark humour plays a central role in both Farsi and Arabic- speaking Nazi communities online. When Germany lost a soccer match by 6 goals, these communities created memes insinuating the score was fabricated in a nod to Holocaust denialism. “It had to be at least 9,” one post read with a screenshot of the score. Arabic Nazi symbolism similarly features antisemitic imagery in video edits and memes of Islamist militants performing what seem to be Nazi salutes with a rotating sonnenrad hanging above their balaclava-clad heads or of Islamists with their voices replaced by Hitler. 

To some, the presence of digitally savvy, Nazi-supporting communities in the Middle East seems befuddling, counterintuitive even, but this neglects both the history of Nazi party networking in the region and country-level political dynamics that have been in play for the past decade. Just as dictatorial dominos fell during the Arab uprisings of 2011, counter-revolutionary forces have been able to bounce back region-wide. This has bred reinvigorated autocrats, stifling civil society and perceived threats to the homeland. Nationalist forces formed around populist ideologues have fomented suspicion of civil society, claiming they are foreign state interlopers bent on altering the shape and form of countries across the region. Some autocrats, such as Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, have turned to mass arrests, while others have been held up as heroes for overcoming the Western hegemony by committing war crimes against their own populations in the wake of popular resistance, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

Regional Nazis have capitalised on these local dynamics and nationalistic fervour, attacking dissidents, activists, and other nationalists, for acquiescing to anything other than all-out fascism. Their war is as entrenched in the region’s politics as it is in a culture war. Feminists and the LGBTQ+ community are just as reviled as those that seek to expose national governments’ sins. To build their movement, Nazis are using the Third Reich to spark wider support for ethnonationalist fascism online. Creating digital communities is only one part of this phenomenon, but it is one that is currently understudied. If we are to truly understand the transnational nature of the far right, understanding the growth and sustainability of Nazi movements online in the Middle East and North Africa should be a priority.