Egyptian cleric Yusus Al Qaradawi
Egyptian cleric Yusus Al QaradawiReuters

Brain implants? Mind-control? 

It may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but for at least one Egyptian celebrity it is the only reasonable explanation for comments made by a Muslim Brotherhood-linked preacher last July, following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian army.

During a phone interview with Al Jazeera, Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi attacked the Egyptian military over the scores of pro-Morsi protesters killed or denied medical attention by the armed forces, declaring that the army was "worse than Israel."

Qaradawi is no friend of Israel, having praised suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and celebrated the holocaust as "divine punishment" against the Jews. His comments - invoking the perennial boogie-man of the Arab world, Israel - were meant to condemn what Qaradawi and other Islamists see as an unjust and bloody coup by the Egyptian army, and encourage Arab sympathy for pro-Morsi demonstrators.

Instead, for many his words have had the opposite effect, provoking mockery and condemnation in equal measure, as the idea that there could possibly be someone "worse" than Israel was viewed as impossible.

This was all too much for Egyptian actor Hassan Yousef, who found a creative way to "exonerate" his long-time friend on Egypt's Dream 2 TV.

Far from defending the words uttered by Qaradawi - which he said angered him greatly - he simply denied the preacher had said them at all.

Instead, in an interview translated by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) he declared that "The Al Qaradawi I know is dead," warning that "Israel is capable of anything."

And it seems he really meant "anything."

"That [the man who condemned the army] is a double," he said, dramatically, insisting that "what we just heard could not have been said by the Sheikh Al Qaradawi I knew."

To the obvious amusement of his interviewer, Yousef then urged viewers not to rule out another possibility - that Qaradawi was being controlled by a chip implanted in his brain by Israel.

Finally, he suggests that someone else's voice "was superimposed over the video of Dr. Qaradawi." 

Confusingly, however, he immediately went on to claim that the features on his friend's face had clearly changed, suggesting that, in fact, it was not Qaradawi at all.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new in the Arab world. In Egypt, both sides of the political divide have long accused each other of being part of a foreign conspiracy of some kind, usually involving Israel.

Israel has also been accused of a raft of other creative acts of subterfuge - from releasing sharks into Egyptian waters in the knowledge they would attack swimmers, to a spy-stork recently captured (and then eaten) last month.

But this particular set of theories may have just taken that trend to a whole different level.