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An eye on Egypt

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By Ochereome Nnanna

IT pays to keep an eye on Egypt – a wary eye at that, especially for those of us in this part of the world. Many so-called democracy lovers have been hailing the “Arab Spring”, the revolutionary explosion that detonated late in 2010, even though few can guess at the possibility that it might lead to a change in the world order, a change majority of us might find unpalatable.

It has led to the downfall of three despots – Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muamar Gaddafi of Libya. The life President of Syria, Bashar al Assad would not go down without a fight, and a civil war is still raging in his country. The unfinished revolutions are still simmering in Yemen and Bahrain.

The Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Freedom for Justice Party’s (FJP) candidate, Mohammed Morsi’s victory should not be seen as just another outcome of these democratic elections that routinely take place around the world.

It simply means that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which had hitherto been kept at bay from partisan politics since it was formed, successfully hijacked a revolution it did not initiate. In fact, it was not until February 15th 2011, four days after Mubarak was pressured to resign from power and twenty one days after the protests started at the Tahrir Square, that the MB joined the protest.

It only formed a legal political party on the 15th of February 2011, which was why many were startled to see it winning the majority of seats in the parliament and the presidency. Since MB was formed by school teacher, Hassan al Banna in 1928, it has always been anti-West, anti-colonialist.

Above all, it is an Islamist political movement. Most terrorist groups now wreaking havoc in many parts of the world (including Al Qaeda) were inspired by the teachings of MB scholars. In fact, the current leader of the terrorist group, Ayman al Zawahiri, who led the Egyptian Jihad before merging with the late Osama bin Laden to form Al Qaeda, had his humble beginnings in the tutelage of al Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood.

When he was sworn in, Morsi seemed to confirm the fears of many that he would take Egypt down the path of radicalism; something akin to Mahmud Ahmedinejad’s Iran. We all know how the Islamic Republic of Iran’s President rants about how the state of Israel does not exist and how he would obliterate it once he acquires the means to do so.

If Morsi moves in Iran’s direction and succeeds in using the popular protests to loosen the iron grip of the military on power, the already dark clouds over the Middle East might condense into a downpour of conflicts.

Egypt’s second conquest by Islam

The peace accord that the US

brokered between Egypt and Israel might be revoked and Israel might once again be designated an enemy state. Already, Morsi has set the nerves of the ten per cent Christian population of Egypt astir, with his avowal to introduce Sharia, saying that those who do not want it should leave the country.

He has already dubbed the revolution that chased out Mubarak as the second conquest of Egypt by Islam.The military institution, backed by the Judiciary, caged Morsi’s fervour by sending the Islamist majority parliament home just before Morsi was sworn-in, but how long can they hold out?

It is not just the Christians, secularists, Israel and the West that have reason to worry about Egypt’s future under the FJP. It is left to question exactly how far the Islamists are prepared to go when it comes to reconciling with the prehistoric legacies of the country.

Today, the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptian civilisations under black Pharaohs remain its foremost source of foreign exchange. However, there is a tendency for some Islamist groups to embark on the destruction of relics of history that they consider out of line with their own perception of Islam. When Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Taliban took over Afghanistan from Mohammed Najibullah, they embarked on the destruction of cultural shrines they considered hallmarks of paganism.

Even here in West Africa, the Malian Islamists who have taken control of Timbuktu and Gao, which were famous centres of Old Mali Empire, have been destroying cultural sites prized by the United Nations as World Heritage sites. Their reasons are that these sites are contrary to their own perception of Islam.

It is also for this reason that the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria perturb stakeholders in the Sokoto Caliphate. Assuming that Boko Haram is able to realise its dream of taking over northern Nigeria, it will be considered the second conquest of the north by Islam, and the new people in power might feel compelled to tear down many of the cultural legacies left behind by  nearly two centuries of the Sokoto Jihads led by Usman Dan Fodio.

Sites for penciled for destruction

One of the sites that might be pencilled for destruction is the hubbare in Sokoto, the tomb of the first Sultan of Sokoto. It today serves as a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from all over West Africa, especially those who are unable to travel to Mecca and Medina. Islamist groups typically regard such sites as relics set up by “unbelievers”, even if those were Jihadists.

Egypt in the hands of Islamists could mean the end of an era when the Muslim and Western civilisations found mutually beneficial cohabitation. It might be the beginning of far more pronounced and unending conflict of values demonstrated through conventional and unconventional wars.

This is probably what the military is trying to moderate. I wonder why the federal government has been strangely mute on happenings in Egypt unlike in Mali where it took a firm (if hasty) position. If Egypt becomes another Iran, then the prospects of peace in Nigeria are doomed.

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