By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Before you rush to look up the meaning of “Misralogist” in the dictionary, let me clarify that the word is entirely my coinage. Misra is the Arabic name for Egypt, and since there is such a thing as Egyptology (defined as the study of ancient Egyptian cultural, linguistic, political, religious and archeological artifacts) I thought I should make up “Misralogy” to denote the study of, or passionate interest in, the politics and religious expressions of contemporary Egypt. Thus, a “Misralogist” is someone who engages in Misralogy.
There is no logic to this coinage. I merely invoked it as a jocular term to capture the intense interest Nigerians have shown—and continue to show— in Egyptian affairs in the wake of the recent military “coup” in the country. This isn’t altogether misplaced Afghanistanism (a 1940s American English coinage that means excessive interest in the politics of a faraway country at the expense of pressing issues at home) since Nigeria and Egypt share many similarities.
I’ve identified at least five groups of Nigerian Misralogists that have emerged over the past few days. The opinions of each group are inflected by thinly disguised preconceived religious, ideological, and political biases.
First, you have social media-savvy northern Nigerian Sunni Muslim youth who are angry as hell about events in Egypt. They are outraged that Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi (a Sunni Muslim democrat) has been cheated out of political power because of his religious convictions and wonder if Western notions of democracy and Islam can cohabit. But they probably wouldn’t care if the victim had been a Western-backed Egyptian Muslim “secularist” such as Mohamed ElBaradei.
Their angst was complicated by news that the Sheikh of Al-Azhar mosque, Egypt’s oldest mosque and an important Sunni institution, had endorsed the “coup” and that the monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two bulwarks of Sunni Islam, supported the overthrow of Morsi. Nigerian Sunni Muslim Misralogists on Facebook and Twitter were so angered by this “betrayal” of a Sunni leader in distress that they chose to label Saudi Arabia “Saudi America” and the United Arab Emirates “United American Emirates.”
Then you have the relatively small but vocal and growing community of Nigerian Shiites who were quite beside themselves with excitement over what they called the praiseworthy abortion of a budding, intolerant Sunni theocracy. In their social media networks, they gave wide publicity to the statement credited to Syrian leader Bashar Assad that the overthrow of Morsi represented the fall of political Islam. "What is happening in Egypt is the fall of so-called political Islam," Assad was quoted as saying in a Syrian government-funded newspaper called Al- Thawra. "This is the fate of anyone in the world who tries to use religion for political or factional interests."
I didn’t understand why northern Nigerian Shiite Muslims passionately cheered the overthrow of Morsi and gave wings to Assad’s statement until I discovered that the Syrian leader is a Shiite Muslim of the Alawite persuasion.
It turned out that even before the “coup,” relations between Morsi’s and Assad’s governments were intensely conflictual. For instance, Assad’s information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, had called the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood a "terrorist" organization and a "U.S. tool." Of course, this accusation flies in the face of new revelations in a July 10 Aljazeera investigative report, which shows documentary proofs that the US government “quietly funded senior Egyptian opposition figures who called for [the] toppling of the country's now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi.”
Well, in matters like this, facts are not allowed to get in the way of age-old political battles. Shiites regard the Muslim Brotherhood as one of the most concentrated expressions of the hegemonic political ambitions of Sunni Islam. In 1982, according to the Huffington Post, President Assad’s father, Hafiz Assad, brutally suppressed a Muslim Brotherhood uprising. “The Syrian forces, led by the president's brother and special forces from their minority Alawite sect, razed much of the city in a three-week air and ground attack, killing between 10,000 and 20,000 people,” the online paper said. (The Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is said to be one of the arrowheads of the current bloody rebellion against Assad.)
This background provides the context for the adversarial, tit-for-tat rhetorical battles between Assad and Morsi. For instance, in a September 26, 2012 address to the UN General Assembly, Morsi urged Assad to step down as president in order to halt "the catastrophe in Syria." He even supported foreign intervention to help rebels overthrow the Syrian government. Assad returned the favor on July 3 and admonished Morsi to also step down and hand over power to the “overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people [who] reject him and are calling on him to go."
Nigerian Muslim Misralogists appear to analyze the Egyptian political crisis on the basis of this long-standing doctrinal and political divide.
The third group of Nigerian Misralogists is composed of secularists (Muslims and Christians alike) who, while professing to cherish the virtues of democracy, nonetheless exult in the overthrow of Morsi’s government because they fear that it would have morphed into a violent and oppressive theocratic autocracy. It was through this group of Misralogists that I learned that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's creed is: "Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations."
For Nigerian secularists and “moderate” Muslims, the last part of the creed, that is, that “death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations,” evokes eerie echoes of Boko Haram’s ideology. I read people write something like: “I like democracy, but I hate democracy for terrorists who have vowed to kill in the name of God.”
The fourth group consists of old-guard secular pro-democracy activists who deplored Morsi’s overthrow for the simple reason that it represented a rude, undemocratic repudiation of the choice of the Egyptian people. They drew parallels between the usurpation of Morsi’s presidential powers and the arbitrary invalidation of Nigeria’s June 12, 1993 presidential election by the General Ibrahim Babangida military regime.
The fifth group is what I call Jonathanian Misralogists whose sole concern with Egypt’s power tussle is that it should never serve as an inspiration to overthrow Goodluck Jonathan’s inept government.
Few events in far-flung corners of Africa have captured the political imagination of Nigerians as keenly as Egypt’s current political turbulence has. Is it because what happened in Egypt could conceivably happen in Nigeria?