Thursday, 2 February 2017

Yes, Egypt is an African Country. Always. Not just at Afcon2017

By Takura Zhangazha*

I watched the Egypt versus Burkina Faso African Cup of Nations 2017 (AFCON2017) semi-final game in Gabon with great anticipation.  I had declared my support for Burkina Faso and had apologized to my fellow Africans, the Egyptian football fans for my preference for that particular match. Egypt went on to win the match and is now in the final of Afcon2017.

Someone, via social media, decided during the course of the match to raise the issue of why would I as an African, living in the South of the Sahara was respecting the football prowess of Egypt. 

 And he raised a number of puerile reasons for arguing the way he did.  His view was that Egypt tends to claim the best of sporting and political worlds.  The first being that it is part of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and also laying claim to being part of the Arab League. I politely disagreed with him.

And being Zimbabwean, I remember that World Cup qualifying match that had to be replayed in France in 1993 where Egypt played our national team which we had passionately dubbed what we dubbed the ‘Dream Team’.  We lost, albeit in controversial circumstances, but it didn’t ever cloud my judgment that we had lost to an African team. 

Since then Egypt’s national football team has gone on to become record holders of the African Cup of nations, in its various versions.  And they have deserved it.  Their national football teams have competed with the best of the continent and proven to be top class. 

Conversations around the ‘Africanness’ of Egypt are however thoroughly misplaced.  Not only because they are ahistorical but also because they fail to recognize the sporting prowess of fellow Africans that have proven beyond doubt that when it comes to sport, they will compete at the highest of levels. 

But there is need to de-bunk the myth and assumption that Egypt does not really act in solidarity with the rest of Africa or that it has specific attitudes of superiority to the rest of the continent.

To assume Egypt is in Africa geographically and that its hearts and mind are in the Middle East is to have selective amnesia about historical fact.  True, Egypt has always been caught up in the Palestinian quest for independence from Israel or global claims to territory such as with the Suez Canal.  Partly because of this, it has always been presented in the global media not as an African state, but an Arab one.  Not only be reference to its majority religion but its proximity and influence in Middle East politics and the struggles of the Palestinian people for freedom.   

In the process the country and its people has become a victim of what Edward Said referred to as ‘Orientalism’.  That is, wrong western cultural tendencies to regard or represent the people of the 'east' as lesser ‘others’. 

The reality of the matter is that Egypt has been an integral part and player in Africa history from the north to the south.  During our liberation struggles, Egypt was not only a host to various liberation movements and leaders (Nelson Mandela passed through Egypt at one point for training) but it was an active supporter of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

This is  before we even revert to debating further history of the historical states of  Eypgt[TZ1]  and Kush and their role in advancing humankinds knowledge and technology as written by great historians such as Cheikh Anta Diop. 

Regrettably younger generations of Africans may not appreciate this history and may fall into the trap of an 'orientalist' global media and in part Western foreign policy narrow prisms of always distinguishing North and South of the Sahara Africa. Not only geographically but also politically. 

It is a trend that we must actively try and avoid.  Even if sometimes it appears as though there is no reciprocity of recognition via media stories or the complex geo-politics that is the Palestinian quest for liberation.  

Again this would reflect the wisdom of those that fought colonialism who persistently worked to avoid what Nkrumah called the ‘bifurcation’ of the continent.  Not only by former colonial powers but also by way of global media discourse.  And even if it sounds repetitive, let it still be sweet music to our ears, ‘Africa Unite!’ Not just in respect of our shared struggle histories but more significantly our contemporary progress and our collective future.
 *Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (