The thoughts of two Egyptians MuslimMatters writers about the upcoming match between Algeria and Egypt (28 Jan. 19:30 GMT )
A remarkable phenomenon swept over North Africa the past few months. Citizens of Egypt and Algeria, normally indifferent if not hostile to their respective governments, have en masse unearthed from the back of their closets dusty national flags to display proudly from balconies, windows, and even their own person.
The cause for this sudden shift in sentiment? Thankfully, neither country was the victim of a catastrophic event that united them in solidarity (though, I guess that depends on who you ask). Conversely, neither country is gearing up for war against a hated enemy (though…yeah, ditto). No, the reason that millions of Egyptians and Algerians have gotten a sudden injection of pride in their homeland, with the corresponding side effects of dizzying highs and depressing lows, is the same reason all eyes will be focused on South Africa this summer: futebol.
To those living in America, and thus unaccustomed to the sort of national rivalry that is common to international sport in general, let me assure you that the outcomes of soccer matches are rife with ramifications. This Thursday marks the first time that the Egyptian soccer team will be up against the Algerian national squad since losing 1 – 0 to them last November and falling short of World Cup qualification. That match and its exhilarating predecessor were not only the source of multi-million dollar ad campaigns, but also the cause of senseless violence and diplomatic rifts. What's more, there was no underlying historical animus behind the asinine aftermath of these contests, only the misguided nationalistic convictions that occasionally surface when politics and sports clash.
The Egypt vs. Algeria story is far too intricate to completely unpack here (touching as is does on topics as broad and complex as colonialism, greater Arab nationalism, and Egypt's waning regional hegemony), yet the fact that these two countries are overwhelmingly Muslim majority demands consideration. The Prophet Muḥammad (SAWS) warned us time and again against the evils of internal division. One hadith in particular drives home this point quite emphatically:
“He who calls for `Asabiyyah is as if he bit his father's genitals” (Mishkat al-Masabith )
*`Asabiyyah is closest to tribalism, but in the modern context can be used to refer to nationalism.
Think about how few the instances are when the Prophet (SAWS) was that graphic and you will realize how serious this issue is (the hadith on riba being worse than fornicating with your mother immediately comes to mind).
I won't lie – I'll be rooting for Egypt to win this Thursday. But, if Algeria happens to win, then I'll accept the qadr of Allāh and not spend one moment lamenting an outcome that, in the end, affects me in no discernable way. I urge all my Egyptian and Algerian brothers and sisters to do the same.
Foreign Policy magazine reported the football match between Algeria and Egypt in the qualifying rounds of the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa: “It was described as a 'historic opportunity,' a 'decisive battle,' a matter of 'divine justice,' a question of 'dignity.'”
Note: Dear American/Canadian reader: by football I mean the real football. The one you call soccer? Yup… that one!
Even before the start of the match, the circumstances and emotions surrounding the build-up to the match had already reached fever pitch and if you were in either country during this match you probably would have seen what no eyes have seen before. Two nations that speak the same language, share the same religion, and have helped each other politically in the recent history became the worst enemies – over a football game.
Just to give you an idea of what happened, both countries claimed that the other country had attacked its players and both countries called for disqualification of the results. Fuel was added to this combustible mixture when Egypt won their final group qualifying match 2-0 to finish tied with Algeria in their qualifying group. To determine which country would qualify for the 2010 World Cup, a playoff match was held in Sudan.
On that day, Wednesday Nov. 18th, the match ended and the war started. Egypt lost the match 0:1 and ironically, it was the Algerians that took revenge. Buses of Egyptian fans that had flown to Sudan to watch the game and support their team were smashed. Egyptians called in to the most watched TV show called”AlQahira AlYaum” (Cairo Today) reporting Algerians carrying knives and other light weight weapons. It was just bad!
Fast forward to the present, a couple of months later, and the Egyptians were still angry and fuming from what had happened to them in Sudan, but some of that pent-up emotion was released this past Monday. Currently, the African Cup of Nations is taking place in Angola. Egypt finished atop its group over Nigeria, Benin, and Mozambique. In the quarterfinals, Egypt played against Cameroon and won 3:1. One the other hand, Algeria finished second in its group behind Angola (the host country). Algeria also reached the quarterfinal round and played Côte d'Ivoire and won 3:2. Both Egypt and Algeria are scheduled to play each other in Thursday's semifinals. The winner of the match will face either Nigeria or Ghana in the Cup final.
This game isn't about the African Cup and it isn't about two great teams playing each other, rather it's about dignity, revenge, and bragging rights.
The sad part of this story isn't really about who wins and who loses. The sad part is the weak condition of the people from both of these Arab countries. It's as if the only thing that can uplift the moral of these people is football. Even though both of these Third World countries are suffering from corruption, social injustices, and the per capita GDP in both countries is estimated at less than 10,000 dollars (ask Wikipedia), people in both countries were able to find joy and meaning in their lives through a football match.
It was once said “the value of every person is [in] what they seek” so does that mean that the collective intellect of these Arab nations is so degraded that all they seek after is a football game? Is their quality of life so impoverished that they can't find joy in anything other than a football match? Do their lives have such little meaning that a football game decides whether a whole nation is happy or sad? I pray to God this isn't true, for if it is, we are truly in a poor state.
Finally, I have to admit that I would love for Egypt to win, but if they lose I promise I will not hate on Algeria nor call them names; I will simply watch the finals and move on with my life.
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