Friday Prayers for Egypt: Subsidies Lifting

Flag Cross Quran


The first shoe drops. President Sisi’s first substantial act of policy reduced the massive government subsidy on fuel. Though a government agency predicted a 200 percent rise in commodity prices, so far, it seems like he can make it work.

There has been a public outcry, of course, but no great surge in public demonstrations. Many economists say reducing subsidies was a budgetary necessary; in agreement or not some say the price will be paid by the poor.

But whether due to his popularity, his soft-spoken explanations, or a general weariness for protest, Sisi appears to be pulling it off.

God, if you have granted him success in this decision, grant him success in its results. May it ensure a government policy in line with resources, stimulating to the economy, and equitable for all.

This, though, if enacted wisely will be the long term result. In the immediate term there will be financial difficulty for many, no matter how many programs the government enacts to ease the pain.

The prayer is simple, God. Care for those most needy. Support the middle class. Command the wealthy to be rich in good deeds. Encourage generosity among all.

There is much speculation President Sisi is simply resetting the old order – politically for a particular elite, economically for entrenched patrons. In this step he has broken with the former policies of that order, but for whose interest?

May it be for the interest of the nation, God, and those of the people first and foremost. May a more just order emerge.

This is Sisi’s rhetoric, God, so hold him accountable through these same people, patrons, and elite.

Otherwise the dropped shoe may be lifted and its sole thrust in his face. Spare Egypt from insults; reform both the morality and the economy which produce them.

Fuel the creativity and determination toward wise and necessary policies. For the sake of Egypt, make them work.


Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Anticipating Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation

Adel Maged
Adel Maged

President Sisi has been elected, and everyone wonders what will be next. Will he continue the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, as indicated? What does it mean that the Salafi Nour Party is backing him? Is Sisi an Islamist-of-sorts himself? Is he a dictator in the making? Does his presidency herald a coming liberal era?

For these answers one must wait and see. But beyond the obvious divide that exists in Egypt lies one reality: The constitution obliges parliament to issue a law on transitional justice in its first session. Having suffered – or celebrated – the fall of two presidents in three years, political frustrations exist among many. Far beyond frustrations, many are dead due to political violence. Few have been held accountable.

Transitional justice promises much; in theory and often in international practice it leads to national reconciliation. Will it in Egypt?

Again, one must wait and see. But ‘Adil Mājid, vice-president of the Egyptian Court of Cassation and an honorary professor of law at the UK’s Durham University, is one with a vision. In July 2013 he wrote an article putting forward the requirements of national reconciliation at a time the concept was first discussed after the fall of Mursī.

I have translated his article here, published at Arab West Report.

A year later, Mājid is very critical of early efforts, but is hopeful that with a new president and coming parliament, the groundwork is better laid. Though obstacles remain, in an interview he described his hope for transitional justice given current realities, in the framework of his earlier article.

This vision is given here, also at Arab West Report.

Of course, even worthy endeavors like transitional justice and national reconciliation can be employed for less than worthy ends. Mājid is well aware of this possibility. But in answering the questions posed above about the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamism, dictatorship, and a liberal era, a key indicator to watch will be how it is used, worthily or otherwise. Will it heal the nation, or hurt it further?

Please read the linked reports for indications from a respected expert. Then watch carefully, and judge accordingly. Justice and reconciliation are concepts to be respected, necessary for the well-being of any nation. May they be pursued with truth and transparency.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Tahya Masr

Flag Cross Quran


Generosity is honorable. It is also symbolic. It can be a show. Make real and valuable its recent initiative.

Tahya Masr was the campaign slogan of now-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It translates, ‘Long live Egypt,’ and centered his focus on the importance of the nation. During his campaign Sisi asked for sacrifice, promised two years before positive changes would be felt, and hinted at austerity. He won a landslide victory.

Sisi then re-launched the slogan as the name of a special fund created to support the economy. He pledged to donate half his monthly presidential salary, as well as half his wealth. The prime minister followed suit, as did a prominent businessman. The army offered a billion Egyptian pounds, and an imprisoned, convicted al-Jazeera journalist made a notable personal contribution.

Weigh their hearts, God, and honor them accordingly.

Given the depth of Egypt’s economic problems, this fund is unlikely to make a significant impact. But the message is clear and worthy: Those asking sacrifice are leading by example. Help the people to hold this mindset also, within their far more limited resources. Show them how to work for the greater and common good.

But perhaps, God, Sisi offers nothing that risks his comfortable life. Perhaps the army will reap its gift tenfold in new government contracts. Perhaps the businessman is protecting his place in the order. Perhaps the journalist is trying to buy his way out of trouble.

Your virtues, God, are never secure. They can be manipulated for base causes. Or they can be impinged in base accusations. True virtue produces true fruit, but is protected only by you and your reputation. Lend your honor to those who follow your virtues, God, and restrain those who abuse them.

But from whatever motivation drives those who donate, use the money well. May it help somewhere those who need it. May it be spent transparently. May it set a useful example and inspire similar generosity.

Bless the president and government, God, that they with wisdom will work hard to tackle the many challenges they face.

Bless the army and security, God, that they with determination will protect citizens from harm and know their best role in the land.

Bless the businessmen and investors, God, that they with integrity will increase their wealth and that of all others beside.

Bless the journalists, imprisoned or otherwise, God, that they with courage will know and experience a true rendering of justice as they seek the same in their coverage.

Through these and others, God, multiply all generosity. Secure Egypt’s virtue, and may she live long.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Early to Rise

Flag Cross Quran


With a new president comes a new government, and with it a new promise. We will start our day at 7am.

Candidate Sisi did not offer many specific policy details, but he offered a specific commitment to work. President Sisi now demands it throughout the government.

It is not yet obliged on the population, though he hopes to set an example. Egyptians are well known for their late hours. The bureaucracy is long accused of less than diligence. Can Sisi change a culture?

And if so, will it help? Or are problems so entrenched no amount of elbow grease can solve them?

God, inspire Egyptians to work. Be it from Sisi, be it for Egypt, but may it hold and find motivation in you.

God, give Egyptians work. Be it from the state, be it from initiative, but may the many unemployed find labor.

God, fulfill Egyptians in work. Be it from wages, be it from meaning, but may that which they do have value and purpose.

For too much of reality violates the above. Help Sisi and the government reorient this reality. Help the individual Egyptian to reorient himself.

7am is not a sacred hour, God, but it is a good one. Lead each to know the hour of his awakening, and in it, may he own responsibility for all you have entrusted. Give more to those who prove faithful.

Begin a new promise. May it not prove false. Let each Egyptian start his day with you.



Christians and Political Manipulation

Graham and Boula

Many Egyptians these days shed no tears over the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing in them an unhealthy and manipulative merging of religion and politics. But religion, politics, and manipulation are known the world over. First take a look at this excerpt from Christianity Today, describing two evangelical leaders during the Jimmy Carter presidency:

Balmer also describes Jerry Falwell’s mendacity and Billy Graham’s duplicity as they worked to bring Carter’s presidency to an end. Falwell brazenly lied in his report that Carter had told a group of evangelical leaders he supported gay rights. Eleven days after telling the Reagan campaign that he wanted to “help short of [a] public endorsement,” Graham reassured a Carter liaison that he was “staying out of it.”

I hate to think these descriptions are true, but perhaps this only shows we are quick to believe the worst of the other while doubting it for our own kind. The anecdotes are from a new biography of Carter, so I can only assume, perhaps wrongly, it was well researched.

But no research is needed to see the all-but manipulations of Bishop Boula of the Orthodox Church. Even here my ‘all-but’ exposes my will to disbelieve, but how can you doubt when his efforts are admitted? Here is a translation of his recent comments on Egyptian television, translated by Middle East Monitor (video included):

Bishop Paula (Boula): How do I estimate it? Let me tell you what I would do for instance in Tanta. I come to each one of the churches. Let’s assume that in this particular church there are six priests. We divide it into six squares and each priest is put in charge of one square and that would be the region he is responsible for. We tell the priest: father, you are in charge of this region. How many homes are there within it? I want to appoint one young man for each group of thirty homes to prompt them and make sure to bring out those who have not yet come out. The young man who is in charge of the thirty houses would submit a report about each of these houses, one by one. In this way, we would know who went out and who did not. We call the father in charge by phone and he goes and knocks on the door. So, we have extremely accurate information about the ratio of those who went out and those who did not.

Presenter: I am saying this to you but it might be possible that those who hear us might take to mean something else. Was the Church playing politics?

Bishop Paula: No, no. Look. The Church is playing patriotism.

Presenter: It plays patriotism?

Bishop Paula: It has a patriotic role. The Church has always been a patriotic church. And in this particular time it should have a strong patriotic role. The patriotic role is the prompting role. And to be telling the truth, it includes, if possible, unifying opinions through persuasion as to who is the best (candidate).

If not for that last statement, the ‘all-but’ could remain. It is, perhaps, patriotic to stimulate and even ensure the voting of the flock. Christians should be good citizens; the church should help them know how to engage their civic responsibility.

But could he not help himself? Did the Christian in him demand he reveal the full truth? Did his pro-Sisi/anti-Muslim Brotherhood giddiness expose it? Is he just proud of himself and the monumental task he organized? Bishop Boula invited me into a meeting once during parliamentary elections in 2011. I saw his efforts then, but did not notice any ‘persuasion’. Of course, that was just one session.

But, oh, this is fuel for the Egyptian political fire, and it is well deserved. Pope Tawadros, do you have a comment given your insistence of church neutrality? I wrote you an ‘all-but’ interpretation in that article. Has Bishop Boula made me a liar?

A worthy question also for the Muslim Brotherhood, for Jerry Falwell, and for Billy Graham. May God honor you all for the good you sought within your best interpretations. May he hold you all accountable for the means by which you pursued it.

And may be be merciful to us all for our many manipulations, both great and small. We self-justify far too easily.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Sexual Harassment

Flag Cross Quran


The problem is well known: Over 90 percent of Egyptian women complain of sexual harassment. The problem is well witnessed: Repeatedly at mass rallies in Tahrir women are sexually assaulted by groups of men.

Finally, perhaps, the problem is well addressed: The cabinet passed a law to criminalize such conduct and is undertaking plans to address the issue culturally.

The new administration of Sisi could hardly do otherwise. His inauguration celebration witnessed another incident, marring what he hoped would be a joyous occasion launching a fresh beginning.

Instead, the bickering blame game began. Some accused the Brotherhood, others the lax morality of a coup. In it all the suffering woman was not lost; Sisi brought her flowers.

But God, are suffering women lost? Is new legislation enough? And how long will it take to change a culture?

Protect women from violence, God. Protect them from words. Protect them from eyes. Protect their dignity in all public and private space.

Cultivate men. Refine their manners, God; increase their chivalry. Change their mentality. Discipline their passions. May they esteem each and every woman they encounter.

But plenty must change outside the individual as well, God. With whatever hope the revolution brought, it has broken down and is yet to build. And even before there was much that was crumbling.

Create a productive society that honors courage and beauty. Occupy idle hands; stimulate idle minds. But address this issue not through distraction, but through purity. Transform idle hearts.

Promote modesty, God, and pursue justice. Identify the criminals and redeem them. Convict the wayward thoughts of all, and have mercy.

May Egyptians be well loved, and well honored. Men and women together.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Nearing Normal

Flag Cross Quran


Several hours from now Egypt will have a new president; several weeks more and a parliament is promised. These are the last two steps of the roadmap to rebuild the state, presumably after which it will function again normally.

But God, make normal good. Indications can be read toward either better or worse.

President-elect Sisi has been long discussed, seen alternately as a savior or a devil. Only time will tell, judged not only by his own character and intentions, but by the ability of the people to hold him accountable, or overthrow him entirely.

The latter is the new normal; the former has never been. God, make the presidency work, and make it work for good.

But before Sisi’s inauguration, the outgoing interim president set the rules for the parliamentary contest. The number of seats is increased. The slice for political parties is small. Copts, women, youth, farmers, disabled, and expats all have a mandated share. Some say the law resets a Mubarak-era parliament. Others see better representation and empowerment of local actors.

Some is normal, some is new. God, make the parliament work, and make it work for good.

For parliament, more prayers will come and the law may yet be modified. But for Sisi on the verge of his presidency, make known your will with him as head of state.

Bless him and strengthen him. Increase his wisdom and increase his humility. Hold him accountable; hold him to the right. Bless Egypt through him; bless Egypt despite him.

You have made him important, may he make others so. You have given him power, may he give it to others. You have given him privilege; may he not only privilege his own.

The latter was the normal, God; the former is of the spirit needed. Transform Egypt so that all leaders will serve. May Sisi set the chief example.

But among none, God, is this normal. It takes strong, balanced, and limited institutions. Its takes your character, and your heart.

Rebuild the former, and among all Egyptians, enliven the latter. Egypt is technically close to finishing her roadmap; only you know if she is close to her resurrection. May both come, and soon.


Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Coptic Activist Dissolves Movement ahead of Sisi’s Electoral Triumph

Hany al-Gaziri
Hany el-Gezery, on the streets of Shubra, a Cairo neighborhood with a high percentage of Copts

From my recent article in Lapido Media:

The founding father of modern Coptic activism retires a happy man.

Egyptian Christians celebrate the election of a new president in hope of a new dawn of equality.

Two days before the vote, Hany el-Gezery, the sixty year old founder of Copts for Egypt, announced the dissolution of his pioneering movement.

‘In light of our great confidence in the noble knight that will govern, whatever his name,’ he wrote in his final statement, ‘we call on all revolutionary and Coptic movements to follow our lead and stand as one to build the future of Egypt.’

Gezery began his activism in 2005 as one of the few Christians in the Kefaya movement opposed to then-President Hosni Mubarak. Throughout his activism he labored to involve Copts in the secular political struggle.

But in 2009 Gezery made a more direct religious appeal, partnering with an Orthodox priest to found Copts for Egypt. Fr. Mattias Nasr published a popular newspaper detailing cases of discrimination, but distributed it only within the church.

The alliance aimed to shift an emerging Coptic activism from church to street.

‘We were the first Coptic movement to work in the streets,’ Gezery told Lapido Media. ‘At that time no Christian was bold enough to even open his mouth, and any demonstration would be held inside the cathedral.’

Copts for Egypt differed by coordinating with opposition political parties to recognize and oppose discrimination within the Mubarak regime.

On February 14, 2010, they led the first Coptic protest outside church walls. On January 7, 2011 they concluded a week-long rally against the bombing of a church in Alexandria.

Eighteen days later the January 25 revolution erupted. Youth activists from Copts for Egypt were active throughout, going on to found or join many other diverse movements.

Gezery now calls for them also to end this stage of the struggle. ‘All Egyptians must dissolve back into society,’ he wrote, ‘which after June 30 is free from religious factionalism.’

On June 30, 2013 the popular revolt began against President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. After one year in office he was ousted by now president-elect Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the landslide winner in last week’s elections.

In declining to name ‘the noble knight’ of his statement, Gezery was keen to emphasis his respect for both candidates, and rest his confidence on the era, not the man.

But the man causes worry among other Coptic activists, including his own disciples.

One of these activists is now the general-coordinator of the Maspero Youth Union. Another is an advocate for missing underage Coptic girls. Please click here to read their objections and the rest of the article at Lapido Media.


Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Egypt, the Election, and Sectarian Analysis

Uncovered, presumably Coptic women stand in line to vote
Uncovered, presumably Coptic women stand in line to vote

From my latest article at Egypt Source, exploring the controversial presidential election turnout:

One day before the beginning of presidential elections, the Egyptian Center for Media Studies and Public Opinion (ECMSPO) published the results of a counterintuitive poll. Based on personal interviews with 10,524 citizens throughout Egypt’s governorates, they predicted a turnout of only 10 percent.

More shocking, and controversial, was their estimate that 48 percent of presumed winner Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s votes would come from Christians.

On the first day of voting the webpage of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, seized on this survey. Publishing pictures of old men, smiling ladies, and assortments of priests and nuns, they featured the sectarian-laden headline: “Elderly, Women, Christians … the Trinity of Election Theater Today.”

But as reports streamed in of otherwise empty polling stations, this headline gained credibility. As the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) decided to make the second day a public holiday, and then extend voting to a third, it cemented the impression even more.

The article takes a closer look at the polling organization, which doesn’t seem quite right. But the official totals of 47 percent turnout don’t quite seem right either. A closer look is given to the size of the Coptic electorate, but also, like Saturday’s post on Pope Tawadros, wonders about their behavior too. From the conclusion:

But cynical also is Muslim Brotherhood use of this demographic reality. To call the elderly, women, and Christians part of a ‘Trinity’ is to use theological language instinctively repulsive to Muslim sensibilities. That they call elections a ‘theater’ is reasonable given their organizational viewpoint; that they play games with religious minorities, gender, and age – as if these did not have the rights of citizenship to choose freely – is not.

Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only group making sectarian usage of the Copts. Lamis al-Hadidi, a pro-government media personality on the private CBC channel, urged them to vote reminding of their sixty churches burnt by terrorists. She, like the FJP, has crossed a line.

Perhaps individuals within the church are privately backing Sisi behind the scenes, and directing Copts to vote for him through internal discourse. If so, they too are crossing a line. But the church has had good sense to avoid this distinction publicly, officially instructing priests not to directly support a candidate.

Whether turnout is high or low, it may well prove that together, this Trinity elected Sisi. The Brotherhood may be right to fume, but they are wrong to do so with such sectarian language. Unfortunately, it is only one more example of the morass into which Egyptian politics has descended, and the mud slung by many.

But mud is slung in advanced democracies as well, and generally speaking it does not hinder straightforward readings of electoral results. The election of Sisi was supposed to be simple, though Egypt’s democracy is far from mature. Contested turnout figures are just one more bump in a very long road.

Please click here to read the full article at Egypt Source.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Election Turnout

Flag Cross Quran


Help Egypt to know herself, and to know what she has done. When millions of people vote, this should be straightforward.

But how many millions? In one sense it doesn’t matter, as Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected with 97 percent of the vote. Spoiled ballots outpaced his only challenger.

With referendum-like numbers, however, turnout means everything. Some put the figure as low as 10 percent, but officially it reached 47. Local sparring exit polls are not always the most reliable, but during the contest the Egyptian media was in a frenzy over empty polling stations. Last minute decisions by the official election commission granted a national holiday for day two, and then decided to extend the vote to a third day.

If truly 47 percent, Sisi’s total is a respectable number, indicating widespread support. By contrast, Morsi’ election victory of Shafik in a highly contested race was only four percentage points higher.

If truly less, God, two scenarios are possible. First, a still popular Sisi had people fraudulently inflating his numbers to make up for an apathetic public. Second, his popularity itself is inflated, the people are not behind him, and perhaps are still behind Morsi.

But official numbers are official for a reason, and must be demonstrated false no matter the impression. The European Union’s observation team appears to validate the figure.

God, if there is fraud, expose it. Build Egypt on a solid foundation, that her house not collapse in the sand at the first onset of storm.

But if by contrast, God, you have exposed the fraud of the Brotherhood and rallied Egyptians around a better foundation, give confidence to the people and state to move forward together.

Either way, God, once he is inaugurated, bless President Sisi. May he be a wise and true man who governs well. Refine him, and may the people and state hold him accountable for all faults, preventing any to come. Help him to fulfill his charge.

And may he encourage the structuring of a system that builds institutional accountability, for a stronger foundation than that of any man.

To build well takes time, God, but it also takes skill and sincerity of intention. Give Egypt all that is necessary, and include in this blueprint a deep knowledge of where she stands.

For it is not just the turnout over one man’s candidacy, God, nor the hope millions have invested that he can put things right. It is still over the essential questions of identity, justice, and empowerment – which have plagued Egypt for years.

Unite Egypt around what is right and true, God. If uniting around Sisi is a first step, bless it and grant a second. If it is a false step, hold her footing that she may regroup. Either way, give peace and stability and discernment of spirit. Bless Egypt, her state, and all her people.


Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Church and Politics Under Pope Tawadros

Sisi, flanked by Bishop Bishoy (L) and Pope Tawadros (R)
Sisi, flanked by Bishop Bishoy (L) and Pope Tawadros (R)

Yesterday I linked to my article on Christianity Today about the role of Copts in the current presidential elections season. It is a true article, but space limits the ability to probe the full issue of how they have been involved, particularly through leadership in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Here is a longer treatment, excerpted from my article at Arab West Report:

By appearances, the Coptic Orthodox Church is doing everything wrong. But appearances can be deceiving; officially, they are doing everything right.

But there is a messy in-between which casts doubt on it all. As convoluted as Egypt’s post-June 30 transition has been following the popular deposing of President Muhammad Mursī, the church has matched it step-by-step.

The appearances are obvious. Posters are seen throughout Cairo bearing pictures of Pope Tawadros alongside the front running military candidate. Some call out to the faithful: “The Lord Jesus calls you to support Field Marshal ‘Abd al-Fattāh al-Sīsī to preserve national unity.” Others give the reason “to stamp out terrorism,” and a third, “to stamp out the Brotherhood.”

Text messages have also been sent bearing similar slogans, calling on Christians to give their vote to Sīsī. This is confirmed by Ihāb al-Kharrāt, a Coptic founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, who in an interview with the author on May 15, 2014 called it “an abuse.”

The question is, by whom? The identity of sponsors is unknown, and the church has publicly denied any relation to the campaign on its Facebook page. Instead, as early as January 28, 2014 Pope Tawadros was rebutting rumors he was supporting a presidential candidate, and on May 4, 2014 he reiterated the church’s stance of neutrality. The church has no political role, he said on May 13, 2014 and his presence in Mursī’s removal on stage with al-Sīsī and Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib of the Azhar reflected national institutional backing for the pulse of the street. Thereafter, priests are instructed not to directly support any candidates.

If this official position is clear and correct enough, there is a convoluted undercurrent. On March 23, 2014 Pope Tawadros was quoted by Kuwait’s al-Watan TV channel saying al-Sīsī had a national duty to run for president. Tawadros praised him as having the discipline necessary to run the country, though everyone was free to choose the one deemed most suitable. During the interview he also disparaged the Arab Spring, describing it as a conspiracy to break up the region into smaller states.

The next day the pope backtracked, telling al-Shurūq newspaper that he had not made any official statements or given any interviews over the past 10-14 days. Notably, he did not deny the content of the interview, though this was implied. But the video of his interview was later released stating the opinions in question, though the footage is not of great quality and appears edited, possibly doctored. Even so, it appears the church made a misstep in revealing its private convictions.

But even its public stance is open to interpretation. The Facebook page which denied relation to the posters called on Egyptians to participate in the presidential elections. This itself is a political step, though perhaps legitimate in terms of fulfilling national obligations. But to what end is this participation designed?

It is these national obligations Pope Tawadros once again emphasized on May 27, 2014 the last day of voting before polls were unexpectedly extended to a third day. In the face of a Muslim Brotherhood-backed boycott campaign joined at least passively by many youth, he declared this to be unacceptable negativity and urged people to vote.

But the government campaign begs interpretation that this election is less a contest between candidates than a quest for the legitimacy of turnout. 51 percent of the eligible electorate participated in the 2012 second round vote that installed Mursī over Ahmad Shafīq as president. Mursī received roughly 13 million votes. In his presumed victory al-Sīsī would want to at least match these numbers to validate officially his popular support beyond the many substantial street rallies which buttressed the popular overthrow.

Having given many signals of favor toward al-Sīsī, official or otherwise, is church neutrality now only a superficial position? In calling for participation, is it simply echoing the state call to support, in effect, a referendum on al-Sīsī? If his opponent Hamdīn Sabbāhī stands little chance of winning, should the church position be interpreted otherwise?

It is useful to look back at Pope Tawadros’ papacy to judge the fine line he has walked between involvement in and abstention from politics.

The article continues by examining the pope’s statements about and within the political arena, since his selection in November 2012. Judging from this history, the conclusion tries to examine the current situation:

The pattern that emerges gives an indication of what it means. Despite earlier stated intention to remove the church from politics and allow civil society to speak on behalf of Copts, Pope Tawadros was quickly drawn in. His remarks largely, though not exclusively, pertained to issues that affect the Coptic community. The 2012 constitution opened space for a threatening Islamism, and the attack on the cathedral in April 2013 was unprecedented and largely ignored by Mursī, despite initial condemnation. Statements of allowance for Coptic citizens to protest suggested an effort to stay within church matters, in the spirit of the January 25 revolution in which Copts acted without church direction, even if he earlier discouraged demonstrations.

But in endorsing the protest against Mursī a day before military action against him, Pope Tawadros took a political stand. It was not necessary, and it compromises his interpretation of appearing with al-Sīsī a day later. Yes, his appearance was a national statement of unity, but he appears an eager participant. It was a full endorsement of the order to come, and a condemnation of what came before.

But fair enough, it was a national action. Subsequent reception of al-Sīsī can be seen as honoring a national hero. And endorsement of the constitution can be seen as in line with support for the national roadmap and overall stability. They can also be seen otherwise, but this is the fine line he is walking.

Therefore, urging participation in presidential elections can be seen as more of the same. It is a national measure to rebuild the state, and it can be imagined he will do similarly with coming parliamentary elections. What will be tested then will be his opinion of candidates, as there is likely to be significant Islamist participation through the Salafi Nour Party. They are currently allies against Mursī; will the church be similarly neutral between candidates then, officially?

But this narrative is complicated by the controversial statements to al-Watan, along with the semi-denial. Having tightrope-walked for so long on the borders of political-religious legitimacy, it is not surprising to see such a mistake. But it is not enough to undue his official rhetoric. The church is neutral toward all political candidates; it simply plays its role as a national institution to support the state and encourage popular participation in governance.

To say otherwise requires descending into a conspiracy that may well be present but must be proven. But even without the conspiracy, it is possible to criticize the church for playing this national political role. This can be on the basis of principle – that religion should stay out of politics altogether. It can be on the basis of wisdom – that if there is a reversal in favor of the Islamists the church now has an entrenched enemy. Or it can be on the basis of the common good – that Egypt and her Christians are served better by active Coptic citizenry, not clergy.

But this calls for a vocal Coptic lay leadership that is emerging, but not yet mature. This is unsurprising given the decades of church paternalism under Pope Shenouda, encouraged by the long authoritarianism of Mubārak. Perhaps Pope Tawadros is being pushed back into the old paradigm; perhaps he is willing and eager. Perhaps there is little alternative yet and he acts against his better principles. Noteworthy also is that Pope Shenouda began his papacy as a vocal critic of Islamist policies, under President Sādāt. Banished for 40 months in a desert monastery, he returned much more subdued and cooperative under President Mubārak. It can be estimated that contrary to his predecessor, Pope Tawadros was victorious in his criticism; how will he now conduct himself under President al-Sīsī?

Like the meaning of the church’s call to vote in presidential elections, these questions are matters of his intentions, which cannot be known fully. Appearances are not good, but official stances are reasonable. It is the in-between that rightly confuses observers.

Within a still messy revolution, anything other would be surprising. The church and its pope are fully Egyptian, and Egypt is still convoluted.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

As Egypt Picks Next President, Christians Play Biggest Political Role in Decades


From my article at Christianity Today, published May 27, 2014:

For Egyptian Christians, today’s presidential election is not much of a contest.

Most support General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in appreciation for his role in deposing previous president Mohamed Morsi and ending the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. A smaller, younger contingent leans toward leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi out of appreciation for the revolution and skepticism of another military leader. But most on both sides expect Sisi will win handily, and most welcome the new era to come.

“This election [brings] great expectations to welcome a new Egypt with Muslims and Christians as equal citizens,” said Fawzi Khalil, a pastor at Cairo’s Kasr el-Dobara Church, the largest evangelical congregation in the Middle East.

But while most Christians are solidly in the camp of Sisi, many are taking advantage of the opening of political space after the January 2011 revolution to win leadership positions in a variety of political parties.

The article highlights one Christian woman who has become the first to head a political party in Egypt, supporting Sabbahi, and a man who is a founding member of another, supporting Sisi. A third figure is a human rights advocate seeking fair treatment for the Muslim Brotherhood, standing against the tide.

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Reality before Results?

Flag Cross Quran


Monday and Tuesday Egyptians will vote for their next president, or, will not vote. Some of the latter will actively boycott, others will passively stay at home—satisfied, resigned, or uninterested. Some of the former will cast for the frontrunner, others will vote for the underdog—believing, protesting, or building an opposition.

And a few days thereafter, Egypt will know its president. Results are likely to return a decisive victory for General Sisi; yet unknown is the turnout on which much legitimacy will rest.

But full legitimacy is preemptively called into question by data from the latest Pew Research poll. After surveying a thousand Egyptians in face-to-face interviews, 54 percent are revealed in favor of Sisi and the removal of Morsi from power. This is far lower than domestic perception suggests.

Only 38 percent have a favorable opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is far lower than a year earlier, but still substantial. Surveys in Egypt are generally perceived as unreliable, but Pew is respected for its methodology and experience elsewhere in the world.

But God, it matters little what people say in an interview. May this coming election send a message through the actions of citizens.

Give them safety, God, if there are threats against participation.

Give them wisdom, God, to choose the candidate of their inclination.

Give them courage, God, to positively contest if contrary to their conviction.

But encourage the passive to take up a cause, and deny safety of presence to those who will damage. Give wisdom to authorities to secure the life and dignity of all besides.

If Egypt is divided, God, may the next president unite. May his conduct in office be winsome and effective. May Egypt progress under his watch, and those in opposition press him for even greater accountable gains.

But if the poll skews an already great unity, may the next president heal. There are still many in opposition, of a kind unhealthy for progress. Honor their convictions, God, and bring justice for all. But may they still build Egypt even as they reject. Assist the president to integrate them within the boundaries of law.

In these two days of campaign silence before elections, God, help Egypt to reflect. Then, and thereafter, help her to act. Bless the president, and may his leadership bless the people. Together, may they bless you—active, satisfied, and believing.


Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Ideological Distinction in the Coming Parliament

Kharrat (L) and Abadir (R), which is ideologically appropriate if currently politically muddled in their parties.
Kharrat (L) and Abadir (R), which is ideologically appropriate though politically muddled in their current party rivalry.

From my latest article in Egypt Source:

Many have argued that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s likely election as Egypt’s next president is an indication of a return to Hosni Mubarak-era policies. However apt the comparison may or may not be, the analysis overlooks one key advantage Sisi lacks. There is no longer a National Democratic Party (NDP), the party faithful to ousted president Mubarak, through which the presumed President Sisi can enact policy. He is on the record to neither form nor join a party through which to govern.

In its place exist a large number of smaller parties, which are in one sense a result of the revolution and its aim to diffuse presidential power. Sisi will need to work closely with these elected representatives; according to Article 146 of the constitution his choice of prime minister and the cabinet he is tasked to form must meet with legislative approval. Otherwise, the majority party will form the government.

The old NDP did not threaten Mubarak’s choices, for it was less an ideological vehicle than a means of access to executive favor. The coming parliament stands to be different, for most parties have already staked out distinct positions in electoral competition. But the phenomenal pull of Sisi is exposing fault-lines within these parties, blurring the lines of ideological distinction.

This is the joint explanation of the recent defection of thirty-one members of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) to the Free Egyptians Party (FEP). Both parties were created after the 2011 revolution. They ran together as the Egyptian Bloc in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, and were equal partners in the National Salvation Front to overthrow former President Mohamed Morsi.

The article continues to analyze why the defection occurred and what it means for political life and the coming parliament. It quotes extensively from a founding member in each party, and touches also on the Salafi challenge.

From the conclusion:

But until the political situation stabilizes, there is little likelihood of ideology coming to the forefront of campaigns. With the Brotherhood sidelined, the question of religion is largely replaced by the question of Sisi, and his discourse of security and stability. Should he win, the interplay between him parliament may determine whether or not the decay of ideological distinction continues.

Please click here to read the full article at Egypt Source.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Voting Options far from Home

Flag Cross Quran


Nine days from presidential elections, Egypt allows its expats to cast an early tally. But those in prison must choose other options to make their voice heard. Two are said to be close to death after prolonged hunger strikes.

But if the presidential contest is not anticipated to be a battle to the death, it still feels so to many Egyptians. Three years of upheaval make many feel a vote for Sisi is vote to save the nation, while others stress Sabbahi is a vote to save the revolution.

One hunger striker, however, is the Egyptian-American son of a Brotherhood leader. He says he is charged while innocent, just to get to his father. Another is not charged at all. An al-Jazeera journalist has been detained since the break-up of the pro-Morsi sit-ins. Their only vote is with their stomach, hoping it might save something.

Preserve their lives, God. Honor their commitment, highlight their cause, establish all justice. Grant wisdom to the authorities to deal with them wisely. If they die, may it be with peace of heart, and contribute, somehow, to the peace of Egypt.

But for all those with simpler options, God, may they choose with discernment. Free all minds from the contaminations of rumor to select the man best suited to govern Egypt. May they sense the importance of this moment – whether from idealism or realism, hope or concern – but may no falsity enlarge the contest.

And for those who find the contest false altogether, give them alternate options to express their voice and build their nation. Allow no further destruction, whether to property, body, or soul.

For Egypt has suffered much, has chosen often, and still has little to show for it. Of those abroad and those in prison, give them all an idealism grounded in reality. Give them a spirit of sacrifice to serve their homeland.

And give them a taste, soon, of a nation that moves forward leaving none behind. Coming elections will soon dwarf their various options into near insignificance. But nothing is insignificant to you, God.

May all share in the struggle, as best they are able. Redeem each and every goodness, right each and every wrong. Death has been far too common an option in Egypt; deny it an ultimate victory.

But may its sting fuel vigilance toward liberty. For those who know it abroad, for those who lack it at home, and for the ordinary millions beside, may these be their eternal options.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Getting to Know You

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Bless both Sisi and Sabbahi, as they make themselves known to the Egyptian electorate.

This is different than making themselves known to Egypt, for both already possess developed reputations. Sabbahi has been in an election before and his views are public. But though only 18 months ago, it was a very different time. Why should we vote for you now?

And while Sisi also has been constantly in the media as he deposed President Morsi after popular outcry, his test is different now. His leadership is public, but his views are less clear. On what basis should we vote for you?

This week, both sat down for extended interviews on national television.

It is hard to judge reaction, but at least a reaction was prompted. With official campaigning started the candidates must put themselves before the people.

May they judge wisely, God, with full discernment.

Help them to know the weight of the times. Egypt is three years since revolution, with little progress or stability since. Which candidate can handle the responsibilities of state and right the ship?

Help them to know the depth of the visions. Egypt has been full of wild promises and empty platitudes. Which candidate can convince the public he has thought through the chaos and can enact solutions?

Help them to know the heart of the candidates. Egypt has seen acts of great sincerity and great manipulation, but the prevalence of rumors call all into question. Which candidate has an honest intention to serve the people through transparent means?

Perhaps none fit the bill exactly, God. If so, judge if a boycott will help or hinder the nation.

For many Egyptians are divided between these three choices. But in the three weeks to come, test each idea thoroughly. Run the candidates through the crucible of public scrutiny, that a winner may come out refined.

May Egypt get to know them, and may the candidates truly know the people. In both directions, guide above perceptions into substance, and help all do what is right.


Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Divided Society Drives ‘Preacher of the Revolution’ to Lonely Hunger Strike

Hanny Hanna
Hanny Hanna

Sixteen thousand Muslim Brotherhood prisoners launched a mass hunger strike yesterday, protesting against torture and other human rights abuses, according to local sources. Haitham Abu Khalil, the movement spokesman, says many more individuals are unlawfully detained.

The same day a lone Coptic hunger striker, unaffiliated and unsympathetic to the Brotherhood, ended his own hunger strike after twenty two days.

Unlike the others, he did so as a free man.

‘People are dying, hatred is increasing, justice is absent, and prices are rising,’ said Dr Hanny Hanna, an archaeologist and general director in the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. ‘We have had no revolutionary government, the same regime is with us until now.’

Three years ago Hanna had more hope. As the world celebrated images of Christians protecting Muslims at prayer in Tahrir Square, less known was the reverse. One of the first Copts to join the revolution of 25 January, Hanna became known as ‘the preacher of the revolution’ for leading protestors in Christian prayers and songs.


But these days of unity are long gone. ‘Everyone is tearing down the other no matter what side you are on,’ Hanna told Lapido Media. ‘The polarisation has become so high.’

And with it the body count.

According to figures reported by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last month, over three thousand Egyptians have been killed in political violence since 3 July, the day former president Mohamed Morsi was deposed.

Over 2500 of these deaths have been the result of protests and clashes, while over 500 have died from terrorism and other militant actions, according to government statements.

Seventeen thousand have been injured in these events, and nearly 19,000 have been arrested. Of these, several hundred have already been on hunger strike to protest their ill treatment in prison.


Hanna, during a brief hospitalization
Hanna, during a brief hospitalization

Hanna, who while drinking only water continued his normal responsibilities, criticized the violence of many protestors which has landed them in detention. But he also condemned the government and its protest law which has imprisoned many innocents beside them.

As the revolution appeared to be slipping away with resurgent autocracy first under the Brotherhood and now more severely against them, the preacher in him grappled with a response.

‘Should I go to the media and just say, “Love each other?” he asked. ‘It is easy to talk but it is stronger to take an action.’

Hunger strikes have largely been an individual action in Egypt since the 1970s, said Osama el-Ghazoly, a senior Egyptian journalist. The mass prison protest is a more recent development, but few have done so outside of jail.

Unlike most, Hanna’s hunger strike had no demands. Instead, it was his chosen action to communicate a message that all is not well and the revolution has not succeeded.

He even takes aim at Egyptian icon General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the front running presidential candidate. Hanna resurrects the memory of the Maspero massacre when 28 Coptic protestors were killed, either shot or crushed under military vehicles in October 2011. Sisi was the director of military intelligence at the time.

‘If Sisi wants my support he should make it clear what was his role in these events,’ said Hanna. ‘If he is clean, then fine. If not, he can go to hell.’


But these messages do not sit well with his fellow Copts. Most are overjoyed at Sisi’s popularly endorsed removal of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, and anticipate the new constitution will usher in a democratic order.

Even Hanna’s personal Facebook page, filled with good wishes about his intentions, drew criticism. Comments lamenting the timing, method, and relevance of his protest mirrored the responses of political, religious, and revolutionary Coptic leaders.

‘I wish he would be more patient,’ said Naguib Abadir, a Coptic founding member of the Free Egyptians Party, one of the leading liberal flag bearers. ‘We are in a very difficult period with people trying to hijack our roadmap before it can be achieved.’

‘The body is not our own, it is the temple of God and we are responsible to protect it,’ said Revd Fawzi Khalil of Kasr el-Dobara Church, located just behind Tahrir Square, who demonstrated with Hanna from the early days of the revolution.

‘We are able to express our views in ways that do not threaten our life.’

Abadir and Khalil both told Lapido Media that Hanna should save his strength and take up politics, criticising him for picturing everything as negative. But even revolutionary colleagues see him as an idealist, who is harming himself in vain.

Mina Magdy
Mina Magdy

‘He is a good person working for peace,’ said Mina Magdy, general coordinator of the mostly Coptic Maspero Youth Union, which suffered heavily in the massacre. ‘But he is giving slogans and this does not work, we need specific demands.

‘Hanna’s message will reach neither the regime nor the people,’ he said. ‘No one cares about him.’

But this unhappy critique is categorically untrue. His wife and three daughters have stood by his side, and over ten friends have promised to join him on a future hunger strike, if necessary, in exchange for stopping now.

Hanna believes most of his critics misunderstand him and have succumbed to a culture that neither values the individual nor believes one person can make a difference.

‘In the beginning no one listens,’ he said. ‘But as you continue more people start to pay attention.

‘The fruit is seen as they change toward the good.’

Still a preacher, but now with his body, this is Hanna’s contribution to continue the revolution.


This article was originally published at Lapido Media.


…and in this Corner: Media Narratives and Sisi’s Candidacy

Egypt has yet to experience an issue-based electoral contest. Of course other nations, even with deep political history, are known also to sensationalize campaigns and demonize opponents. But as Egypt learns the best and the worst from these international examples, with which of these two commentators do you side?

Hamzawy (L), Sisi (C), Abou Taleb (R)
Hamzawy (L), Sisi (C), Abou Taleb (R)

In recent op-ed articles, both Hamzawy and Abou Taleb see media manipulation as the central feature of Sisi’s candidacy. But they aim in different directions.

Hamzawi, writing in Egypt Source, ‘Dismantling the Myth of the Candidate of Necessity’:

There is a myth now being promoted by intellectual, political and media groups who favor the regime that followed the July 3 2013 overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, and support former Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s run for president. While this myth deals with Egypt’s current situation, its structure is far from new. In fact, consecutive ruling elites have relied on this myth since the 1950s to justify oppression, human rights violations, restriction of freedoms, autocracy, and lack of democracy and sustainable development.

The “candidate of necessity” myth reduces Egypt and its issues to one person, the hero-savior, being introduced to the public before the presidential elections as “the only candidate” capable of “rescuing the nation from the current danger” and “the last hope” for “saving the nation from the evils and harms of the enemies, inside and out” and achieving its greater goals and objectives.

Abou Taleb, writing in Ahram Online, ‘Speaking about Rights, but Aiming for Chaos’:

We all know Egypt is being targetted and it is no longer a mere suspicion or hypothetical conspiracy theory but a reality we live day and night. This includes statements and threats by the terrorist alliance, sabotage and murder, and the ultimate goal — that will never materialise, God willing — of pushing Egypt into chaos and ruin.

Media personalities, politicians and alleged clergy who want Egyptians to believe this targeting is temporary and contingent on the removal of one very popular presidential candidate are a key and fundamental part of the plot to disrupt Egypt, and raise the price of transitioning into political and institutional stability. They also send a misleading message to Egyptians that their salvation is contingent on abandoning this candidate. But these people do not realise the majority of Egyptians have matured politically and now have an innate ability to sift through the political din.

One of the commentators speaks the language of the international community, the other the domestic. That alone does not lend credence in either direction. But it is noteworthy that their central argument is essentially the same: There is deep manipulation in framing the candidacy of Sisi.

One frames in favor, the other against. Both commentators indirectly expose the other. The reader is invited to provide the round-by-round scorecard for these two heavyweights, as both sides have come out swinging…


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Building, Barring Opposition

Flag Cross Quran


While it is still early in choosing Egypt’s next president, there is also not much time left. The first round is scheduled for May 26-27, giving little over a month to the two candidates who have collected the necessary endorsement signatures: Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Sisi is the overwhelming favorite, and though Sabbahi benefits from name recognition and revolutionary pedigree, it is not anticipated he will do well.

The Constitution Party, however, has given him a boost. One of the central liberal parties formed after the revolution, its membership has chosen to endorse him. Their vote was overwhelming; Sisi took only ten percent with a dissenting thirty percent opting for boycott.

But like many parties, their social reach is yet undetermined. Their members are activists, and they represent a revolutionary perspective that has been increasingly questioned by the average Egyptian.

You know, God, if they act from principle. And you know further if Egypt needs to build strong parties regardless. But aid Egypt in the creation of a system that channels activism into polity. Through this party or others, through any and all candidates, translate legitimate partisanship into national benefit.

At the same time, some partisanship has been deemed illegitimate. An Alexandria court has forbidden Muslim Brotherhood candidacies in the elections.

In concept this is not new; under Brotherhood influence, among others, many members of the old ruling regime were similarly barred. The tables have now turned.

You know, God, if they act from principle. And you know further if Egypt needs a restriction on religious parties in general, or on the Brotherhood in particular. But aid Egypt in the societal conversation about the relation between religion and politics, between Islam and the state. Through Islamists or others, through any and all candidates, asses the virtues of religion within acceptable political benefit.

But it is not just Islam in question. Some Christian clergy have indicated political preference, while some Christian activists are building opposition. The pope of the church supports the current crackdown, while ‘the preacher of the revolution’ is on a hunger strike.

Religion can complicate politics, God, but politics is needed. Politics can dirty, while religion can clean, but both are subject to corruption. Both, also, can enable great good.

So in the coming president, God, may good be witnessed. But moreover, establish this good in the choosing. Create parties that will represent society and hold authorities accountable, even as they produce them.

May a ruling party govern strongly, and may an opposition challenge powerfully. In both, help Egyptians to choose wisely.

Build many, God, and bar few. While there is always time, there is precious little. Create the Egyptians you desire to strengthen this country.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Candidate Sisi, 529

Flag Cross QuranGod,

The inevitable came right after the unthinkable. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi finally declared his candidacy for president and resigned from the army. Two days earlier an Egyptian court ruled 529 Morsi supporters worthy of the death penalty, implicated in the murder of a single police officer. Somewhat surprisingly, neither decision prompted massive demonstrations.

But both prompted massive commentary. With Sisi it was more in line with profile, as the debate about him largely revisits the issue of coup vs. popular revolution, as it has since July. The mass judicial ruling, however, resulted in waves of celebration, explanation, and condemnation in the various press.

In both there is much to analyze, God. But there is more to lay before you. For the 529, give each their individual due. Perhaps some are innocent completely. Perhaps some are guilty of lesser charges. Someone was killed, and at least one is culpable.

But all deserve a thorough examination, as does the nation. May it start with the judge who is said to have violated court regulations. May it continue with the accused in accordance with the law. May it finish with the system which permitted its occurrence. May the coming appeals make clear what is generalized differently in all the above, that justice may prevail. May the people have confidence in this vital institution.

Perhaps of greater vitality, God, is the institution of the presidency. Over the next few months give wisdom to the people to discern their options. Whether Sisi, Sabbahi, or a pox on both their houses, help the different partisans to campaign winsomely and effectively.

Cause candidate Sisi to emerge from both his auras of popularity and contempt, to be judged on the basis of his leadership, platform, and vision for the nation. Maintain and enlarge this popularity if he is deserving; otherwise, may the people see and expose any disqualifying flaws.

But inasmuch as both Sisi and the 529 provoked only their base, renew the belief of the Egyptian people. Belief need not be witnessed on the streets, but stimulate citizens to take hold of their political future. Channel the undeniable energy of the past three years into mechanisms to secure the popular will. May they ever hold their system accountable, or perhaps more aptly, may they truly begin to.

Prevent both a surrender to an imagined inevitable and an acceptance of a once unthinkable. However these are defined, God, judge accordingly. But bless Egypt in all that comes.