Friday Prayers for Egypt: Accountable

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It was too big a disaster. After 16 security personnel were killed in an ambush in the Western desert, several top police and military brass took the fall.

Among them, Sisi’s son’s father-in-law, the chief-of-staff. The message is powerful: All are accountable.

It was too big an opportunity. After contentious debate about two islands and free trade zones with Saudi Arabia, the kingdom announced a new megacity sharing territory with Jordan and Egypt.

Between them, there has been little public discussion. The absence is powerful: Who is accountable?

God, be with Egypt. May she do all things well.

Give the new leadership vision, wisdom, and execution. Help them win this war.

Give the new project efficiency, transparency, and success. Help it grow the economy.

In these and in all, let accountability filter through the state.

The bureaucracy is large, the private sector small. Help merit be rewarded, mediocracy released. There are many barriers, some of them good. People need their jobs.

But God, make them meaningful. May Egyptians work as unto you.

Let your pleasure find expression also in this world. Peace. Prosperity. Dignity.

Your final accounting is coming. Be merciful, now and then.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Police Accountability

Flag Cross QuranGod,

The police stand in service to the people. They stand also in service to the law. At times there is heroism, at times there is error. But at all times there must be accountability.

This week there was.

An officer was sentenced 15 years in prison for the killing of an unarmed protestor. The case of Shaima al-Sabagh, carrying flowers to lay at Tahrir Square for the revolutionary anniversary, took both media and presidential attention. Perhaps he did not mean to kill. Perhaps there are others needing accountability beside. Perhaps this ruling is an exception. Perhaps it is a precedent.

A human rights organization released a report implicating police in implicitly endorsing the forced displacement of Copts from their homes. The case of Copts in Beni Suef, where a Facebook post by a relative in Jordan resulted in 18 forced from their home, took both media and presidential attention. They have returned home, but so far none have been held accountable, either in the mob or the police.

Perhaps it is an exception, but perhaps media accountability can also set a precedent.

But in Luxor, the police foiled the plans of a suicide bomber to kill visiting tourists. Intercepted beforehand, he blew himself up but few suffered injuries. Positive accountability is in order.

God, honor the police. Equip them to do their job faithfully. Give them the support necessary, both popular and legal.

Deal justly with things go awry. Deal justly with superiors. Deal justly with the system. Preserve the faith of the people and the rule of the law.

Comfort the family and colleagues of Shaima in this verdict. Reconcile the Copts of Beni Suef to their neighbors. Let freedom of expression be received without bullets. Let community justice be issued without exile.

And amid all the controversies, help the police in the hard job against terrorism. Spare Egypt further tragedy. Stabilize the nation, bring back tourism and investment, and help Egyptians to live in peace.

May the police enable as they serve the people. But hold them—and all—accountable, in service to the law.



Protecting the Bad under Threat of the Worse

US Torture

In the United States, torture is no longer an allegation. As the US Senate released findings from thousands of internal CIA memos, the nation confirms — and makes public — the horrific treatment given to detainees.

Some of the debate, however, concerns whether or not the Senate errs by releasing the details. The argument accuses politicians of putting American lives at risk for the sake of political gain. If our enemies see this, they may act out against us. Indeed, as those living abroad, a few days earlier the US embassy put out an alert advising vigilance in the coming days.

It is debated whether or not American torture resulted in intelligence necessary to thwart terrorist threats. The report says no, others say yes.

But the basic premise of the desire to keep sordid details hidden is that transparency would result in greater harm. It is hard to imagine ‘greater harm’ for the human beings tortured, some of whom were innocent, others, certainly less so.

But what is asked is trust that we allow the good guys to do a certain amount of bad, so that the bad guys will not be able to do worse. There is a perverse logic here, and the argument may be true. As an American, I like to believe we are good guys, in the end.

Even in the face of terrible bad.

There is worse, of course, and it does not take much effort to find it. But without transparency, our good guys doing bad may well become the bad guys doing worse. In this case, it seems pretty clear some of them did.

Whether or not it was ‘legal’ is for the courts to decide. But it was immoral, and those responsible should be held accountable. Without accountability, the good to bad to worse progression becomes far more likely.

Is there a message for the rest of the world? Will our [cough] commitment to transparency and accountability inspire others to do the same? Likely not. If anything it will expose us to charges of hypocrisy, and perhaps embolden the worse-doers even more.

Intrepid human rights campaigners around the world are shuddering right now. Their work has always been difficult, even dangerous. Now, any fundamental American interest in the cause has been exposed. We have long been accused of only caring about human rights around the world where we had political benefit in doing so.

When convenient, it is accused, we look the other way. Apparently, we do so within our own borders also. Or, perhaps from shame, we outsource desired torture to others.

But if the rest of the world wants to point fingers at America, it must be noted that fear of the worse protects the bad among many. Here is a long litany of Israeli crimes against Palestinians, addressed to Christians who stand in (poorly informed?) support. Much of the pro-Israel rhetoric says the military action is necessary to defeat terrorism, against the specter of Islamist Hamas.

And I recently spoke to a Coptic activist in Egypt who, while fully opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, accuses the government of sparking fear in order to ignore demands for greater human rights.

‘Worse’ can be found easily in the so-called Islamic State, or among the drug cartels of Mexico. At what point does our worse begin to approach theirs?

Only when we begin to cover it up, make excuses, or seek its justification. The US Senate has taken the first step of transparency. America’s test now is to continue with accountability.

One school of thought, with a certain wisdom, says to deal with the rest of the world only on the basis of interest. It is foolish to imagine we can force the world to be moral, and we may well need immoral allies.

But we can be moral ourselves. Whether with race or torture, this is an opportunity for national soul searching. It is necessary to confess and repent.




Friday Prayers for Egypt: April 683

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Recent court decisions in Egypt beg for pause and reflection. But too often even the suggestion thereof raises tensions and accusations. So much is at stake that the chosen path must continue. All opposed simply stand in the way. Any who question risk wholesale collapse.

And God, this is the attitude on both sides.

The revolutionary April 6 youth movement was dissolved by court order, finding them guilty of espionage and defaming the state. One of the primary forces behind the original revolution, they were briefly lauded before falling again afoul of all subsequent governments. They have been critical of all, and have links with movements abroad. But are these crimes?

683 people have been sentenced to death for rioting and the death of a police officer in Upper Egypt. Six hundred and eighty-three. Among them is the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. But also among them, it is said, are an uninvolved Christian and the already dead. Crimes were committed and many are guilty. But is this justice?

Perhaps the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, God. Egypt asserts an independent judiciary in which interference is impossible. In an earlier mass sentencing of over five hundred, the standard review reduced the death penalty to 37, which still is not final. And April 6 members have been in and out of prison several times over the past three years. Immediate judgment is unwise in law, but this slows the rush of few.

Among them are international analysts and politicians, which are piling criticism upon Egypt. Even among backers of the current order, some are daring to criticize.

For maybe the answer to both questions is ‘no’, God. Or ‘maybe’, or ‘mixed’. Maybe they are guilty, but of other charges entirely. Maybe they are political sentences, maybe it is just incompetence. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

God, help Egypt to know. Demonstrate guilt and innocence transparently. But how long must this prayer be uttered until the lack of transparency becomes damning? Let there be no rush to judgment, but judgment must be issued eventually.

Will a new president, after elections, set the record straight? How long should he have?

Transparency and accountability do not come from structured power, God, but from good men and women who press upon it, and enter in it. Raise up this strength, and aid in the structuring of justice and good governance. Then protect them from falling victim to the same ills.

But today, more Egyptians have simply fallen. Bombs have targeted policemen, and by the end of the day who knows but that some may have died in protest clashes. With blood on the ground, week after week, who can pause and reflect?

Is it a terrorist conspiracy to be routed, God? Is it a vicious coup to be resisted? In reflective pause, allow none to sink into the morass of ‘maybe’. Hold steady in conviction, give wisdom and courage towards action, but humility and openness for continual revision.

May accusations be pure; may tensions be righteous. But whatever chosen path Egyptians adopt, may they also find yours.