Friday Prayers for Egypt: Former Heroes

Flag Cross QuranGod,

It has been a bad week for former heroes in Egypt. Mohamed Morsi had his death sentence confirmed. Ahmed Shafik languishes in the UAE. And revolutionary activists are disappearing.

Not all were universally loved. Some were at loggerheads. But each was endeared by a substantial segment of the population. That segment has shrunk, and all have lost their luster.

God, you are no respecter of persons. But you love each individual soul. Minister to them in their time of need. It is hard to fall from so high, when so much seemed possible.

Forgive each one, perhaps, for believing his own hype. Forgive each one, indeed, for his own contributing sins. May each reflect on his errors in judgment. May each repent of any pride, contempt, and selfish ambition that come so easily to those who strive to make a difference.

But for each selfless effort, for each sacrificing action, for each honorable commitment to the good of the nation – reward them. God, strike the balance between these two realities. Discern each one’s heart and give him his due.

Do not let them fall victim to simple agendas of revenge, if they are in play. Do not let them be disfigured beyond what they deserve. Do not let the wrath of any enemies pour out upon them.

But God, if you harbor wrath, let it be tempered with mercy. Let it be seen transparently, experienced proportionately, and redeemed in transformation.

And God, as you harbor love, pour it out upon Egypt. Let it create true heroes, refine flawed ones, and honor the simple and striving alike.

In your love, protect her from harm. Some is self-inflicted. Some is justified in pursuit of supposed good. Some is objective evil.

But God, act justly toward Morsi, Shafik, and revolutionary activists. Act justly toward current heroes. You have humbled some; may all be humble. Raise up those who fear you, and those who love Egypt.

May they, as heroes do, raise up others. May Egypt rise, for the good of all.


Middle East Middle East Institute Published Articles

The Decline of Coptic Activism in Egypt

Coptic activism in decline

From my new article at the Middle East Institute:

During and immediately following the 2011 Egyptian uprising, Coptic activism reached new heights. Copts organized and came together to call for protection for their communities and rights more generally. However, particularly since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and the election of President Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, such activism has declined. Today, the number of active, effective Coptic movements can be counted on one hand. This leaves the church carrying the mantle of Coptic identity, allowing the pope to decide whether or not to engage in politics. Thus far, Pope Tawadros has opted to back the new government, and Coptic citizens are following his example.

The article recounts Coptic activism since the revolution, and then introduces the remaining players:

But in terms of traditional political activism, the landscape is quite barren. There are two primary movements that remain: the Coalition of Egypt’s Copts (CEC) and the Maspero Youth Union (MYU). Both are small, with 88 and 40 voting members, respectively. At the height of the Maspero protests before the massacre, the MYU laid claim to the support of over ten thousand, judged unofficially via Facebook conversations and attendance at demonstrations. Today it counts only a few hundred active members.

The article describes the former as aligned with the state, the latter as supportive but wary while clinging to revolutionary ideals.

From the conclusion:

But if the MYU leads, will anyone follow? Copts other than MYU members and supporters view Coptic activism to be negligible in influence and advocate for transcending Coptic concerns. Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic newspaper Watani, speaks for many when he says that the Coptic community must move on from sectarian labels and evolve in two directions. At the grassroots level, he says, activists must transform into community leaders and aid their neighborhood constituencies. And at the national level, they must emerge as politicians and address issues beyond the Coptic cause. While Coptic activists had their moment during the uprisings, Sidhom points to parliament as the coming and enduring challenge in which Copts must legislate rights to support full citizenship and demonstrate leadership on the national stage.

But almost by definition, activists operate outside the sphere of formal power and put pressure on it. Few activists have space to operate these days, as the state has greatly limited the scope of civil society. Time will tell if the CEC or the MYU can muster the influence to capture the favor of the Coptic community—and more importantly, of Egypt as a whole.

Please click here to read the full article at the Middle East Institute.


Block 1, Cell 8: A Letter from Damanhour Women’s Prison


From Mada Masr, publishing a letter by Mahienour al-Massry, an activist from Alexandria imprisoned for illegal protest:

Ever since I set foot in Damanhour women’s prison and was placed with my inmates in ‘Block One’ — The cluster of cells assigned to those accused or convicted of embezzlement — only one thing has been on my mind and I repeat it like a daily mantra: “Down with this classist system.”

Most of my inmates have been imprisoned for defaulting on the payment of instalments or small loans. They are loans taken out by a mother buying some direly needed items for her bride-to-be daughter, or by a wife who needed money to afford treatment for her sick husband, or a woman failing to pay back a LE 2,000 ($280 US) loan on time, only to find herself slammed with a LE 3 million ($420,000 US) fine in return.

She recalls a similar, but more high profile recent case:

At this point, news reaches us of Hosni Mubarak’s three-year sentence for charges of widespread corruption, embezzlement of funds, and financial fraud in the ‘Presidential Palaces Case.’ Cracking up, I ask them, “What kind of future do you expect me to have in an unjust society, in which the regime thinks that Umm Ahmed (‘Ahmed’s mother’), who has been incarcerated for the past eight years and still has six more to go for signing a bad check worth no more than LE 50,000 ($7,000 US), is more of a dangerous criminal than Mubarak?”

Let us imagine that these women are indeed guilty, have broken the law, and are justly imprisoned, however unjust their sentence and the system behind it may be.

Mahienour and other January 25 activists forged their revolution at least in part to overturn this system. I imagine other activists are laboring with those like Umm Ahmed, to provide legal counsel and advocacy for those perhaps guilty but entrapped in this system.

This post is not for evaluation of Mahienour’s option; this choice is three years ongoing with mixed but still inconclusive results, even if she has found herself on the wrong side of the bars.

But even so she counsels:

Freedom for Umm Ahmed, who hasn’t seen her children for eight years. Freedom for Umm Dina, who is the sole provider of her family. Freedom for Niamah, who agreed to go to prison instead of someone else in return for money to feed her children. Freedom for Farhah, Wafaa, Kawthar, Sanaa, Dawlat, Samia, Iman, Amal and Mervat.

Our pains compared to theirs are nothing, as we know that there are those who will remember us, say our names from time to time, proudly mentioning how they know us. Instead, these women, who deserve to be proudly remembered, will only be mentioned at most in family gatherings.

Do they deserve freedom? Allow lawyers and judges to argue over this. But they deserve remembering. They deserve advocacy.

Lord, when did we see you in prison and go to visit you? … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Surely there are a number of activists who intercede already for the likes of Umm Ahmed, but is this not a challenge to lay before the Egyptian church?

Lawyers and judges can argue over Umm Ahmed, but does she even have a lawyer? What if Umm Ahmed and all in similar circumstances knew they could go to their local church and find advocacy?

This challenge would not be Mahienour’s. It is not to overturn the system, not even to reform it. Let other activists labor in these struggles, as warranted.

But that someone might stand with Umm Ahmed in the courtroom, plead her case and seek at least the minimum sentence, would this not be a service worthy of the church?

Some might be bold and say the church should stand with Mahienour also. Perhaps they are right; I do not know the details of her case. If she is jailed unjustly, if the law imprisoning her is unjust, should not the church speak?

Let Christians debate this; some might find it an improper interference in politics. Perhaps it is.

But there are no politics with Umm Ahmed. There is no statement against the system. There is no public protest, there is no agitation.

There is only solidarity with the occupant of Block 1, Cell 9. And 10, and 11. Maybe 12 deserves her fate. But Cell 13, and 14, and …

The Anglican Church of Egypt already has a program to visit foreigners imprisoned in local jails. Some have committed crimes, others are detained on visa irregularities. But the church regularly visits to encourage and furnish needed supplies. It is a good application of the above verse, and donations are welcome.

But could the churches of Egypt do more? If not the churches, could the Christians? Could they do so in close partnership with like-minded Muslims?

If so, I imagine they would please Mahienour immensely. But more importantly, they would please the women of Damanhour prison, their families, and even, it could be imagined, the state.

Here, Mahienour will likely disagree. But which would the state prefer? An activist calling “Down with this classist system,” or citizens working quietly on behalf of individual cases of justice? The guilty would still be sentenced, but the women and their families would know they were treated right. The church would ensure it was not otherwise.

And with accumulated evidence, the church could possibly ensure that all are treated right. Once a critical mass of accountability is reached, the system might naturally reset. A large segment of popular discontent with the regime might be quieted. A revolution might not be necessary.

Surely Mahienour would have been happier if she had the last three years of her life back, and with it a more just society. Let activists and citizens argue the type of activism needed, but surely there is some.

What kind can the church provide?


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Universities

Flag Cross Quran


If protesting has waned on the streets, it has waxed in the universities. Fueled first by some in their support for Morsi, they were joined by others in opposition to a law against protesting. Still others rallied simply because police entered the campus to put it all down.

A last group, presumably the largest and not protesting, just wants to study. Actions by the former make this difficult, whether peaceful or provocative, and perhaps even criminal.

God, the problems of Egypt are well known and offered to your sovereign will. But students are a unique group in confronting these problems. Young, they are without the responsibilities that hold others back from full scale dedication. Intelligent, they see the issues others disregard and imagine solutions. Idealistic, they believe they can make a difference and forswear compromise. Perhaps naive, they may lack wisdom to know if their chosen path of activism will yield positive results.

Bless them, God. These, even the last, are your gifts to them. Their energy, their creativity, their hope, and their single-mindedness are virtues which can serve the people. Their elders have different gifts, some of which must check youthful passion.

In this current confrontation, God, weigh well between the two. Give humility to all that these virtues not be pushed into ugliness. Youth becomes narcissism, intelligence pride, idealism fantasy, and naiveté exploitation.

These may even be traits they learn from their elders. Break this cycle, God, for every youth ages. Students become leaders. Now is still a decisive moment in Egypt’s transition, even if only the universities rage. Honor their passion, and hone it for good.

For this moment may or may not call for their particular gifts. To know, youth and elders would do well to collaborate. University is as good a place as any, perhaps better, to experiment.

And for those encumbered by the activism, give them patience. Give them room for their studies, and the respect of their peers. May their dedication remind all students of the privilege they have been given.

Some for the books, God, and some for the streets. Professors to shepherd the two groups alike. Bless the universities, God. May they prepare a generation that changes Egypt, now, and in the future.


Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Mapping the Coptic Movements: Activism in a Revolutionary Setting

Coptic Activism

From my recent article at Arab West Report, an extensive, interview-based effort into the diversity of Coptic activist movements:

One of the distinguishing sub-themes of the Egyptian revolution which began on January 25, 2011, has been the proliferation of Coptic movements. Largely, though not entirely, contained in the church during the Mubarak era, Christian Egyptians joined their Muslim counterparts as ‘one hand’ to challenge the authority for the sake of ‘freedom, bread, and social justice’. After successfully deposing the president, many of these Christian Egyptians continued their revolutionary posture.

For years Copts presented their demands to the state primarily through the person of Pope Shenouda. When pressed to demonstrate for their demands, either by events or by clergy, they did so mostly within the confines of church walls. The revolution changed this equation, however, and the unity expressed in overthrowing Mubarak gave Copts a new sense of participation in rebuilding Egypt.

Some Christian participation remained along the lines of revolutionary values, enveloped fully in the youth movements that populated Tahrir Square. Others began sensing a threat to their full participation from the emergence and ascendency of Islamists groups, and rallied behind a liberal and civil cause.

Still others took the opportunities of the revolution to organize and demonstrate for particular Coptic issues. Though there is significant overlap between Coptic demands and those for a civil state, these movements are characterized by Coptic peculiarity, even though many boast the participation of Muslims, who tend to be liberal in outlook. This category is shaped by a desire for Copts to assert their rights as Copts, leaving the church to take to the street and integrate with society.

Yet as they do so they highlight the tensions of religious identity. Insisting upon their right as citizens to demonstrate, they move beyond citizenship and appear to many as sectarian. Conscious to defeat this charge, Coptic movements stress their belonging to Egypt, and their work on its behalf. The question is fair if they do more harm than good, but this question may miss the point if indeed, as they claim, it is equality they seek. When pursuing that which is right, popular reception is a secondary concern.

This paper seeks to analyze in particular the Coptic movements which adopt Coptic issues. It will discuss the pre-revolutionary history of Coptic activism, trace its development after the fall of Mubarak, and continue to the present with the current attempt to gather these movements together in what is called the Coptic Consultative Council.

The paper will then provide a map of these movements along with the names of key participants to the extent that current research allows. Then it will profile of a limited number of these groups, describing their leadership structure and spheres of activity. Finally, it will examine the questions of foreign funding and interference.

From the conclusion:

In closing, two remarks from the interviewees are useful. Sameh Saad stated the normal person works to earn a living and then goes home to enjoy his family and rest. The activist, meanwhile, sacrifices from his personal life in order to achieve success in a larger cause.

Similarly, Ehab Aziz stated that no one will give you your rights while you are sitting on the couch. You have to work hard to achieve them.

While many questions circulate around the Coptic movements – from finances, to cooperation, to the wisdom of separating from the larger Egyptian cause – the above observations must be remembered. They are balanced by the remark of Gaziri that they also have a tendency to exaggerate their issues.

In all these matters Coptic activists resemble activists around the world, exhibiting significant sacrifice and dedication in pursuit of their goals, understood to be righteous. Yet besides pressuring the government to fulfill their rights, they face also the challenge of awakening a religious community long accustomed to acquiescence to the status quo.

Further research is necessary to better understand their reality, their excesses, and their triumphs. But in the above description they must be commended. Their existence represents one of the many successes of the revolution.

Please click here to read the full, 19 page document at Arab West Report.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Activists, Shuffle

Flag Cross Quran


The news is not new, but it is current. This last week has seen another spate of activist arrests, coupled with yet another shuffle in the cabinet. The themes are on repeat with only names differing. But names can make all the difference.

One of the activists’ names is Ahmed Maher, founder of the principle youth movement behind the revolution. Having supported Morsi during the run-off presidential elections, he is now provisionally detained by the Morsi-appointed prosecutor general for ‘inciting protests’. A prominent Islamist, Hazem Abu Ismail, is under investigation as well, for roughly the same charge. As far as names go, these are major ones.

There are new names in the cabinet also. These are not so prominently noteworthy, but they include two judges and three additional Muslim Brothers. The longstanding call by the opposition for an inclusive cabinet was not answered; will this one prove more effective?

God, may it be so. Placing politics aside, the government must work. Increase the leadership and capability of each minister to nurture growth in each sector of society. Give them boldness to tackle the economic issues facing Egypt, with wisdom especially on the IMF loan. Their jobs cannot be easy.

But inasmuch as this cabinet is not reflective of societal consensus, God, may the playing of politics work as well. Opposition pressure must demand tangible results; government plans must stimulate opposition counter-proposals. Help the interplay to enliven debate in society about the direction Egypt must take. May both government and opposition fully represent the people.

But where politics leads to a scaling back of freedom, God, help the people to demand more. Perhaps these activists crossed a line. They live on the edge of the permissible, God, and need your wisdom deeply. The quest for justice is easily derailed by a single poor decision.

Of course, perhaps they made none and are simply targeted as a political nuisance. Give the government strength in its legitimacy, God, to accept protest, and as necessary, reform.

Activists and ministers are almost by nature at odds, but they are both Egyptians, both working for the betterment of Egypt. Help society to grasp this, God. Perhaps if it does then leadership will follow.

May the names of the nation be men of principle. As they shuffle, in and out of prison or of office, may these principles remain.