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.


Current Events

Egyptian Writer May Face Jail for Defaming Religion

From Ahram Online, telling a story that is not unusual:

Saber says those who filed the lawsuit took his words out of context, adding that he did not defame religion in his short stories.

“In my stories, the characters are wondering where God is in the face of all the grievances and evils that they face. It’s like they’re asking him to interfere; this is not in contempt of religion, it is merely posing a question,” Saber explained.

Here is an angle, though, what while also not unusual, is less known by many:

According to a statement made by a coalition of Egyptian right human rights organisations, the prosecutors undertaking the investigation consulted the church in Beni Suef as well as Al-Azhar to seek out their opinion as to whether the accusations were correct.

The church told the prosecution that the content of Saber’s literary work contradicted divine religions, ridiculed the divine, and invented stories that stray from noble and sophisticated literature.

Al-Azhar affirmed the church’s stance, stating that the work destroys intellectual values and tears apart the fabric of Egyptian society.

The church in Egypt is a very conservative institution that is not shy to seek the power of the state as a defense against encroachment on religious values. I do not know anything about the content of the book, if it targets Islam, Christianity, or religion in general. The author’s name also does not infer his religious background.

But the church would do well to review its own literature. Habbakuk the prophet does little but rail against God’s apparent inaction in the face of injustice:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

And his answer is simply to trust God, even when he does not ‘deliver’:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

It is unfortunate when religious leaders ‘protect’ their flock from the very same doubts and questions that fill their scriptures. But this, also, is not an unusual story.


Witnesses, Survivors Recount Egypt’s Deadly Badrashin Train Crash

On the horrible accident near Beni Suef in Upper Egypt, from Ahram Online:

Hours after the tragic train crash that killed at least 19 passengers and injured scores of others in the Giza suburb of Badrashin, victims’ relatives and police officials remained gathered at the scene and a military helicopter hovered overhead.

The 12-carriage train, which was carrying 1,328 Central Security Forces (CSF) conscripts, mostly around 20 years old, had been travelling en route to Cairo from Upper Egypt. The conscripts had been preparing for their first military training, when two railway cars – each carrying over 200 soldiers – derailed, hitting a cargo train sitting outside a storage depot.

According to one, the overcrowding may have saved his life, though it surely killed others:

“On the truck I was in, one injured passenger had a broken leg; his leg hung by the skin only. Another had his nose broken, while a third had suffered broken ribs. I’m one of the lucky ones who had been sitting with five others in seats fit for two. Others were crammed into the upper shelves usually reserved for baggage. Those are the ones who died.”

We have traveled by train several times to Upper Egypt, but always in first or second class. Even there, some passengers are allowed to enter and stand in the aisles and open spaces near the door. In other cars we see how people are crowded together, though never this severely.

But on the whole, we have always found train travel in Egypt to be smooth and economical, even when someone in the aisle has his elbow in your ear leaning on the back of the chair. Usually they are kind enough to adjust. I wonder what sort of ticket they bought, if any, and why the attendant allows them to stay.

On the other hand, there is weird and uncomfortable sense of entitlement when we see them crammed in, yet my six year old daughter has a seat. We did pay for it, right?

I remember my days in university, when I would sit in the corner of the train on a huge bag of laundry, traveling from Washington, DC back home to New Jersey. I wonder how many passengers I annoyed.

May God rest the souls of those who died and comfort the many injured. May he guide the government in fixing Egypt’s many problems. Mercy.


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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

A Survey of Priests

One of the most interesting projects and papers which have been produced over the past few months was a survey of diocesan priests we conducted under the authority of the bishop of Beni Suef. This was done following the incident at Izbet Bushra, described in the last post, in an effort to determine how this was experienced by other priests in the area. More importantly, it asked a number of questions concerning their community interactions with Muslims. From this we made an elementary statistical analysis which produced insightful finding for good practices which lead toward peace. I have printed the abstract below, under which is a link to the full report, which is quite a bit shorter than previous ones to which I have linked. I hope you enjoy.

The clashes between Muslims and Christians in Izbet Bushra on June 21, 2009 resulted from a dispute in the village over using a private residence for community prayer services. Though details from the event are hard to confirm, it appears that Christians anticipated many difficulties in gaining permission to build a traditional church structure, and therefore used deception to build a residence for the priest with a prayer hall under the guise of being a factory. Though much critique has been leveled at the government of Egypt concerning the right of Christians to build churches, from the example of Izbet Bushra and elsewhere, this paper seeks to look at the issue from another perspective. What are the community patterns necessary to avoid the occurrence of religious tension? Though the practical question is not addressed it is a worthy introduction: Had there been good relations between the Muslims and Christians of Izbet Bushra to begin with, might the Christian desire to build a church have engendered any controversy at all?

In the aftermath of the conflict we obtained permission from Bishop Stephanos of Beba and el-Fashn to conduct a survey of the priests in his diocese. In it we asked a number of questions designed to discover the patterns of relationship between the Christian and Muslim communities within each priest’s jurisdiction. We also asked a number of questions concerning their knowledge and opinion of the incident which took place in Izbet Bushra.

From the survey results we were able to make basic observations establishing several patterns to the key question asked each priest: How are would you describe relations between Muslims and Christians in your area of service? The three options given were: Improving, About the Same or Stable, and Deteriorating. There are definite correlations which emerge when studying the data. Among the questions asked are:

  • Does your area employ private residences for worship?
  • What is your relationship like with the area imam?
  • Are there joint projects between Muslims and Christians in your area?
  • Do Christians in your area serve in the police or security forces?
  • Do Muslims and Christians frequent the same area shops?
  • What is your method for dealing with clashes?
  • Who is the first person you would inform in the case of a clash?
  • What is the demographic data from your area, population of Muslims and Christians, number of mosques and churches, registration status of each, etc.

These questions and others produce observations which make strong suggestions about ideal community practices which lead toward improving religious relations or away from a condition of deterioration. As such, they are offered as suggestions to the Christian community in general, in hope of producing interreligious harmony which may prevent the incident of violent conflict over the normal and natural disputes which occur whenever people exist together in community. One may easily surmise that community involvement and personal interaction lead toward improving relations between residents of an area; this paper presents statistical information which demonstrates the correlation.

Click here for the full report.