Friday of Rage, No Signs of Reconciliation

The following is from the newsletter of Arab West Report, penned by Cornelis Hulsman. It is a good summation of events so far:

Cairo is burning. Normal Egyptians are scared and stayed as much as possible at home. The Friday of Rage was announced in a statement of the Muslim Brotherhood led Media team of the Anti-Coup, Pro-Democracy Alliance.

Statement: Friday of Rage

(Cairo, Friday, August 16)- Despite our deep pain and sorrow following the August 14 Rabaa massacre and others committed since the bloody coup, the crimes of the coup regime have only increased our steadfastness and firmness in rejecting it and determination to remove it.

The struggle to overthrow this illegitimate regime is an obligation, an Islamic, national, moral, and human obligation which we will not steer away from until justice and freedom prevail, and until repression is conquered.

Our revolution is peaceful, and we will continue to mobilize people to take to the streets without resorting to violence and without vandalism. Violence is not our approach. Vandalism only aims at distorting the image of our peaceful revolt and finding justifications for the coup leaders to continue to govern.

We call on the great Egyptian people to gather in all revolutionary squares on the Friday of Rage.

The starting points for the protests in Greater Cairo are the following mosques. (28 names of mosques were mentioned.)

Afterwards, all marches will meet at the nearest intersection, and will all head to Ramsis square. Meanwhile, million-man marches will be held in all other Egyptian governorates.

The anger of the Muslim Brotherhood is not unfounded. Maha Azzam, an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs) in London, explains in the Guardian of August 13the bitter irony. The January 25 Revolution was to bring democracy. Morsi (Mursī) was voted, albeit with a very small majority, as the first democratically-elected president.  He was deposed on July 3 by the military, feeling that they had sufficient support from the masses, but, she writes “the fact remains that the ballot box is an essential part of the democratic process. Politically, what Egypt lacked during its experiment in democracy was a loyal opposition. Instead, the opposition that came together under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front decided to back a military coup.” Muslim Brothers feel they were trapped. Maha Azzam is clear in her opinion, that is that “the military and police state has returned in full force to Egypt. A country that for a brief period after 60 years of dictatorship was on a path of democratic transition saw a reversal of that process with the coup on 3 July against Egypt’s first freely elected president.

Maha Azzam describes opinions that I hear often in talks with Muslim Brothers. They strongly feel they have been betrayed.  That feeling is important to understand for the violence we are witnessing now.

The demonstrations followed fiery preaching in line with the belief that they have done injustice to. Well-known Muslim leaders as Youssef al-Qaradawi and Selim el-Awa have preached in this line of thinking. They did not call for violence, but as we have seen in previous demonstrations, armed thugs and snipers use the masses of people to mix among unarmed demonstrators and fire on whoever they believe to be their opponents.

These demonstrators were a mix of Islamists and thugs of very different backgrounds. Of course it was Brotherhood-organized and thus large numbers belong to this organization, but there were also Jamā’ah al-Islāmīya, Salafīs, and radicals of all kinds present and thus it is extremely difficult to determine to what organizations the people who engaged in violence belonged.

We have seen on videos large amounts of weapons found in different places. That shows preparation and makes the claim that this was spontaneous anger impossible.

Volkhard Windfuhr, the well-informed chairman of the Cairo Foreign Press Association is angry and wrote on Friday:

Unfortunately, some of our colleagues succumbed to fatal attacks. They were not just victims of chaos or normal fire exchange, they had been fired at on purpose. Not by police or army officers, but by the self-proclaimed ‘peaceful demonstrators’. Today I myself happily escaped a mean sniper attack on the 15 Mayo bridge at Zamalek. The criminal was not a policeman either, I have witnesses for that fact – normal Egyptian citizen by passers. I was not there for press coverage, but just heading for a coffee shop to meet friends.

It is outrageous what these aggressive ‘protestors’ commit. They attack people at random, attack their own state – attack public buildings and an ever increasing number of churches und houses and shops of Christians.

Most violence was at Ramsis Square, the most important and busiest intersection in Cairo where also the railway and bus stations are located. If this square was blocked the consequences for traffic in Cairo would be far worse than closing Tahrir square.

The Arab Contractors building, the largest building at the square, went up in flames. What purpose does such violence have? Arab Contractors is a very large Egyptian construction company that, for example, has built most bridges in Egypt. The destruction of this building will cause thousands of engineers to lose work for at least a certain period to come. In a country that is already economically suffering this is not what Egyptians need.

Muslim Brotherhood statements speak about a peaceful revolution, but what we have seen in the streets is different. Was this Brotherhood-organized as the opponents of the Brotherhood believe? Or were these thugs? Perhaps even security agents who wanted to create havoc? Conspiracy theories are flourishing!

It is certain, however, that many Muslim Brotherhood leaders do not want to give up resistance. Morsi’s son declared on Facebook: “We will not give up. We will either win or die.”

That is not an approach of seeking a middle ground; a compromise in order to avoid more bloodshed and destruction of Egypt. Morsi’s son is not the only one using this rhetoric, but stating “either win or die” sounds heroic to his followers, but at the expense of Egypt. Continued  violence is also at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood itself, which is rapidly becoming more closely associated with the carnage we are witnessing now and further validates calls to ban the organization.

Uncompromising attitudes will not only make the Brotherhood a loser of the conflict—the military and Egypt as a whole will suffer dearly as well. The conflict makes the role of the military domineering, but that may cost Egypt international support. Language of some people “that we don’t need this” is stupid. Foreign companies that had remained in Egypt thus far are now closing their doors, making the economic situation more difficult than it already is.

The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization with an estimated 1 million followers. Leaders in the past have told us they were proud of being so well organized. In the past two years well-informed Egyptians have told us on several occasions that the Brotherhood is capable of bringing at least 5.5 million voters to the ballot box. Just excluding such a large group of people from the political scene is not an option.

But what does the severe pressure on the Brotherhood mean for the unity in the group? Muslim Brotherhood member, Amr Amru, went public with a statement that there are around 200 Muslim Brotherhood members who want to file a complaint with the prosecutor against their own leaders because they have led them into this violence. Amr Amru spoke about the hierarchical Muslim Brotherhood structure with leaders giving instructions to branches that branches then have to simply execute.  But we don’t  know who Amr Amru and these 200 people are.  Many others will continue to follow their leaders.

Amnesty International came with a strong statement about Egypt: “There must be a full and impartial investigation into the violent dispersal of sit-in protests in Cairo this week, where security forces used unwarranted lethal force and broke promises to allow the wounded to exit safely, Amnesty International said today on the basis of its research on the ground.”

Of course, many may disagree with the conclusions of Amnesty International, but the call for a full and impartial investigation is certainly justified and needed in order to heal the very deep wounds in a deeply fractured Egyptian society.

Pope Tawadros had been criticized for sitting with Azhar Shaykh, Ahmed el-Tayib, when General al-Sisi announced the sacking of President Morsi on July 3, but on Friday he again went public with a statement in support of the security and military. I do not think that to be wise. I have been traveling in the past years through Egypt and have seen people suffering. The Pope knows the consequences of his words and he knows that his statements can be used as an excuse for more violence against Christians. Then why make statements that could make ordinary Christians victims of angry Islamists?

We appreciate the responses we get to our newsletters, in particular if they come from Egypt. Please continue writing about your own experiences. May God bless Egypt and give Egypt peace!

(Note: The website for Arab West Report was hacked several weeks ago; efforts to restore archival content and continue publication have not yet been successful.)

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Selecting the Next Pope

From Left: Makram Ebeid, Hulsman, Windfuhr, Casper, Labib

Near thirty journalists gathered at the Cairo Foreign Press Association headquarters to gain insight on the process involved in selecting a successor to the recently deceased Pope Shenouda. Arab West Report presented its research on the subject, accepting also further inquiries.

The March 27 meeting was opened by FPA board member Sayid Ghuriyat, and presided over by FPA chairman Volkhard Windfuhr.

AWR Editor-in-Chief Cornelis Hulsman began by mentioning the 1957 regulations which govern issues concerning papal selection. AWR published a translation of these regulations into English on the internet for the first time in history, which can be accessed here.

The 1957 regulations make it clear that all papal candidates must be a minimum of 40 years old and have at least 15 years of experience living as a monk in a monastery. Yet other questions of eligibility can be perplexing.

For example, until the 20th Century only monks were eligible for selection as pope, not bishops. This changed for the first time in the 1920s when a diocesan bishop was selected, breaking with church tradition going back to the Nicene Council. The influential but controversial Makarius Monastery in Wadi Natrun supports the idea of returning to this ideal.

Hulsman noted another eligibility interpretation allows for the election of general bishops who do not serve in a diocese but rather in specific fields like education. Then Bishop Shenouda was the first general bishop in Coptic history, and was elected as pope from this position. Given the legitimizing popularity of Pope Shenouda, current Coptic consensus would allow for the election of another general bishop.

Finally, a minority position in the Coptic Church believes it is acceptable for a diocesan bishop to be elected pope. Though done in the past, it is widely believed such an action would contradict the 1957 regulations. The number two man in the church, Bishop Bishoy, is general secretary of the papal council, but also the bishop of Damietta, thus disqualifying him in the process.

Hulsman concluded his presentation by summarizing the research of AWR Managing Editor Hany Labib, introducing the leading candidates for the papacy from the community of bishops. Details of this research can be accessed here.

AWR Researcher Jayson Casper then presented the influence of expatriate Copts on the selection process. Though the population of Copts both within Egypt and abroad is disputed, both high and low estimates establish that between 10-25% of Coptic Orthodox Christians live outside of Egypt.

Many expatriate Copts logically complain they have no voice in the process of selecting the next pope, given the 1957 regulations reflected a situation before widespread Coptic emigration. Two factors limit this complaint however. First, ordinary Copts in Egypt also have little to no voice in the selection process, as it is a largely internal process conducted by the church, and explained further below.

Second, the most influential voice in the electoral process belongs to the bishops of the church, of whom roughly 20% preside over foreign dioceses. This is in approximate accordance with the population of Copts living abroad, so through their bishops they maintain an influence.

Casper provided statistics for these bishops, mentioning them by continent:

  • Africa: 4 bishops in 14 countries with 90+ churches and three monasteries, most of which are indigenous
  • Asia/Australia: 3 bishops in 11 countries with 70+ churches and two monasteries
  • Europe: 10 bishops in 10 countries, including the indigenous dioceses of England and France
  • North America: 5 bishops serving 240+ churches and two monasteries
  • South America: 2 bishops in 2 countries, including an indigenous movement in Bolivia

Nevertheless, foreign Copts have put forward a proposal to have each overseas bishop present ten or so lay members of his diocese to serve on the committee selecting the pope. Approximately half of these bishops are conservative and traditional say these Copts, and ignore the issue. The others have at least sympathetically listened, but it is not anticipated this proposal will be adopted.

Finally, Casper noted that among the often overlooked achievements of Pope Shenouda’s reign was his ability to institutionalize the Coptic Orthodox Church around the world. Not only may this extension of the hierarchy prevent Copts from dissolving into their adopted culture, but positively may result in a revival of Orthodox Christianity around the world, fitting with the church’s original missionary posture.

AWR board member Amin Makram Ebeid, from a prominent and historical Coptic family, then briefly provided his personal reflection on the process. He hopes the next pope will be transitional, so as to eventually return the church to its traditional spiritual role. He nevertheless noted that the sacred and the secular have been mixed in Egypt since the days of the Pharaohs, noting the difficulty of the task.

Finally, Labib provided the details of the selection process through the forum of questions and answers. Specifically, those who will select the pope are constituted from the Holy Synod (the presiding bishops), the Community Council (20+ lay members who tend to administrative affairs), and the managing group for Coptic properties. In addition to these are a select number of public figures, journalists, and politicians.

This group of over 100 members first selects a nomination committee of 18, to be composed of nine clergy and nine laity (their names have been made public here). These will tend to all proposed candidates, of whom either five or seven will be accepted. These names return to the larger group for the official vote, and the top three names will then be put forward by ecclesiastical lot, with the final choice made by God.

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, the process should take between two to three months.

Labib noted that interim chairman of the Holy Synod Bishop Pachomius insisted the 1957 regulations will remain unchanged. New interpretations, however, will be considered. Some journalists present believed this would open the process up to undue controversy, but Labib and others disagreed. They found it to be an appropriate adjustment to changed circumstances as well as favoring greater transparency.

For example, Labib returned to the question of whether or not a diocesan bishop could become pope. Though often reported as ‘no’ in the media, the 1957 regulations stipulate that any bishop may become pope. Regulations stipulate also the candidate must be celibate, but herein lies the rub. In traditional Coptic understanding, a bishop is ‘married’ to his diocese. Should this then preclude eligibility for the papacy? Traditionally, yes, but the question is open for reconsideration. Labib echoed church voices, however, in insisting the church is not Tahrir Square. It is an ancient institution not subject to the whims of the street.

Labib was asked about the different trends present in the church. He described two, suggesting the choice of pope might be determined as a choice between these two trends.

One trend he labeled the rigid, almost confrontational. Labib believed this trend was growing due to tensions over the emergence of Islamist groups. Bishop Bishoy is at the head of this trend, as is Bishop Armiya.

The second trend he described as moderate, seeking consensus and conciliation. Bishops such as Musa, Yu’annis, and Marcos represent this trend.

In answering a separate question Labib noted Pope Shenouda was between the two trends, especially over time. While very confrontational before his banishment to the monastery in 1981, he became much more conciliatory after his return. Thereafter his conduct varied issue by issue as he deemed best.

Another question concerned whether or not these trends pertained to intra-church issues such as divorce and relations with other denominations. Another pertained to whether or not ordinary Copts are putting pressure on the selectors for their papal preference.

Labib stated that social issues are not a resonating factor and do not serve to be discussed by the church at this time. These intra-church matters must wait until the election of a new pope and then probably about six months or so afterwards, before they re-emerge for discussion or decision. In any case, if there is a semblance of popular pressure, it consists in the fact that the ordinary Copt is fearful the community no longer has a representative or protector in front of the state and/or Islamists.

One question wondered if the current constitutional crisis and threatened Islamist dominance affects Coptic concerns over the selection of the pope. No, Labib replied, as the selection is a wholly internal matter unaffected by parliament or the constitution. If the church purposed to amend the 1957 regulations this would have needed ratification in parliament, which could have complicated the issue.

To close the press conference after this note Windfuhr remarked that which binds Egyptians together is much stronger than that which divides them, believing Egypt would ultimately succeed in its transitional phase, however difficult it may be. Along these lines he noted that the great majority of all Egyptians received news of Pope Shenouda’s death with emotion and sympathy. Even those who made a show of their rejection in parliament by failing to stand for a moment of silence probably went home and regretted it, he remarked. If not, they were surely rebuked by their families upon arrival.

In appreciation, the Foreign Press Association ended the press conference with everyone standing for a minute of silence.


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