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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Fire in Cairo

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Once before, Cairo burned. With fire true and abstract, she is threatened again.

The incidents are curious, God, and in the sequential diversity conspiracy spins. Familiar foes blame each other, while official authorities blame faulty wiring.

Settle the cause of every and all, holding accountable for each liability. Connect the dots or prove them random, but put the mind of the nation at ease.

For there is little shame in assuming the worst, God. A new tragedy springs every week, compounding problems as if under siege.

After a lengthy lull, unknown assailants gunned down officers in Giza. Sinai has been long troubled, but for many months the capital has been calm. The Islamic State has amped up its rhetoric against Egypt. Does this attack portend more ill?

Keep Egypt safe, God, from enemies far and near. That they exist is obvious. Identify them properly.

Concurrently investigated is a youthful online street comedy group. Much popularity has followed their satire of state, interpreted by others as incitement and insult.

God, the semi-strong can punish offense. The truly strong can bear with patience. Guide the youth from youthful indiscretion, judge them for any sinister plotting. Bless their creativity and channel it properly.

But restore to Egypt the confidence of upright conviction. Help society establish freedom, discern deviation, and reinforce responsibility. It is a hard balance, God, in the best of times. Give Egypt the strength to find it.

Which is near impossible when constantly putting out fires. Arson, accident, or negligence, God, install better detectors and sprinklers. Rid her of traditional asbestos, and cleanse her with holy rain.

Amen.

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Current Events

Misguided Ideas on the Egyptian Economy

Mideast Egypt Economy
(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser via skift.com)

Writing in the UAE-based National, Patrick Werr outlines six common motifs that Egypt tends to rely on for the promotion of its economy.

They are dead wrong, he explains, and actually harmful. Here is the list:

  1. A strong currency means a strong Egypt
  2. Egypt has vast desert areas. With only a bit of resolve they can be turned green
  3. Egypt needs to grow its own wheat so it can stop importing
  4. The government needs to build more housing to meet growing demand
  5. The country needs megaprojects to get the economy going
  6. Moving government offices out of the city centre will ease traffic congestion

Werr has worked as a financial writer in Egypt for the past 25 years, so his experience and cultural understanding is extensive. Click on the link above to read his justifications.

But here is one section to highlight. It shows he does not oppose all megaprojects, and proposes a much better investment I heartily agree with:

The good ones, in my opinion, are the Suez Canal corridor project and the rapid expansion of power plants. If only they would add a massive expansion of metro and light rail.

Egypt currently has two operational metro lines, with a third about one-third completed. A fourth line is designed to be fully operational by 2020, with lines five and six envisioned for the future.

As a dedicated urban walker and rider of public transportation, it will be wonderful to access more of the city for the current price of $0.13. Perhaps this must rise in the months or years to come, but to assist a congested Cairo and its lower income residents, I see no better or immediately practical solution.

As for the rest of Werr’s ideas, you be the judge. But to the degree possible, judge in dialogue with Egypt, that she might find her way to a stronger economy for all her citizens.

And as an earlier post speculated, it will also benefit the world.

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Current Events

Convergence

An Egyptian man reads the Quran while riding the metro (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
An Egyptian man reads the Quran while riding the metro (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

A few days ago I stood in the center of a crowded metro car. It was around 95 degrees, hotter inside. Strangely enough with the open windows and rotating ceiling fans, the temperature was tolerable.

Sometimes it can be preferable in the aisle, rather than squeezed five across a four person bench. But generally it is better to sit, relax, and open a book. Otherwise I stand, keep balance, and open a book.

Save for the few with a Quran, I am often the only one reading.

Sometimes I am sheepish about the content, worried it might offend any one of the strongly held political opinions of the day. On this occasion, sadly somewhat paranoid, I pull it carefully from my bag, turn the cover inward against my body, and then open to read.

There are many Egyptians proficient in English, but generally speaking everyone on the metro minds their own business. Still, who knows if a troublemaker with wandering eyes wants to take issue with a foreigner? Especially when not reading, my eyes often wander as well, curious how others pass the time.

The best way to get a seat in a crowded metro is to move to the center and hope those in front of you get out at a nearby stop. It makes for a fun guessing game. Should I choose the family with small kids, or the young university students? Will it be the old man, or the fully covered lady?

This time I had no choice, and just filed into my spot. In front of me was a Quran reader intoning quietly, sitting next to a similarly aged young man playing Candy Crush on his smartphone.

At that moment a familiar sound emerged from the far left end of the car. “By God, please help me,” called out a medium-sized woman dressed completely in black. “God reward you for your kindness, I need food for my children.”

As she worked her way through the crowded car a few people slipped her a coin. But upon completion of her plea another familiar sound came from the far right. “Four pens for five pounds, and get the fifth one free,” the middle aged, somewhat shabbily dressed salesman belted. “Check them out, the best pens in Cairo.”

One or two people handed him the requested bill, but as they did with the covered lady, most ignored him. The two alternated cries as they moved down the aisle.

In the middle, all converged. The Quran and Candy Crush. Begging and enterprise. Middle class youth, lower class poverty, and foreign wealth.

Each was seeking something: a small profit, a trip downtown. For me the metro is the fastest way from here to there. At thirteen cents, it is also the cheapest.

But it is also a chance to learn in transit. Not just the book. The metro is a microcosm of society, a dose of reality piercing the bubble of a more insular Maadi.

Most travel in silence. But whether in hope or complaint, the face of the nation is witnessed clearly. Within it is a valuable lesson to Egyptian and foreigner alike.

The Cairo metro is home to all.

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Current Events

The Egyptian Street is Still Alive…

Nahda Group
Credit: Kyrellos Atef

Thousands are in jail for breaking the protest law. Revolutionary hope takes a backseat to stability and security.

Yet, despite the crackdown on opposition politics, an unlikely source of protest is taking back the streets.

‘Even now, I am calling for the revolution to continue and the rejection of dictatorial paths,’ Fr William Sidhom told Lapido. ‘But I have no weapons except my words.’

The motivation is liberation theology. The medium is street theatre.

The 68-year-old Jesuit is one of the few Egyptian Christians influenced by the Latin American movement. He has written fourteen books, five on the subject.

In the 1960s and 1970s, activist Catholics pushed the church not just to care for the poor, but to liberate them from political and economic structures that held them in place.

Pope Francis has warmed to this heritage, designating the murdered Salvadorian bishop Oscar Romero a saint. But in Egypt, Sidhom said, the church is afraid.

Fr. William Sidhom
Fr. William Sidhom

‘There is no faith without justice,’ he said, ‘but the understanding in the Arab world is to stay far away from politics or you will go to prison.’

So instead, Sidhom, the self-proclaimed Christian Marxist, has surrounded himself with Muslim activists.

From 2011 onward they were at the forefront of the Egyptian revolution. Youssef Ramez, the youthful Coptic general-coordinator of Sidhom’s Nahda Association, said the NGO was a centre for much of the early artistic graffiti in and around Tahrir.

Nahda is located in the working-class neighborhood of Faggala, only a thirty-minute walk from the iconic square. For the past fourteen years Sidhom has sponsored acting, painting, music and literacy for residents and artisans alike.

In 2005 he partnered with Mostafa Wafi’s ‘Popular Imagination’ street theatre troupe, placing the Muslim leftist and human rights activist in charge of art and cultural activity.

In 2012 they created the Nahda Art School, whose acronym deliberately forms the Arabic word for ‘people’.

Saturday before sunset prayers, the people hit the street.

‘What are their demands?’ asked an intrigued resident playfully as the group of twenty moved from the centre to an open sidewalk in front of the local chemist.

With five Sudanese refugees at the head of the procession, the students chanted an African tune before launching into a fifteen-minute sketch.

Then they marched back to the centre, again in song. Several peered from their balconies. Traffic along the narrow side street came to a halt.

‘This is new,’ laughed a driver as his four-year-old daughter gaped from the passenger seat on her mother’s lap. ‘We haven’t seen this in Egypt before, but it is good.’

Nahda DriverThe Nahda effort to share culture with local residents is rare but not quite unique. ‘Our Street Cinema’, funded partially by the British Council, shows current and vintage films in the streets of Salam district in Cairo.

‘Mahatat for Contemporary Art’ stages opera presentations in residential balconies in the Delta cities of Port Said, Damietta and Mansoura.

But ‘Art is a Square’ grew too popular—and perhaps too provocative—for its own good. Despite receiving on-and-off funding from the Ministry of Culture, security forces shut down its monthly offerings of art and music.

The Nahda sketch had an ‘indirect’ political message, said Italian-trained acting coach Hamdy el-Tounsy.

His students designed content under his supervision, consisting of several short scenes from everyday life. Issues included racism, sexual harassment and drug use. But nestled in was also a reference to an opposition newspaper, doubling as a pun about absent human dignity.

‘There are many messages that can be received,’ said Tounsy, ‘but it is up to each person what impacts him.’

Wafi’s ‘Popular Imagination’ troupe has produced street theatre performances about public space, freedom for women, and emigration. But it was The Colours’ Revolution that carried a direct political message.

‘Dictatorship destroys diversity,’ he told Lapido. But Wafi’s greater concern is ‘daily politics’, the kind that organizes neighborhoods and clears garbage from the streets.

Last year, as Islamist protests were squashed under President Sisi, Colours was performed over 150 times throughout Egypt.

Each performance is cleared first with local neighborhood leaders—café and chemist owners in the most recent example. Should the police show concern they assure all is OK.

Even so, Wafi considered and then declined a revision of Colours. ‘The atmosphere is not right,’ he said. Currently in production is a play about water pollution.

Wafi considers himself a non-practicing Muslim, but is positive about Sidhom’s liberation theology. Copts’ strong attachment to the church, he believes, hurts the concept of citizenship. But Christians in Sidhom’s circles are driven to help the poor and marginalized.

The sponsorship of the church also gives cover to Nahda’s work, he said. Independent activists have much less space to operate.

Catholic Church spokesman Fr. Rafic Greiche said that Egyptian church hierarchy distances itself from liberation theology because of Latin American associations with communism and violence.

Ramez said that apart from Christian activists, almost no Copts have even heard of it.

But for Sidhom, the believer must ‘defend justice, build society, and secure the interests of the poor’. There are many methods, some revolutionary.

His path is development through the sharing of culture.

‘Revolution is not to change ten officers with ten others, but to change society,’ he said. ‘This requires great patience.

‘So rather than people going to the theatre, we take the theatre to the people.’

Nahda Audience

This article was originally published at Lapido Media.

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Current Events

Mama Maggie, by Makary and Vaughn: A Review

Mama Maggie

How much good can one person do? Why do anything when the need is so great? One woman’s mission to love the forgotten children of Egypt’s garbage slums offers a glimpse into answers for these questions.

A rich Egyptian girl who grew up in a doctor’s family and continued her affluent lifestyle into her 30s, Maggie Gobran could have easily overlooked the smelly garbage district of Moqattam. After all, thousands of poor people lived here suffering from poverty, illiteracy, abuse, and hopelessness. What could one wealthy Egyptian woman do?

This story paints a picture of Maggie’s life—her background, service, dependence on God, and love for the forgotten children. It describes the beginnings of the garbage cities in and around Cairo, as well as their many inherent and ongoing problems. But it also interweaves the political workings of Egypt and the turmoil of the past few years.

The book was especially interesting for me to read since I live in Egypt and have visited Garbage City. Its short, interesting chapters paint a realistic picture: Piles upon piles of garbage, animals wandering in and out of houses, and the social dynamics of ordinary people maintaining their dignity amid everyday filth.

But it also highlighted a surprising reality: Clean clothes for children, fun summer camps, new kindergartens and schools, and a chance for kids to dream. Throughout all the obstacles, Maggie perseveres through her faith in God and stubbornness to see these children given a fair chance at life.

It is a rewarding look into the life of a woman nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

 


For more information about Mama Maggie, please use this link to view it at BookLook: http://booklookbloggers.com/blogger/resources/9780718022037 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Borio: Milk’s Favorite Cookie

Borio

Life can sometimes be much less expensive in Cairo than in other cities of the world, and what better test can demonstrate this than the Oreo cookie?

Or rather, the Borio.

I am not sure about any of the legalities in this locally produced knockoff of the popular Nabisco product, but it is ubiquitous in Egypt. Many restaurants, especially those that cater to foreigners, will also offer a Borio Madness ice cream treat, or a Borio smoothie, or varieties of this sort.

But as my wife was shopping the other day she saw the Borio and the Oreo side-by-side.

The foreign Oreo costs 1.5 LE for a pack of three – the equivalent of 22 US cents.

The local Boreo costs 1 LE for a pack of six – the equivalent of 14 US cents.

By contrast, a quick internet search revealed that Walmart in the US is offering a variety 12 pack of Oreos, each containing four cookies, for $18.72, or, $1.56 each.

Anyone with a sweet tooth care to join us?

Sure, the wrapper will probably be thrown on the garbage littered streets, and there is the pesky problem of riots and occasional explosions and all, but think of it differently…

Who can turn down a Borio, especially at these prices?

Ahlan wa sahlan.

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Current Events

A Color (Printed) Revolution?

With decent regularity pro-Morsi supporters have conducted small protest marches around our Maadi neighborhood since his removal from office in July 2013. They do not tend to be violent but usually result in ugly graffiti insulting now-President Sisi.

Recently, new graffiti has emerged, calling the people to ‘man up’ and protest on January 25, the anniversary of the original revolution. And this past week I noticed posters – on the ground – calling for a new uprising.

New January 25 ProtestsThe translation reads: Together for liberation and purging; The people want the fall of the regime; and 25 January, Egypt speaks revolution.

I do not yet have a good feel for whether or not people will respond. A recent effort to rally an Islamic revolution failed dramatically to attract numbers.

But what is significant to me about this poster is that it is printed in color. This means there is money behind the effort. Another version was even more colorful, but was in poorer condition.

Also significant is that it was on the ground, stomped upon. I did not see any such posters anywhere on the walls. Were they torn down? Did residents or police prevent their hanging?

January 25 is a week away. It will be interesting to monitor developments.

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Current Events

Ancient Egyptian Church Renovated

Hanging Church

It is often said of Egypt that it is impossible to build or repair a church without presidential permission, even simply to fix a toilet or change a light bulb. There are historical reasons for this statement and contemporary examples of the difficulty.

But this article in Ahram Online celebrates the full reopening of the 4th Century ‘Hanging Church’, following sixteen years of renovation.

Work was carried out under the supervision of the Ministry of Antiquities with a $14 million budget.

He explained that the restoration work was carried out in three phases to reduce water leakage and strengthen the church’s foundations and the Babylon fortress located beneath it, to protect them from potential future damage. The walls were reinforced, missing and decayed stones were replaced and masonry cleaned and desalinated. The decorations and icons of the church were also subject to fine restoration in collaboration with Russian experts. New lighting and ventilation systems have also been installed.

Located in a heavily populated area, says Wadallah Mohamed, assistant of the head of the projects section at the ministry, the Hanging Church was suffering from environmental hazards including air pollution, a high subsoil water level, a high rate of humidity, and leakage of water from the outdated and a decayed 100-year-old sewage system. Other damage included decorations of the church’s wooden ceiling being stained with smoke and the impact of the 1992 earthquake, which resulted in cracks in the church’s walls and foundations.

“The church is now safe and sound and its restoration was carried out according to the latest technology,” asserted Mohamed.

The church was beautiful before the renovation, I look forward to visiting it now. It is located next to the Coptic Museum, which also has opened recently after a long period of repair.

This news should not let Egypt off the hook for its record in facilitating church construction. A high profile worship site and tourist attraction is far different from some church in an obscure village. It should be said, however, that obscure village churches are often built in a style far more grandiose than local need might warrant. It should also be said, further, that once a church is built, a mosque springs up next to it, so that local Christians will call it ‘the church’s mosque’. There is often a competition over height; both religious adherents often prize the building for its social statement over its functional purpose.

But this requires a full and separate analysis. For now, simply celebrate that Egypt has cooperated to repair a grand church together – toilet, light bulb, and all.

Hanging Church Outside

Here is the message given on the occasion by church and government official figures, as related by Paul Attallah:

Pope Tawadros II gave three messages on this occasion:

First message: A message of gratitude towards our ancestors who built this church on the Roman Babylon Fortress ruins.

The second message is a “promise” to all Egyptians: Egypt is a museum of civilization and history. Each archeological spot is a jewel. We need to be aware about this richness to rejoice and to preserve our monuments.

The third message is a peace message given from this place thanks to the State efforts to deliver a message of peace to the whole world that everyone can coexists in peace. In fact, Egypt is carrying a part of all religions.

The religions don’t exist for rivalry but for peace, and when we begin our celebration with the national anthem it gives a model to the whole world that we can live in peace in the middle of an region full of conflicts and violence. But in Egypt we provide a model and example of religions coexistence.

The Egyptian Prime Minister gave a speech: I remember Pope Shenouda III saying: Egypt our homeland lives in us. It gathers people and don’t divide them. It’s a country which knows love and peace and never give up. Look to the whole region: as long as we are united we will not be scared and we will build our country.

 

 

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Yalla Maadi Clean-Up Day

Following the success of the January 25, 2011 revolution, Egypt witnessed a great wave of civic activism. One of the most popular manifestations was in campaigns to clean the city streets, often accompanied by vibrant artwork and pro-Egypt graffiti. But as the enthusiasm waned and the political situation became more and more polarized, citizens went back to their lives as normal. Worse, the official public services of police and trash collection broke down as main streets were transformed into garbage dumps. Every now and again a faithful public servant or enterprising resident might try to clean things up, but it was a losing battle nationwide.

So it is with encouragement we joined a group of Maadi ladies on a local clean-up campaign they advertised on Facebook. Among many Egyptians the mood is brighter following the removal of President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, and the anticipated presidency of army general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Others, of course, are horrified at the turn the nation has taken, due either to their approval of the Islamist agenda or their advocacy of liberal principles violated in the crackdown against it. But for a great number, after the chaos and disintegration of the past three years, they just want things to go back to normal. With this hope dawning, the spark of civic activism returned.

But only a spark. The Facebook page yielded a few volunteers, but did animate the local municipality. The mayor made a public appearance and authorized the use of heavy equipment to remove built-up dust and trash along street curbs in our few block section of the neighborhood. At least for these past few days, since March 22, the spark of the ladies’ initiative has resulted in the sparkle of a clean community.

But that sparkle may only be in our eyes who now wish to see things more beautiful than they were. Likely, things will go back to normal once again, though there is hope that police and trash collectors are now providing more faithful service. But the normal was never beautiful in and of itself; if there was beauty it was because neighbors had a stake in the uniqueness of the Maadi area. Trash is still thrown on the street, and worse, building code violations continue as highrises impinge upon the villas and family apartments mixed in with tree-lined sidewalks. Maadi benefits from its upper-class standing, so few real complaints can be issued when poorer sectors push against the posh.

But whether upper or lower class, the beauty of a neighborhood is in the eyes of its residents, and how they collectively view and tend to their immediate area. The ladies of Maadi were encouraged by their opening salvo; there is talk of continuing the practice once a month. Yalla Maadi, let’s have more join in next time. God knows where the revolution will take Egypt next, but ownership of the streets never rests with a political power beyond the imagination, or apathy, of those who walk them.

It just depends on initiative. Here are a few pictures to honor those who got us moving.

Getting ready, from the Facebook page.
Getting ready (from the Facebook page)
Perhaps more effective than the children, but less inspiring (from Facebook)
Perhaps more effective than the children, but less inspiring (from Facebook)
But first the streets needed to be swept
First the streets needed to be swept
Hannah Clean-Up Day
Then the curbs of Road 73 were painted
Others painted over recent graffiti sprayed on the walls of local residences
Others painted over recent graffiti sprayed on the walls of local residences
The local trash collectors lent their aid (from Facebook)
The local trash collectors lent their aid (from Facebook)
Then we walked down the street to start again
Then we walked down the street to start again

Please click here to like the Yalla Maadi Facebook page, and for fellow locals, get notification for future events. Hope to see you there.

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Cairo’s Christian Garbagemen Back to Work

From the Guardian, describing a reversal in state policy to work with those who do the job best:

In 2012 former president Mohamed Morsi had made the state of the streets an electoral issue, claiming that he would clean them up in 100 days. He failed. “There’s only one solution,” said Greiss, “and that is to bring the Zabaleen back to the core of the waste collection and disposal process.”

The Zabaleen are a Christian community who migrated from Upper Egypt to the outskirts of Cairo in the 1940s. Extremely poor, they earned a living as the city’s ragpickers before turning to recycling in the early 1980s. With the help of NGOs, including APE, they have facilities for recycling plastic, paper and metal; they feed organic waste to the pigs they keep in their backyards. Animal excrement is sent to a compost plant in a Cairo suburb where it is processed and sold to farmers.

The Zabaleen currently collect some 9,000 tonnes of garbage per day, nearly two-thirds of the 15,000 tonnes of rubbish thrown away by Cairo’s 17 million or so inhabitants, and yet they have never been officially recognised by the Egyptian government.

Now 44 local companies have been registered, moving the model away from foreign based companies:

Iskandar has reversed the policy of previous governments, which tried to marginalise the work of this Christian, mainly Coptic, minority. In 2003, Hosni Mubarak‘s economically liberalising regime asked multinational corporations to handle waste disposal. “That model is not suited to Cairo, where residents are used to dustbins being emptied on each individual floor of a building. People couldn’t get used to taking down their garbage and putting it into special skips, which were later raided by thieves,” said Greiss. “As a result most people continued to pay the Zabaleen to come up and get their garbage unofficially, and then complained because they also had to pay for the foreign service company.”

If their talents are now being unleashed, without restriction, I hope we see a quick turnaround in the garbage problems allowed to fester since the revolution.

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Our Little Ones Watch a Protest

Rabaa Child
From a protest elsewhere in Maadi

The other day Emma’s best friend, Karoleen, and her younger brother, Boula, came over to play at our home following church. As the kids were gathered around the table working on crafts, I heard the familiar sounds of a protest approaching. A fair number have passed near the house in recent months, although they usually go down the main street perpendicular to ours. Since we live on the ground floor, we usually don’t get a good look despite the noise, but this time they turned and came in full view.

We had been looking for an opportunity to film a protest for a recent video we made about the changes in our neighborhood since we returned from a summer in America. So I dropped the construction paper I was cutting up for one of my daughters, grabbed the camera and ran to our play room, which is a glass-enclosed porch. This gave me the best view I could get of the marchers.

I opened the window and screen, just enough to stick the camera out, but I still felt conspicuous. I didn’t really want to attract any attention from the protesters, but I was willing to risk a bit for a decent line of sight. As they marched, I noticed that some of them looked at our house, but not, as best I could tell, in my direction.

But it was then I heard the shouts and screams from my own kids and their friends in the other room, as they watched the protest go by from our living room windows. That’s why they were looking our way.

Two weeks earlier a protest had gone past Karoleen’s house, about ten streets away from our home, while Emma and Hannah were playing there. Her mom told me afterward that it made Emma concerned, even for us in case the protest came towards our home. But Karoleen’s family lives on the 7th floor of her apartment building, far above the action.

So as I was filming, I was simultaneously hoping the kids weren’t too afraid now that they were outside our window. As it turns out I had nothing to worry about. The kids loved it.

They noticed the bright yellow hand signs, though they didn’t know what they meant. They especially took interest in the kids who were marching along in the protest. There were balloons and chanting, which sounded more like cheering to them. In this particular march, there was nothing to be afraid of. It was a friendly, jovial atmosphere.

When I returned to the table the kids talked excitedly about what they had seen. The planned craft was abandoned as they used the construction paper to make protest banners. Theirs, however, bore the name ‘Sisi’ as opposed to ‘Morsi’, in favor of the current military leader who many see as a hero. They teased each other about being ‘for Morsi’ as they bantered around the table. I didn’t realize what fun it would be for them to have political discussions, though this was not the first time our children had taken sides.

In the end, I got the video we had been looking for, and the kids received some unexpected entertainment. We appreciated the peacefulness of the protest, and wound up happy they turned down our street.

It wasn’t until later we were less pleased, noticing the graffiti they had sprayed on our walls. ‘Sisi is a killer,’ they wrote, and, ‘Against Oppression.’ The latter is a message we won’t mind our children seeing every day, but the first one is not so nice. Of course, neither was the explanation we had to give about the yellow signs, commemorating the hundreds of pro-Morsi protestors who were killed when their campsite was cleared.

Our kids, of course, pay little attention to the graffiti. It will be the image of the protest that will stay in their mind, which we invite you to share in also.

'Sisi is a Killer'
‘Sisi is a Killer’
'Against Oppression'
‘Against Oppression’
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Current Events

A Foreign Journalist in an Egyptian Jail

From Vocative, a disturbing account that hits too close to home:

I was reporting on the marchers, and not long after I gave the policemen cigarettes, a young police recruit grabbed me by the back of the neck. He slapped me on the head repeatedly as his friend took my camera from around my neck and my phone from my pocket. He marched me toward a small alley that leads off Tahrir Street, where I could see a number of other Egyptian men being penned in by some riot police.

I fumbled in my wallet for my press pass, from the Cairo Press Center. A senior member of the riot police looked at it and saw that it said “British.” He looked up at me and back down at my photo a few times before saying, in English, “I’m sorry.”

Assuming I was free to go, I asked for my phone and motioned for my pass. But I got a hefty push in the back and suddenly found myself with the other detained men. I called to a nearby police recruit and told him I was a British journalist and said there was some misunderstanding. He told me to put my hands behind my back. When I reiterated my point, he slapped me in the face.

He describes the conditions inside the police station, and though he does not appear to have been singled out for poor treatment, it was poor all the same:

The temperature in the room was rising. A 50-year-old teacher nodded his head gently against my shoulder. I turned around and saw a face of genuine sympathy, “I am sorry,” he said.

“Look,” he motioned to a corner of the room. I had completely missed a man of at least 60 crumpled in the corner. Both his legs were covered with birdshot, blood slowly pooling around his feet. I looked at the blood, and the smell immediately became unbearable.

We could hear screams from outside the door, which would open only to reveal yet another poor man being flogged for no apparent reason. The officers smiled at one another as they beat the men. They fit the stereotype of despotic state security so perfectly it would have been funny if it weren’t so depressing.

After about 90 minutes, they decided to move us—to a minuscule, enclosed courtyard in the middle of the building. Sixty people squeezed in like sardines, sweat beading off us. The tiled floors were dusty and covered in rubbish and aberrant marks of dried blood. I was pushed to my knees once again. I turned and tried to reason with my captors, but was quickly cut off by a kick to the back. “Look straight ahead!” would be the catchphrase for the rest of the evening.

I finally turned and stayed turned, covering the back of my head. I noticed that everyone else was in exactly the same position.

This was by far the most painful part of the day. Kneeling for close to three hours, crammed so closely together there wasn’t space for me to put my hands on the floor to help shift my weight.

It does turn out ok in the end, at least for him and a few others:

Around 10 p.m., about six hours after I was arrested, we were suddenly asked to stand up. I almost collapsed as my knees. Leaning on the man in front of me, I steadied myself and we filed out of the room and upstairs. We were told to line up in front of a notice board. I read the yellowed certificates and newspaper clippings trumpeting the police station’s valiant work of the past decades.

Again, we were pulled aside, one by one, and our details recorded. I stayed there silently while they sorted us into two groups, one with around 12 men and the other with closer to 50. Everyone looked exhausted, the blood on their shirts now that dull brown color.

After some paperwork and backslapping, the policemen sent the larger group back downstairs. The smaller group and I were free to leave.

I wonder what it would have been like in an American jail? Surely nowhere is the experience pleasant, and perhaps six hours is a rather fast processing.

In either setting, I hope I never have to find out. Comfort, comfort, for all who do.

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Kerry’s Visit, as Reported in Cairo and Washington

First from Ahram Online, in very negative tones:

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with top Egypt officials to convey Washington’s “deep concern” about the transitional period and to offer the US’s goodwill should developments move “on the right track,” according to Western diplomats.

But on CNN, the focus brushes over any difficulties at all:

U.S. ties with Egypt go deeper than aid, America’s top diplomat said Sunday.

“Let me make it clear here today: President Obama and the American people support the people of Egypt,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. “We believe this is a vital relationship.”

Both articles report the general thrust of the speech, but their opening leads are indicative. The US wants to avoid a crisis while Egypt wants to project one.

I cannot speak very well about the messaging coming from Washington, but Egypt is currently filled with belief that the US backed the Muslim Brotherhood and is even now working behind the scenes against the popularly backed military move to depose President Morsi.

After all, for many here, the timing of Kerry’s visit is auspicious. He arrives one day before Morsi’s trial is to begin.

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Current Events

Changes in the Neighborhood

Maadi Street

We spent a good part of this past summer in the United States, far away from the explosive political situation. As we prepared to return, nearly everyone asked a similar question: Is it safe?

It was a fair question. Hundreds of supporters of the deposed president were killed while security dispersed their sit-in. Dozens of churches across the country were attacked, with many burned. It was a volatile situation.

But it was also a geographically limited situation. As we inquired about our own neighborhood of Maadi, we were constantly assured that things were safe and that violence was taking place in known locations.

After several weeks back, we made this video showing local slices of life. There have been changes, and we note them. But we also hope you get the idea that life moves as normal. We’re glad also you get a small window into this our normal life, and can rest assured we are doing well.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Wedding Terror

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Of the troubles that Copts face, this may portend the worst. A wedding celebration in a working-class Cairo neighborhood church suffered a drive-by shooting. Five died, including two children and the mother of the groom.

Church buildings have been attacked. Land disputes may be disguised criminal aggression. But rarely has anyone shot to kill.

God, may this attack be only an exception. Against Copts, and against anyone, do not let political frustrations boil over into random acts of pointed violence.

Frustrations are many. Islamist groups condemned the attack, blaming security instead for failing to secure the church. But as frustrated as these groups are with the security clampdown against them, their opponents are frustrated by Islamist obstinacy in the face of widespread rejection.

And within this mix is continued anti-Coptic sentiment.

God, purify the political scene. For the sake of so much more, but including this, bring Egypt a new prosperity that restores both hope and civil participation. Sort out the right and the wrong between Islamists and the state, but keep the people from descending into hatred.

For surely it is hatred which drove someone to this crime.

Help the Copts to forgive, God. Transform their grief and anger into something redemptive. Bind together all in the aggrieved neighborhood, and produce a subsequent unity that will amaze the nation.

But also bring justice. Do it with transparency so that all my see the sin and recoil from it. Otherwise accusations may simply multiply the political frustrations contributing to this downward spiral.

For if such acts continue the nation may halt. Keep terror far from the people. Keep the peace in Egypt, God.

Keep every bride from looking over her shoulder.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events

A Tale of Two Weddings

Burned Church Wedding

From my new article at Christianity Today, published October 23, 2013, on why protesting a drive-by shooting is complicated for Egypt’s Christians:

The wedding party stood outside the church, eagerly awaiting the ceremonious arrival of the bride. Instead, drive-by shooters killed four, including two children and the groom’s mother, and injured 18.

Beyond its poignancy, the attack in Cairo’s industrial neighborhood of Warraq was significant for being one of the first to target Egypt’s Christians specifically, versus the now-common attacks on their church buildings.

“Since the revolution, this is the first instance Coptic people were targeted randomly in a church, with weapons,” said Mina Magdy, general coordinator for the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic revolutionary group formed in response to church burnings in 2011 after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today, which describes the pulling back of protests so as not to be associated with anti-‘coup’ sentiment. There is also a video of the second wedding, held in a burnt-out church in Upper Egypt, which you can watch here (4:14 mark).

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Current Events

Anglican Bishop Mouneer on the Break-Up of pro-Morsi Sit-Ins

Bishop Mouneer Anis
Bishop Mouneer Anis

As violence continues in Cairo and cities throughout Egypt today, the Anglican Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis has issued a statement urging people to pray. Here is his description of events:

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As I write these words, our St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi.  They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church.  I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt (see attached photo), as well as a Catholic church in Suez.  Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt.  Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt.

Orthodox Church in Suhag

Early this morning, the police supported by the army, encouraged protestors in two different locations in Cairo, to leave safely and go home.  It is worth mentioning that these protestors have been protesting for 6 weeks, blocking the roads.  The people in these neighborhoods have been suffering a great deal—not only these people, but those commuting through, especially those who are going to the airport.  The police created very safe passages for everyone to leave.  Many protestors left and went home, however, others resisted to leave and started to attack the police.  The police and army were very professional in responding to the attacks, and they used tear gas only when it was necessary.  The police then discovered caches of weapons and ammunition in these sites.  One area near Giza is now calm, but there is still some resistance at other sites.  There are even some snipers trying to attack the police and the army.  There are even some rumors that Muslim Brotherhood leaders asked the protestors in different cities to attack police stations, take weapons, and attack shops and churches.

A few hours later, violent demonstrations from Mursi supporters broke out in different cities and towns throughout Egypt.  The police and army are trying to maintain safety for all people and to disperse the protestors peacefully.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi have threatened that if they are dispersed from the current sites, they will move to other sites and continue to protest.   They also threatened to use violence.  There have been a number of fatalities and casualties from among the police as well as the protestors, but it seems that the numbers are not as high as expected for such violence.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi claim that there are very high numbers of casualties.  The real numbers will be known later on.

Please pray that the situation will calm down, for wisdom and tact for the police and the army, for the safety of all churches and congregations, and that all in Egypt would be safe.

May the Lord bless you!

+Mouneer

In my quick reading of events, it seems clear that live gunfire is being exchanged on both sides. Either infiltrators were very quick to penetrate the protests and fire on police, or the lie is given that these demonstrations were completely peaceful. Reports the past few weeks indicated the protest organizers were keen to check the IDs and pat down everyone who entered the sit-in. Many, probably the great majority, of those present were unarmed. But apparently, reports which indicated weapons were present were also true.

As Bishop Mouneer stated, churches across the country are also being targeted. Interesting to note is this report:

The al-Gamaa al-Islamiya ultra-conservative movement called on supporters of toppled president Morsi to take to the streets to condemn what it termed “coup crimes.”

The statement by the hardline Islamist group – a close ally of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – also urged its loyalists “enraged by police attacks on the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins,” not to assault “Christians or their religious buildings.”

So at this point they read these attacks as actions of the pro-Morsi crowds, rather than a black flag of the security forces, which they warned about weeks earlier. The speculation would be if this is their public face covering over their own private rage and instruction. Anti-Christian rhetoric has been employed by several Islamist figures ever since the original protest movement against Morsi in December 2012 when he issued a constitutional declaration granting himself absolute power (later rescinded, but protecting of actions taken during that time).

But in this current climate, it is difficult to make sense of the situation. Patience is needed, for there will soon be a flood of propaganda.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Upper Egypt

Flag Cross Quran

God,

All too often Upper Egypt is neglected, unless there are problems. Then, they must be extraordinary and embarrassing; normal problems go unheeded and have for decades. Almost by nature, farmers do not agitate, and this nature has permeated much of the region’s character. But is Upper Egypt the frog that boils heedlessly or the camel on which one last straw is placed?

May a better metaphor be found, God. Both of these imply portending ill; perhaps others would imply continued suffering. Surely there is much to celebrate, if ever news would carry. But as the situation deteriorates in Egypt the pain is acute in the south. Some anticipate a revolution of the hungry.

Much is out of their control, God. Governors are appointed from Cairo and most decisions are centralized in the capital. Elected representatives often come from large families and patronage networks. Education is worse than the rest of the nation while religious and tribal rivalries are strong.

Even if Egypt requires a strong central government, God, provide this region the ability, space, and will to shape its own future. May innate common sense and practicality yield fruit; to these add cultural enrichment, political participation, and economic opportunity.

God, in these regions where Christians are plentiful, save them from surrender to a narrative of oppression. Where they have grievances may neutral arbitrators grant justice through the law. Where they suffer bias, rebuke and rebuild soiled mentalities. In both cases may they respond with love and forgiveness, even as they stand for their rights. But may they never generalize their neighbors or pull back from integration. Give them friends, God, but make them friendly. May they creatively initiate for the good of all.

And God, where Muslims see Christians withdraw into the church, expand unlicensed places of worship, and quietly whisper about the nature of Islam and oppose a particular political version thereof, give an understanding and engaging spirit. May they do what is necessary to reassure a troubled community of the unity of all. May they, too, resist the temptation of escalating rhetoric and accusatory recrimination. May Muslims be agents of peace and social healing.

God, provide for the poor. Grow the crops. Multiply the livestock. Establish business. Employ laborers. Upper Egypt is in great need, but has known this need for generations. You have provided, God; you have given patience and contentment. Chastise those who grow rich off their good nature without returning in kind. But make the region an example for the nation to follow.

To a fair degree Egypt is of their nature, for good and for ill. Preserve and transform, God. May Upper Egypt know and increase its strength.

Amen.

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

From Khosus to the Cathedral: New Attacks on Copts

Attack on Coptic Funeral

From my article on Arab West Report, on the recent attack on the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral:

Sectarian violence struck Egypt again on Friday, April 6, as at least four Christians and one Muslim were killed in an incident in Khusūs, in the governorate of Qalyubia, to the north of Cairo. Clashes continued on Sunday, and spread to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Cairo, where a funeral procession was attacked by unknown assailants. Religious and political leaders have condemned the violence and called for calm, but much about the original incident remains unclear.

The report aggregates information from varied local media sources, with links provided. But the unique contribution is the report of an investigative reporter who visited and spoke with local sources. His testimony is quite specific:

Many of these details are difficult to sort, but investigative reporter Rā’id Sharqāwī visited the area and offers a possible explanation. He collected testimony saying Muslim youths drew the Nazi swastika on the wall, and were confronted by authorities. A crowd gathered, as is common during disputes, and drew in local residents including members of a prominent Christian family living opposite the Azhar institution.

A younger member of this family confronted the Muslim youth, asking him why he was drawing offensive symbols on the wall. In the heated exchange this Christian drew his gun and shot the Muslim, killing him. This produced great tumult in the area, and took place around 12 noon.

The Christians, however, were not killed until around 4pm, and in a manner Sharqāwī found mysterious and perhaps conspiratorial. A group of men armed with automatic weapons drove in from outside the area on motorcycles and fired, somewhat randomly, at a group of assembled Christians. At this time stores were broken into and looted; Sharqāwī surmised it was an organized effort to take advantage of the chaos. The situation was not helped by the diffusion of rumors throughout the village, that each religious community was attacking the other.

The article continues by summarizing details of the attack on the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the seat of the pope, during a funeral procession for the slain Copts. It was an ugly, ugly incident. The response of the presidency will be closely monitored, but in immediate rhetoric he declares the attack on the cathedral was an attack on himself. Most Copts would say this is well and good, but nearly all previous, smaller scale attacks on Christians have gone unpunished.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood protests and claims conspiracy against the stability of the state. This is from the conclusion:

Is there a conspiracy leveled against the Brotherhood to spark sectarian tension and drive the country to chaos? Or, must they invent a conspiracy to cover over the latent sectarian tension which exists and erupted naturally, in order to blame hidden hands for the failures of their governance? These questions are far beyond the scope of this report or any subsequent investigations. But they are the questions asked accusingly by both sides of the Egyptian street.

The nation is awash in conspiracy, allegation, and rumor, and who can say it does not exist? But it is hoped this report provides a first step at least in gathering the purported facts, to prevent manipulations based on only a sampling of the above.

Please click here to read a high ranking Coptic bishop’s spiritual response to recent events, and my brief reflection. Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report. May God protect Egypt.

Categories
Personal

On the Message of Bishop Raphael to Coptic Mourners

From Ahram Online, during the funeral sermon for Copts killed in sectarian violence in Khosus, but before the attack on the cathedral itself:

“This deep wound, which is not the first of its kind, leaves me with three messages in my heart,” said Rafael.

“One is to the heavens…We [Copts] believe in heavens’ justice…Christ taught us that he avenges the blood of the martyrs and that the martyrs’ blood is not forgotten by God,” he said, to which mourners responded by chanting: “With our souls and blood, we will protect the cross.”

“My second message is directed to Egypt: We will not leave…governments cannot rule by shedding blood,” Rafael added, to which mourners responded: “We will not leave; this is our country!”

“My third message is directed at Egypt’s Copts: We shall not abandon our faith,” the Bishop concluded. “The bloodshed only makes us embrace our faith even more… We will not compromise our religious ethics, which call us to love all.”

Bishop Raphael is the general bishop for the region of central Cairo, and was one of three candidates for the papacy following the death of Pope Shenouda. His first message is one of patience, but the people responded aggressively.

His second message was of anger, and is odd. The government did not kill the Copts of Khosus, though most Copts are very frustrated with President Morsi and the failure to properly investigate sectarian attacks since the revolution. Perhaps he refers to the bloodshed in Egypt under Morsi’s administration in general. Whatever his meaning, the people responded with a haughty and defiant assertion of their status as the original Egyptians.

His third message must set everything right, and the response of the people is not given. Perhaps that is appropriate, as the next stage is not yet written. Egyptian Christians are facing a tremendous challenge, and their spontaneous reaction was to return violence against attackers and security forces alike.

There is a legitimacy of defending the cathedral; enough has happened in Egypt so far to have made them fear the worst. But it is their call to Christian ethics, to love, which must take hold of clergy and laity alike.

It is no guarantee of success, but it is the way of their faith. Will God prove faithful? If so, how? It is not usually in ways which equate with our comfort.

Rarely, however, has so much been asked of believers.