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Christian Century Middle East Published Articles

Making Sense of Egypt’s Popular ‘Coup’

June 30 Demonstrations

From my recent article at Christian Century. It walks through the transition which brought Morsi to power and thereafter deposed him. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion, focusing on the position of Christians:

As for the nation’s Christians, they view the military intervention as salvation. Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros, who had pledged upon his ascension to the papacy to stay out of politics, appeared side by side with Egypt’s chief Muslim leader to back the move. Protestants appreciated this as a public signal of Christian equality, while the Anglican bishop rejoiced Egypt was now free of the ‘repressive rule’ of the Brotherhood.

But are such public celebrations wisdom? In the fluid chaos of Egypt’s transition, who is to say the situation will not flip again? Copts are very careful to align with the nation’s moderate Muslims; dare they align with an extra-constitutional putsch against a large swath of religiously conservative neighbors? As citizens they are free, but as an ever-vulnerable religious minority will they find sufficient protection in the army and a hopeful emerging civil democratic order?

Perhaps they have no choice. Perhaps they see more clearly than anyone the issues at stake under Islamist rule. Only a year and a half earlier they suffered their greatest massacre at the hands of the army, when a Coptic protest was crushed under military tanks. Still, they took refuge.

This is the same question now faced by Egyptians as a whole, and as such the transition becomes more of a revolution proper. Islamist or civil; religious or secular – inasmuch as these are false dichotomies they also represent the current struggle. All that is lacking for a true revolution is violence; for the sake of Muslims and Christians together, may this development not come to pass.

Please click here to read the whole article at Christian Century.

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Christian Century Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Write-Ups in the Run-Up to the Run-Off

Egyptians vote today, but I am having trouble deciding if I wish or am able to make a prediction (especially after the last disaster). I think probably I will, but my mind is still spinning from recent events, so in all likelihood I’ll wait until tomorrow and gauge the mood after day one.

In the meanwhile I can share with you some articles published elsewhere in advance of the run-off elections.

From Christianity Today: A primer explaining who the Copts are.

This weekend, Egypt will choose as its president either Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood or Ahmed Shafik of the former Hosni Mubarak regime. (That is, unless fallout from a high court’s invalidation yesterday of the nation’s parliament cancels the election.) Few Egyptians are excited about these choices—including many of the nation’s Copts.

But who are the Copts? Generally understood as “the Christians of Egypt,” Copts comprise Orthodox, evangelicals, and Catholics who total 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. (Egypt also has a sizeable population of Christian refugees from Sudan.) Both the euphoria and disappointment of the Arab Spring have brought these branches of Christianity in Egypt closer together as a community.

However, defining the Copts concretely is more difficult, explains Mark Nygard, director of graduate studies at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (founded in 1863 by American Presbyterian missionaries).

“Copts are the historical Orthodox Church of Egypt. It is a fuzzy term, but strictly speaking it refers to those under the pope’s authority,” he said.

Click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.

From Christian Century: Asking if Copts did, and now will, vote for the old regime candidate.

Coptic Christians, who constitute about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, were in a unique position to influence the first round of the presidential elections on May 23–24, the first election ever in Egypt without a predetermined outcome. It appears that they sided primarily with a representative of the old regime.

The top two vote-getters were Ahmed Shafik, who was appointed prime minister by Hosni Mubarak in a last-ditch effort to save his position, and Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. With Morsi and Shafik set to compete in a runoff election June 16–17, the election seems drawn as a competition between the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsi and Shafik each advanced with about 24 percent of the total, edging out Hamdeen Sabahi, who finished third. Sabahi is a long-standing opposition figure and a moderate socialist and Egyptian nationalist. As the centrist candidacies of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Amr Moussa waned, Sabahi’s popularity exploded, especially among the youth, including many Copts. Fotouh is a former Brotherhood member who sought to be a bridge between Islamists and liberals. He attracted some Copts until receiving the endorsement of ultra-conservative Salafi groups, which scared many away. Moussa is a former foreign minister who fell out of favor with Mubarak, which increased his credibility. He attracted Copts who were sympathetic to the revolution but wary of drastic changes.

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani, estimated that about 60 percent of Christians voted for Shafik, 30 percent for Sabahi, and 10 percent for Moussa. As the votes were counted, one Sabahi campaign activist lashed out at Christians, claiming that they killed the revolution. He was quickly quieted down.

Yet is the charge true? Did Copts vote solidly for the most counterrevolutionary candidate? One must also ask: Did they feel the threat of the Brotherhood compelled them to make this decision?

For Sidhom, the choice has become clear. “The revolution is now in the hands of political Islam, and Copts must make a bitter choice to support the civil state. I expect Moussa’s supporters will easily shift to Shafik, but how will we be able to convince the youth, who were so dedicated to the revolution, to do so as well?”

Click here to continue reading at Christian Century.

Finally, for any Spanish speaking readers of this blog, please click here to access the Deia newspaper from Spain which is following the Coptic perspective on elections, and interviewed me in the process.

Best wishes and success to all Egyptians.

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