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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Crown Prince Visit

Flag Cross Quran

God,

It was a high-profile visit, with high-profile rhetoric. The Saudi crown prince took his first foreign policy travels, spending several days in Egypt.

He spoke of economy. The joint megacity is a future boon.

He spoke of terrorism. Turkey and Qatar need isolation.

He spoke of religion. Copts are beloved and Azhar restored.

He spoke of culture. The opera was visited and is coming to Saudi.

God, these are words to consider. They are words many question. Guide Saudi Arabia between rhetoric and reality. Transform the kingdom to mirror your will.

But God, in this relationship, bless also Egypt.

May the projects respect sovereignty and prosper the nation.

May terrorism subside, no matter its source.

May the religious respect others and hearten the nation.

May culture inspire, no matter its form.

God, give peace between nations, both near and far. Raise the profile of Egypt; may her morals be high.

Amen.

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Current Events

The Arrogance of Enemy Love: A Poem to ISIS

Arrogance of Enemy Love
An early 15th century Coptic prayer book from Ethiopia. View the full book at bit.ly/1XP8af8

This article was first published at The Table.

Many have been impressed by the forgiveness Coptic Christians have offered to their enemies. Beheaded, ambushed, churches bombed, shot in cold blood – they have not retaliated. Instead, though anger boils, they pray for their persecutors.

In the links above you can explore the opportunities I have had to write about this suffering community, and in one article I partially translated a poem circulated on social media that one Copt directed to ISIS. The Arabic original is here, and the full translation is below:

I will not speak (as some have done)

And curse your religion whatever its name.

I have come that it be known:

My fathers’ religion and what it proclaims.

My fathers’ religion has love at its heart,

The meaning of which will call you to peace.

My fathers’ religion, right from the start

Offers forbearance that conflict will cease.

Your hatred and killing in no way suffices

To stop us from loving and praying for you.

My father’s religion, oh dear Uncle ISIS,

Is not a weapon to pierce you straight through.

I wish that you could come to see

Or just one time the answer seek.

That while you bomb and murder, we

Stay strong as if a mountain peak.

My fathers’ religion of spirit consists.

It is not a body whose end is the dust.

And for the spirit—despite death persists—

Awaiting are loved ones residing in trust.

My fathers’ religion, if you could discern,

Offers each wounded the medic of life.

Tomorrow when you will repent and return,

You will come to know just who is the Christ.

 

It is a phenomenal sentiment. Which is why I was surprised – and then cut to the core – when my Egyptian friend helping me translate it called it: Haughty.

When I showed him my translation he said: Well done. It is even more arrogant than the original.

My friend is a Muslim, but non-practicing, with a respectful dismissal of religion in general. Perhaps one can say such a person of any background might be offended by strong claims of religious conviction. I have previously written critically when it is labeled bigotry.

I don’t think this is true of my friend. He has a generous heart and speaks tongue-in-cheek. But while I cannot judge the heart of the one who wrote the poem, I can discern the heart of the one who translated it.

And my friend is right.

It is my job to represent what I understand to be the reality of Egypt. This poem, I believe, is an authentic expression of the Coptic community.

But it is more than that. It is an expression of the way I would like the Coptic community to be. Many are not there. Many struggle. Yet many of them hold as an ideal that this is what their Christianity calls for.

So the poem represents also my conviction, but once again more. It represents my triumphalism, my sense of the moral superiority of Christianity. I have written about this before, and it is not necessarily damning. We all judge deficient that which we find to be false.

These days, much of the world says this should not be done with religion. Fair enough. It is hard to weigh between metaphysical matters. Even so, is it not right to let each religion be tested according to its merits, its morals, and its history? Few issues are as important, once one believes in an eternity.

But set all that aside. When I translated the poem I was rejoicing in more than my conviction, I was rejoicing in my identity. When I shared it in the article I was not just encouraging fellow Christian readers with the example of brothers-in-faith. I was encouraging also an us-versus-them mentality.

The ‘them’ is everyone else. There is nothing in it particularly against Islam, but Islam is the context. In Egypt, Christians are surrounded. In America, we are media saturated. I wish to be of generous heart toward Muslims and their faith. This too, with the yearning expressed in the poem, is part of what I understand to be Christianity.

But is that yearning for the glory of God, or the wholeness of my fellow man? Too often, it is the yearning for a pat on the back, the placement on a pedestal. And who better to offer, than a forgiving, grieving woman turned into an icon? Do I truly care for her in the loss of her son or husband? Or do I care for the message we can make out of her?

This is haughtiness. This is arrogance. My friend knows me well, and I’m afraid he exposed me. At the least, he helped God reveal.

Perhaps a bit of Arabic and Egyptian context is helpful. The opening line of the poem, my friend explained, recalls a verse from the popular poet Gamal Bakheet. “Their fathers’ religion, what is its name?” was written at the time of the 2011 revolution, and is a thinly veiled jibe at the Muslim Brotherhood. (See his Arabic recital here.)

The poem speaks of “our fathers’ religion” in the context of sublime values. It praises not only Islam, but also Christianity and Judaism – and even the non-monotheistic religions. And it criticizes those outsiders who want to bring something more defined, more exclusive, and more politically instrumental to Egypt.

My friend has no love for the Muslim Brotherhood, but his father – of whom he speaks respectfully – was a regional leader.

There is another context, even more illustrative. “Your fathers’ religion” is a common insult in Egypt. You can say it to anyone, regardless of their faith, to curse them and their whole ancestry.

In this light, the Coptic poem dips deep into Egyptian waters. It says it will not curse – but even in mentioning the phrase it practically does. It is a redirect, yes, to speak instead of “my fathers’ religion.” But it is soaked in the context from which it emerges. How many Copts have heard this expression hurled by wayward Muslims?

So let us salute them all the more, when they rise above and bless those who go far beyond insult. But remember, and be chastened by, the inherent temptation to pride.

The Bible tells a story of Abraham coming back from a battle, reclaiming his goods taken during a regional war. Upon meeting a friendly king he receives a blessing and yields a tenth of the spoils.

New Testament commentary establishes this king as a prefiguration of Jesus, establishing his covenant of grace as superior to the covenant of law that would be developed through Abraham’s descendants.

For the non-Christian reader, allow the logic to be complicated. But note the verse concerning Abraham and the king. “And without doubt, the lesser person is blessed by the greater.”

How easy it is, when we rightly note and idealistically contemplate the near-impossible calling to bless the enemy, to put ourselves in that superior posture. How easy it is to imagine ourselves in a greater community.

How easy it is to be haughty.

Is the poem a healthy encouragement and impassioned exhortation, or an arrogant celebration and smug self-validation? Only the poet knows.

The translator? The question hits too close to home. It is better to lean toward repentance.

How many of us should consider similarly?

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Princes, Churches

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Help Egypt navigate her way in the world. Help her navigate her way at home.

Ally Saudi Arabia has launched new efforts to curb Iranian influence in the region, while securing power and reform in the kingdom.

There is war in Yemen and Syria. There are palpitations in Lebanon. There is ongoing regional instability.

And then there is Egypt, trying to recover. The president wants peace to prevail. He also has a powerful friend to placate.

God, help Egypt do what is right. Help her protect her interests. May they be the same thing, whatever it is.

Bring peace to the region. End foreign interference. Promote the good of the people. Support freedom and transparency.

May virtue persevere. May vice transform. Give all introspection, and respect for the other.

And if this applies also in Egypt, God, tally the scorecard correctly.

Recently a few churches in the nation have been closed. Some say it is for security reasons. Others speak of license.

A new law heralds a new era. An old issue resurfaces an ongoing frustration.

Egypt welcomes religious freedom for Copts. Sometimes their places of worship find trouble.

God, first and foremost, may the facts be known. What is causing the closures?

Maybe there are neighbors resisting a church in their village. Give power of law to the state; give empathetic consensus to the community.

Maybe there are authorities aligned with old mentalities. Give unity of vision to the state; give real reconciliation to the community.

Maybe there are activists making mountains out of molehills. Give clarity of communication to the state; give patient conviction to the community.

And if there are differing interpretations of your will, give wisdom and insight to all.

God, these issues are tricky, with much on the line. Help Egypt navigate safely, at home in your world.

Amen.

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Current Events

A Christian Death in the Western Desert

Desert Martyr 4

Egypt suffered another terrorism setback this week, as a shootout with militants in the Western Desert resulted in the death of at least 16 policemen.

That is the official, government tally. International media reported much higher figures, though the government dismissed their numbers and an alleged recording describing the chaos in the field, saying they were unsourced and reflecting unprofessional conduct.

Much speculation focused on the groups behind the attack, whether ISIS from the Sinai, Muslim Brotherhood linked militants, or a rogue army officer perhaps affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The government has launched an investigation, but it is also conducting funerals. Less well reported is this human side of the tragedy, causing Egypt to cancel even a major tourist festival in solidarity with the slain, when the sun shines directly on the face of Ramses II in Abu Simbel.

Desperate to revive the tourism industry, Egypt is more keen to maintain security commitment and morale.

Part of the task is to honor all dead. And among them was Boutros Sulimian Masoud, a Coptic Christian conscript from Ezbat Yacoub Bibawi in Minya. Military figures and Azhar sheikhs were on hand, draping his casket with an Egyptian flag.

Also honored was an army officer named Muhammad Wahid Musalhi. Bishop Makarios of Minya represented the church in both occasions.

And both figures are called ‘martyrs’, as per Egyptian practice, by both church and state.

Consider what you will theologically, but Egypt has suffered a multiplication of martyrs in recent years.

On the one hand, where the term is more familiar, Christians have been targeted by terrorists, though Muslims have also died in the carnage.

On the other, the army and police have been targeted by terrorists, irrespective of religion. Egypt is understood to be 10 percent Christian, and they die beside their brothers in the service.

The Egyptian security services are integrated, drawing all in general conscription. Copts sometimes complain they are kept out of senior positions until promotion at retirement, and that conscript deaths sometimes are under-investigated. But they are grateful for their place in the national army.

It was only in the mid-19th century that the Muhammad Ali dynasty lifted the jizia tax and enrolled Copts. Classical Islamic jurisprudence says that jizia is meant in part to protect Christians living in a Muslim country, that they need not participate in foreign jihad or defense of the nation.

But one of the most powerful proofs of citizenship is mingled blood, fighting side by side against a common enemy.

The pictures here were distributed by the Coptic Media Center and represent Egypt as she idealizes herself. One nation, three religions, one people mourning all.

It does not cover up the flaws, but it is a reminder to Muslim and Christian alike of what Egypt is meant to be.

This, too, is important to report.

Desert Martyr 2

Desert Martyr 3

Desert Martyr 1

Tahya Masr, al-baqa’ li-llah, nayyihhum.

 

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Current Events

Copts in Egypt’s Textbooks

 

Copts Egypt Textbooks
Translation: Some pictures of the Roman persecution of Christians. Via Mada Masr.

There is a general understanding that Egypt’s Christians are marginalized in the educational curriculum.

An additional idea is that this came during an Islamization period in the 1970s, or perhaps during Nasser’s presidency.

A researcher examined this question and described them on Mada Masr. Here is his evaluation:

Based on an analysis of Egyptian history textbooks from 1890 until the academic year 2016/2017, it is clear that Egyptian history is narrated from a perspective that values an Arab Muslim identity over other perspectives and voices.

While the tone generally revers and paints Christianity in a positive light, the narrative as a whole is exclusionary in both explicit and subtle ways.

The article as a whole is insightful, and here is an example — of how textbooks changed:

Current history textbooks do not include explicit derogatory references to Christianity or Christians — as some of the earlier textbooks did. In fact, they include extremely positive mentions, albeit concise.

For instance, in explaining why ancient Egyptians embraced Christianity, a 2016 textbook explains that they were attracted by its values of justice, equality, mercy, empathy, tolerance, renouncement of worldly pleasures, and valuing of the afterlife.[11]

However, we need to also be cognizant of more subtle ways that might give value to one identity while diminishing or silencing others. In addition to continuing to use explicit and extensive Muslim referents as highlighted above, more subtle exclusions can also be found in current textbooks.

For instance, they use the word “Arab” to characterize countries such as Egypt and Lebanon even before they had been taken over by Arab Muslim armies. Such references give the historically inaccurate and false impression that these countries have always embraced an Arab identity, eclipsing the richness of their pre-existing civilizations and cultures.[12]

Additionally, several of these history textbooks have continued to address students as if they are all Muslim. For instance, an 1893 history textbook explains that the religious story of David and his son Solomon “must be learned by all Muslims.”[13]

Similarly, a 1988 history textbook encourages students to learn about the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca by asking their relatives who might have performed it.[14]

In discussing civic engagement, current textbooks encourage students to be proud of our Islamic principles and values that encourage us to volunteer in the community and peacefully co-exist with others different from ourselves.[15]

In Egypt it is sometimes necessary to ask the religion of the researcher, often indicated by name. Ehaab Abdou — I believe these names are shared by Muslims and Christians alike.

What is important, however, is quality. The article is too brief to fully evaluate, but he claims a comprehensive scope of research. I don’t have the background in the subject to know if he left out damning specifics; other Egyptians, please weigh in.

The one thing I noticed is that he did not specifically state he evaluated textbooks in the Azhar educational curriculum. Copts sometimes claim this is a source of bias against them.

But on the whole, the article appears to be an evenhanded treatment of a controversial subject.

Few things are as important as the education of our children — and ourselves.

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Current Events

Terrorist Threat Forces Egyptian Churches to Cancel Summer Activities

My new article at World Watch Monitor.

Church Trips Canceled
Egyptian Christian children gather round the country’s flag in a group activity, Aug 2012

The churches of Egypt are temporarily shutting down their summer activities.

“I asked all our churches and conference centres to cancel their trips and events for the next three weeks,” Dr. Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, told World Watch Monitor. “There is news they could be targeted by radicals.”

An unofficial translation of his official statement reads: “Warm greetings in the name of Jesus. In light of recent developments, please stop all church trips and conferences [for] the next three weeks of July 2017. This is a serious matter. Any trip or conference [that continues] will be the personal responsibility of the organiser.”

Zaki confirmed the information came directly from the security agencies. Fr Boules Halim, official spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church, told World Watch Monitor his denomination issued similar instructions, asking churches to wait for further information once the three-week moratorium expires.

Please click here to read the full article at World Watch Monitor.

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Current Events

Ramadan Diversity

Ramadan Diversity
(via http://blogs.viu.edu/2015/08/viu-launches-new-diversity-luncheon-series-with-ramadan-festival/)

Today is the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting.

In order to help our Western friends understand this month, here are a few stories that reveal a wide scope of Ramadan diversity.

It may be surprising to some that in Egypt, many churches host iftar, the fast-breaking meal at sunset. I attended two, which I reported on for Christianity Today. It can be a great way to honor Muslims for their commitment, and to build bridges between the two communities.

Inspired by the practice, we looked to imitate.

Our daughter invited her school friends and mothers, which included a Christian family. She even encouraged us not to eat or drink – from noon until 7pm – to share the experience.

But this experience did not include any men, so I was banished to the back room. One of the mothers is more traditional and the company of women put all at ease.

Fortunately, they sent back some food.

On another occasion we went to a friend’s home to break fast with them. Our younger daughter asked if one of the ladies of the house was a Christian, as she didn’t cover her hair.

Needless to say, this group was comfortably mixed in gender.

We were not fasting with them on this occasion, and decided first to stop by the new mall opened in their neighborhood – which even has an indoor ski park!

The mall was pretty empty, as most people were at work or looking to get home on time to eat again. But Baskin Robbins was open and even offered their free samples. We all indulged.

As parents we were careful not to eat or drink in public throughout the day, but made an exception for the ice cream. When we got back to the car, our thermoses emptied.

Similar was an interview I did with a Muslim friend downtown. The temperature was 109 degrees, and to make my way there I walked to the metro, rode in the crowded un-air-conditioned car, then after a short walk outside stuffed myself into a microbus.

All the while there was a water bottle in my bag, unable to surface.

Yet when I arrived, my friend kindly offered me a cup of water.

What to do? Muslims know Christians are not fasting, and are generally not offended if a friend eats quietly in front of them. His was a kind gesture on a hot day.

But in Egypt Christians generally choose not to eat or drink in front of them from respect.

I can’t say if this was the right decision or not. But I took the cup, thanked him for his consideration, and placed it down on the table.

I assured him I would be willing to drink it later, but never did.

It was a long trek back home as well, but hopeful a genuine sentiment was communicated.

Later in the month, however, we invited another Muslim friend to break fast at our home. He was without his family for a while, so he could share with us.

But he is a non-practicing Muslim, and preferred to eat at our normal dinnertime of 6pm, an hour before sunset.

There is a good bit of diversity in Ramadan, but it doesn’t end there.

Unrelated to the month we invited a Christian family to join us for a meal. But surprised we were when they left half their plate untouched.

We failed to realize the Christian ‘Fast of the Apostles’ overlapped with Ramadan this year. Coptic Christians abstain from meat during their fasts, which last several days – like Lent – not just from sunrise to sunset.

If they are faithful, Coptic Christians can be fasting over half the year.

Unlike us, the local sweet shop is quite accustomed to Coptic fasts and always has a ready stash of Christian-fast-appropriate treats available.

Perhaps from habit in filling our order when we visit Christian families, the shopkeeper naturally doled out from that supply.

We didn’t realize it until he was done, but said no matter. We were off to visit Muslim friends but judged they taste similar enough.

Given the spirit of the season, we don’t think our friends minded – if they even noticed.

You may have an image in your mind of Muslims. There may be an associated thought about Ramadan. Most likely it is true, at least partially.

But realize there is much diversity in the Muslim world, and each deserves our understanding and honor.

Among some this is difficult (think of terrorists). Among others it is easy (think of our friends).

I suppose like humanity in general, most are in-between.

But however difficult to imagine, it becomes easier when you actually know them.

And like humanity in general, it can become more difficult when you actually know them well.

We all have warts. But we are all also made in the image of God.

Do your best to discover both among Muslims, as you can.

And congratulations to all our Muslim friends; enjoy your feast.

 

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Continuation

Flag Cross Quran

God,

To some degree, dramatic events were more of the same. For good or for ill, some may well carry forward, some must irrevocably stop. Judge rightly, God, and guide Egypt to your judgment.

Coptic families were gunned down on an outing to a monastery.

Websites were blocked in a dispute over content and orientation.

An NGO law was ratified establishing greater government oversight.

Each is a continuation.

The massacre is the fourth in five months, forgetting not the 2013 church attacks following the Rabaa dispersal, the 2011 Maspero incident, and the 2010 New Year’s Eve bombing.

After Morsi’s removal a number of Islamist media networks were shut down.

After Mubarak’s resignation a number of NGOs were raided amid ongoing investigations.

The difference of opinion ranges from minimal to severe. God, fill in and close the gaps.

Only the most hardened justify the ambush in Minya. But some suggest Copts somehow are reaping the consequence of their political stances.

The websites in question were not shy to be critical. Some are said to be funded by Islamist-friendly nations, others are said to be independent.

Many Egyptians believe the upheavals of the past few years gestated through foreign NGOs. Some call the law draconian; some call it necessary.

How then to pray?

Sanctify life in the eyes of all. Make none a pawn in political games.

Foster free and responsible media. Let true information circulate widely.

Protect the people from/through NGOs. Help government partner with civil society.

God, Egypt is troubled and needs your support. For good or for ill, old patterns continue.

Carry forward your blessing. Stop irrevocably the plague.

Amen.

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Current Events

Righteous Anger: Egypt’s Christians Respond to ISIS

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on June 1.

Tanta Martyrs Shrine
Shrine to the martyrs of Tanta in St. George’s Church, killed by a suicide bomber on Palm Sunday.

They couldn’t even wash their dead.

Thirty Coptic Christians were gunned down by ISIS, ambushed in a church bus on a weekend outing to a popular monastery in the Egyptian desert. Their families gathered to receive their loved ones in a local hospital, but were met with a mixture of ill-equipped facilities and overwhelmed staff. They even had to fetch their own water.

As if another reason was necessary, Coptic anger turned the funeral march into a protest.

“With our souls and blood we will redeem you, oh Cross!” they shouted. Some seemed to take aim at Islam. “There is no god but God,” they chanted, before changing the second half of the Muslim creed, “and the Messiah, he is God.”

Other chants took no aim at all, thrashing wildly in anger. “We will avenge them, or die like them.”

Many observers say such anger plays right into the hands of ISIS, which is keen to turn Egypt against itself.

Six weeks earlier, after twin suicide bombings on Palm Sunday, Bishop Boula of the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Tanta found himself in a similar situation. Hospitals did not have enough refrigeration units to keep the 25 bodies of those martyred at St. George Church. Crowds were gathering, and anger was surging.

Quickly, he made the decision to bury them together in the church crypt reserved for bishops. Honoring the dead with their leaders of ages past, he then marshaled the youth to provide order and security for the semi-spontaneous funeral service.

“It cooled the fire of all the people,” he later recounted on satellite TV. St. George was renamed to include “the righteous martyrs of Tanta,” with a shrine erected outside the crypt.

It was perhaps the most practical of Coptic efforts to process their anger. Forgiveness is another, as Copts have moved Muslims and wowed the world with their example

 

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

A Coptic Poem to ISIS

Coptic Poem to ISIS

After the latest atrocity against the Copts perpetrated by the Islamic State – killing 30 in an ambush of a church outing to visit a monastery – the following poem was circulated on social media.

It is entitled ‘A Message to ISIS’, written by Kiro al-Masry. The translation is mine and the Arabic original is given at the bottom.

 

I will not speak (as some have done)

And curse your religion whatever its name.

I have come that it be known:

My fathers’ religion and what it proclaims.

 

My fathers’ religion has love at its heart,

The meaning of which will call you to peace.

My fathers’ religion, right from the start

Offers forbearance that conflict will cease.

 

Your hatred and killing in no way suffices

To stop us from loving and praying for you.

My father’s religion, oh dear Uncle ISIS,

Is not a weapon to pierce you straight through.

 

I wish that you could come to see

Or just one time the answer seek.

That while you bomb and murder, we

Stay strong as if a mountain peak.

 

My fathers’ religion of spirit consists.

It is not a body whose end is the dust.

And for the spirit—despite death persists—

Awaiting are loved ones residing in trust.

 

My fathers’ religion, if you could discern,

Offers each wounded the medic of life.

Tomorrow when you will repent and return,

You will come to know just who is the Christ.

 

رسالة لكل داعش

 

انا مش هقول زي اللي قالوا دين ابوكم اسمه ايه

انا جاي اقـــــول دين ابويا يعني ايه

 

دين ابويا يعني حب يعني دعوه للسلام

دين ابوايا من البدايه دين تسامح مش خصام

 

رغم كرهك رغم قتلك وصاني اصليلك واحبك

دين ابويا ياعم داعش مش سلاح يطعن ف جسمك

 

نفسي تفهم مره واحده او  تساءل نفسك سؤال

ازاي وانتوا بتقتلـــونا بنبقي صخر من الجبال

 

دين ابويا اصله روح مش جسد اخره التراب

يعني لما الروح بتصعد بتتلاقي مع الاحباب

 

دين ابويا لو بتفهم دين بيداوي كل جريح

وبكره لما تتوب وترجع هتعرف مين هو ( المسيــــح )

بقلم الشاعر : كيرو المصري

 

In a future post I hope to offer some commentary and reflection. But for now, take note at one way Copts are encouraging themselves in the face of atrocity and evil. Pray for them, and for ISIS likewise.

 

 

 

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Current Events

Terrorists Kill 26 on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on May 26, 2017.

Minya Bus Attack
(via Reuters and Ahram Online)

Terrorists ambushed a Coptic church bus trip on Friday near Minya in Upper Egypt, killing at least 26 and injuring 25, including many children.

Egypt’s interior ministry reported that three 4×4 vehicles of 8 to 10 gunmen dressed in military uniforms opened fire on the vehicle, which was on its way to St. Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Samalout, 140 miles south of Cairo.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack—which occurred on the eve of Ramadan—follows church bombings claimed by the Islamic State on Palm Sunday and in advance of Christmas.

Last week, Egyptian authorities arrested 48 individuals, securing confessions of belonging to a terrorist cell linked to the Islamic State.

“I am grieving. It is sad and shocking,” said Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Qusia, 75 miles from the monastery. “But at the same time, I know this is not new. I was expecting things like this to happen. And it will not be the last.”

Please click here

to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Sadat, Mubarak, and Sinai

Flag Cross Quran

God,

One is expelled from parliament, for alleged wrongs.

One is released from confinement, alleged wrongs dismissed.

Hundreds are displaced from home, for no alleged wrong but existence.

God, intervene.

If Sadat is a criminal may he have his day in court. If he is simply silenced direct his voice.

If Mubarak is a criminal give justice to the protestors. If he is rightly judged restore his reputation.

If Copts flee crime in Sinai preserve all left behind. If they are vilely treated vindicate their faith.

God, contest.

Defend the weak and innocent. Promote the pure in heart. Discern the truth from falsehood. Dismiss the chaff from wheat.

In politics, justice, and civility guide.

Give her good men to govern.

Give her wise counsel to rule.

Give her your peace to compose.

High and mighty, poor and lowly – humble, strengthen.

Where there is allegation, prove. Where there is wrong, right.

Where there is existence, bless. For Egypt and all Egyptians.

Amen.

 

 

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Blind Threat

Flag Cross Quran

God,

As one era passes, another begins. One died, and then two others. There is no connection, save a pernicious idea.

Defeat it, God, and save the people – target and targetter alike.

Far away in America, the Blind Sheikh passed away after many years of incarceration. Linked to terrorism in the first World Trade Center bombing, the Sadat assassination, and the plundering of Copts, he was the beloved spiritual guide of the Islamic Group.

Egypt received his body and permitted a gathering at his funeral.

Far away in Sinai, two Copts were murdered by the Islamic State. A father shot, his son burned alive. A video was issued calling for many more.

Egypt continues its assault against them.

Many years ago she subdued the Blind Sheikh’s disciples; God, as the idea morphs further grant success again.

But the cost is so high. Win their hearts and dry their ground.

Perhaps the funeral helped?

Some chafed, God, that people would celebrate one deemed a criminal. Others nodded at respect for the dead.

Egypt offered dignity to his family, God. Preserve her dignity in turn.

But strengthen her also in the dignity of her citizens, especially the threatened, neglected, and disadvantaged among them.

God, may this new era be short. May the old era be remembered. Long forgotten let be the idea.

Amen.

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Current Events

Did the Bombing of Cairo’s Copts Also Hold a Message for Muslims?

isis-sufi-mosque
ISIS destroys a Sufi shrine in Mosul, Iraq.

This article was first published at The Media Project.

When a bomb ripped through the women and children praying together at the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo on Dec. 11, the nation’s grief was expressed through a Muslim doll.

The suicide attack claimed by the Islamic State – Sinai Province took place on the national holiday of moulid al-nabi, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The larger Islamic State has since called for bombings of Christian churches in the USA, with the aim of creating “bloody celebrations” there, as well.

Egyptians have begun trying to make sense of this latest wave of violence in Cairo, and the arousa doll has propelled expressions of grief. A popular cartoon depicted the arousa, traditionally given to Muslim girls, weeping in the black clothes of mourning. Behind her stood a somber crucifix.

Twenty-seven people died in the bombing, and their families have been changed forever. The Coptic community is approaching the Christmas season with fear wondering if another church will be targeted.

But does the timing of the attack suggest Muslims also have reason to be afraid?

The moulid, popular with most Egyptians and in particular the mystical Sufi trend, is rejected by many Salafi interpretations of Islam to which the Islamic State belongs.

It is a day for sweets, visiting family, and giving gifts. It is also a day Christian religious leaders congratulate their Muslim counterparts, reciprocated on Christmas.

But celebration of the moulid is condemned by Salafis as a religious innovation.

Coincidence or not, their extremists chose this day to escalate their insurrection and signal their willingness to inflict mass casualties.

“The message could be, ‘You love the moulid, and you like the Christians?’” said Sheikh Alaa al-Din Abul Azayim, head of the Azamiya Sufi order. “’Then on this day we’ll kill your friends – and you are next.’”

Please click here to read the full article at The Media Project.

moulid-al-nabi-arousa

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Current Events

A Rough Stretch in a Season of Waiting: Egypt’s Christians and the Cathedral Bombing

cathedral-bombing
Photo by Omar Elhady, via Twitter (@ElHady).

This article was first published at Providence Magazine.

“There has been a bombing at the cathedral,” said the pastor at the local Methodist church in a lower-class area of downtown Cairo. “Several are dead, and we pray for our nation.”

It took me a moment to comprehend, but the gravity of his words indicated more than a simple illustration. I opened my cell phone to check the news and saw the bold headline: 25 dead and 49 injured in an attack on the Coptic Orthodox cathedral. The spiritual center of Egyptian Christianity had been mercilessly violated.

Only a few minutes earlier, the sermon considered John the Baptist and how his life of faithfulness ended with his head on a platter. Here again now was another modern Egyptian example of martyrdom, one more in a long line since the similar bombing of a church in Alexandria six years earlier. Several women sobbed quietly, as the men sat in stunned silence.

But a little later as they exited the service, the collective sense felt more like resignation. The men exchanged pleasantries and went home; the women lingered a little longer in conversation. What was unthinkable at the start of the Arab Spring had become unsurprising. In Alexandria 23 Copts died when a car bomb went off outside the church, but that attack, at least, soon gave way to the hope of a new revolution. The cathedral atrocity gives no inspiration, as Egypt remains muddled in a regional fog of war and terrorism.

In-between the two bombings were the 2013 revenge attacks on dozens of churches throughout the nation, as frustrated Islamists blamed Christians for the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi. And the usual stream of sectarian incidents continued apace, as the state failed to hold accountable the mob violence of Muslims objecting to a church in their village, or an interfaith love affair, or any other typical but ill-justified collective form of Coptic punishment. It has been a rough stretch for Egypt’s Christians.

But not nearly as rough as the Christians of Iraq and Syria, or the Muslims of Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere have endured—and the Copts know this. They stand behind their Muslim Brotherhood-vanquishing president, and give much slack to a government they know is under tremendous pressure. Everywhere they turn it seems some new conspiracy is bent on dragging Egypt into the Middle East morass. The economy is in shambles, tourism is nonexistent, and save for the mandatory utterances of support following terrorism, they feel the international community never speaks except in censure. For this reason many have expressed favor at the election of Donald Trump. He likes our president, they say, and at least he’ll leave us alone.

For Copts are tired of being treated as pawns. A few days before the bombing, Foreign Policy ran a story entitled, “How Egypt’s Copts Fell Out of Love with President Sisi.” Even Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint piled on, ostensibly seeking to help by demanding the US president support Egypt’s Christians. “Meet the new persecutor,” said the article subtitle, “same as the old one.” Some on the left seem intent on buttressing the narrative of Copts in the way of a deserved Islamist democratic future. Some on the right seem intent on painting Muslims as sharia-inspired agents of Christian antipathy.

Both articles do well to draw on actual Coptic voices, and important ones. The news they convey is vital to learn in a world where, unless made a pawn, the Copt is often ignored. But they miss the nuance of the Coptic reality. Perhaps they can be forgiven for not knowing enough; perhaps they are guilty of pushing an agenda.

Back in Egypt, the Copts are well aware of incumbent discrimination and state weakness. But they cheer on a president who attends Christmas mass with the pope, and a military that rebuilds the churches Islamists destroyed. A new law for church building may or may not fully address the issues surrounding freedom of worship, but at least this regime—the first in 160 years—issued a law at all.

And following every tragedy, the common Muslim tends to open his or her bosom. Private taxi services Uber and Careem offered free rides to the hospital for blood donations. Many have missed the fact this bombing took place on the birthday of Islam’s prophet, a traditional day of merriment. The attack was therefore an assault on Muslims as well, Christians note. A popular cartoon draws the traditional holiday doll in the black clothes of mourning, as behind her stands a somber crucifix.

Thus between the kindness of the Egyptian soul and the sectarianism latent in an identity-driven society, the Copt is left waiting for national transformation. The rhetoric of the current regime seeks to revive a spirit of Egyptian nationalism, if only it can sludge through current challenges to reach a modicum of stability. Every maltreated Copt who fails to obtain justice is another reminder of how far the country has to go. And the cathedral bombing is another example of the powerful forces that stand against an idealized future.

But from the demonized past and lingering present, the Muslim Brotherhood condemns the bombing in one breath and blames it on regime-church collaboration in another. As long as this is the alternative, Copts find their best option in the preservation of a strong-handed government and a nominally secular society. Some in their community continue faithfully to agitate for human rights and a less political role for the church. Many agree but feel security and economy must be prioritized. Most hope for an open society of enlightened Egyptians, if only a generation away.

The Methodist church sermon that ended with John’s head on a platter began with the miracle that led to his birth. Elderly Zachariah and sterile Elizabeth likely long gave up hope of a child, the pastor surmised. Even so, “Your prayer has been heard,” said the angel. God is faithful, even when his people falter. John, the pastor noted, also doubted the one he baptized.

Where in this parable are Egypt’s Copts? Soon to be beheaded, or of pious prayers fulfilled? Likely somewhere in between, still inclined to pray for their nation.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Church and Loan

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Long awaited items seem almost there. But almost to arrival is still a distance. Give wisdom in the final days of discussion.

Egypt’s Christians have long complained of difficulty in securing authorization to build churches. The new constitution mandated a law be passed by parliament in its first term to govern a better process. Behind the scenes negotiations between church and state near completion, and elected representatives appear ready to receive the draft law.

What they do with it is up to them.

God, for some this is a non-issue, for others it equates religious identity. Give courage and tact. Give conviction and empathy. Give consensus in line with your good will.

Perhaps your good will is more flexible in monetary policy, God, but help Egypt to find it in reference to the IMF. Staff level agreements have been finalized on a $12 billion loan and reform package. But political push and social acceptance may be lacking.

And some breathe a sigh of relief, finding neoliberalism and austerity programs to be the problem, not the solution. Others view it as a mark of international confidence and economic recovery, while a third are torn but resigned in the face of fiscal necessity.

Sort between them, God, for the sake of the nation. Set right the ship, that all may prosper. If the loan goes through, disperse it well. If not, revive the economy through better means.

And in all things, bless Egypt. Give peace and due process in religion; give sense and stewardship in economy.

No matter the distance, help all arrive together.

Amen.

 

 

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Current Events

Bishop Angaelos on the Recent Rise of Attacks on Copts

Bishop Angaelos

Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK is a frequent go-to source for Western media seeking perspective on the Christians of Egypt and the Middle East.

As localized, sporadic attacks on this community have been on the rise in recent weeks, he released a statement that is quite wise and balanced. Before quoting it in its entirety, please feel free to click here for context, and here for video of what one of these attacks looks like first-hand. This article describes security facilitating a reconciliation.

You can also click here for a statement for the Egyptian president warning of efforts to drive a wedge between the two religious communities and vowing to hold accountable those responsible for the violence. After meeting with the president, Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Orthodox Church also urged people to not allow Egyptian national unity to be broken.

Here is the statement of Bishop Angaelos:

Egypt is undoubtedly going through a formative stage of its contemporary history. Having emerged from uprisings and changes in Government, dealing with resulting pressures on its economy and infrastructure, and with the loss of foreign investment and tourism, it has become more vulnerable to a disturbing wave of radicalism.

One of the manifestations of this radicalisation is that despite a short period of apparent reprieve, it is regrettable that the time has come yet again to speak of heightened, targeted attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Tensions against Egypt’s indigenous Christian community have again escalated over the past few months, and will spiral even further if not immediately addressed.

The exponential rise in attacks against Christians and Christian property in recent months can largely be attributed to three main catalysts: inflammatory false rumours and accusations regarding alleged extra-marital relationships between Christians and Muslims, incendiary rumours relating to the building of new churches, and a growing trend towards the direct targeting of priests and their families. At their most brutal, these recent attacks have culminated in the burning of churches and places of worship, the stripping and public parading of 70-year-old Souad Thabet, and the senseless murder of Father Raphael Moussa.

What must be considered very clearly and with great concern however is that an attack on any individual member of a society is an attack on that same society and what it stands for, so our prayers are not only with those who have suffered these unspeakable and horrid violations, but for the society that is undermined and made more vulnerable with each and every one of these incidents. The system of law and order in Egypt is not one for Christians, Muslims or any other individual group of people, but it is for all Egyptians, and so when violated this violation is against all.

While there are clear efforts at the national level in Egypt to attempt to curb such acts of religiously-motivated violence and lawlessness, what we have repeatedly seen at the local level is, at best, carelessness and, at worst, criminal negligence in the reaction and lack of reaction of local security service officials. This gives a clear and direct message that certain crimes will go unchallenged and unchecked, especially when perpetrators are not brought to justice. The resulting sense of impunity not only means a lack of justice for crimes already perpetrated, but also gives greater encouragement to those who will seek to do even more, and more aggressively.

While there is a rejection of these attacks on Christians by the vast majority of Egypt’s 85% Muslim population, themselves often targeted by the same radical and intolerant elements, there is a need for a robust system of law and order that appropriately responds to crime, irrespective of who it is perpetrated by or against. If this does not happen, the concern is that hopes for a more cohesive nation will disappear, and that recent events will give way to a re-emerging religious divide.

In light of all this, it is of course difficult to have a sense of hope or promise in the current situation, but mine still remains rooted in the way Christians in Egypt and elsewhere have faced persecution for millennia. They continue to draw strength from their confidence and trust in an omnipotent God, and forgive through grace that only He can provide. In this, those suffering directly from this persecution provide a great example and inspiration for us not to be engulfed by anger or resentment but in calling for justice, remain forgiving, no matter how hard, and work towards a hopeful future, no matter how seemingly impossible.

The brutal and personal nature of many of the attacks against our brothers and sisters in Egypt warrants our prayers and support for them as they continue to endure heightened levels of persecution while refusing to lose their admirable and resilient spirit, and unyielding ability to forgive according to their Christian devotion and commitment.  We also pray for Egypt and its leadership, hoping that hearts and minds will be led to greater inclusiveness, justice, equality, and refuge for the oppressed, remembering that our Lord Himself once took refuge from persecution within its gracious and welcoming borders.

 

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Current Events

Egyptian Copts: Continuing Violence and Conditional Hope

Bishop-General Macarius, a Coptic Orthodox leader, walks around the burnt and damaged Evangelical Church in Minya governorate
(REUTERS/Louafi Larbi)

Egyptian Christians continue to offer overwhelming support to the current president. Following removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, Copts are inclined to overlook economic challenges and human rights infringements as they with many Egyptians appreciate Egypt’s relative regional stability. Public rhetoric esteems Christians as equal citizens as the president challenges Muslims to remove sectarianism and extremism from traditional Islamic discourse.

But this does not mean all is well. Inherited patterns continue, especially in rural and less developed areas. Middle East Concern chronicles the recent past:

On 20th May several Christian homes were attacked in al-Karam village in Minya province, as a result of a rumour about a relationship between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. During the attack the man’s mother was attacked and publicly stripped of her clothes. The woman is around 70 years old. Of the 16 people arrested for the assault, 11 were released on bail this week (three on 27th June and eight on 28th June).

On 9th June in Damshir village in Minya province four Muslims armed with knives attacked a Coptic man and his family. They alleged that construction work he was doing was intended to build a church and they threatened him and told him to leave the village. After he filed a complaint the four men were detained, but the authorities told him to stop the construction work.

On 10th June a man attacked a nun at a medical centre run by the Coptic Orthodox Church in the town of Biba in Beni Suef province. When a guard tried to help the nun he was also attacked. Later the same day the attacker returned, armed with a knife. The guard managed to lock the man out of the centre. A complaint was filed with the police, but no action has been taken so far.

On 17th June a mob of a few thousand people gathered at the house of a Copt in al-Bayda village near Alexandria, after prayers had been held at the mosque. They shouted that they would not allow a church in the village and accused him of turning the building which contains his apartment into a church. Several Coptic homes were attacked, two were seriously damaged and at least ten were looted.

On 29th June in Kom al-Loufy village in Minya province four houses belonging to Copts were set on fire after a rumour spread that two brothers were constructing a church. After the rumour started the police asked the brothers to sign a statement saying that the building they were constructing on their land was for residential purposes, however their homes and the homes of others were attacked nevertheless.

On 30th June Father Raphael Moussa was killed in Arish in Northern Sinai. Father Raphael was the parish priest of St George’s church. He was shot by several perpetrators on his way back from a church service. The Egyptian branch of the so-called “Islamic State” movement has claimed responsibility for the murder, and has threatened to carry out more killings.

But Middle East Concern also highlights possible measures that may move positive public rhetoric into written law:

In addition to these events there are currently four debates in the Egyptian parliament that could have an impact on Christian communities. These discussions include:

* possible amendments to legislation on blasphemy

* draft legislation to regulate personal status law for Christian communities

* draft legislation to regulate church construction

* two draft bills on equal citizenship for all and countering discrimination (including discrimination on the grounds of religion)

There is always work to be done. Right or wrong, Copts appreciate the trajectory of their nation but hope for better social and legal standing. This legislative term will be telling, ultimately judged over the current and coming generations.

 

 

 

 

 

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Strength in Weakness: Egypt President’s Apology Spurs Hope

This article was first published at Lapido Media.

Humble St George’s Church in Belhasa south of Cairo became a home for dogs and goats after its destruction by pro-Morsi supporters during Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

Now it’s been reopened better than ever – thanks to a surprise announcement by Egypt’s President.

‘This is a beautiful gesture for a new age,’ said Bishop Biemen, Head of Crisis Management for the Coptic Orthodox Church. ‘We have been pampered.’

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo on 6 January – Coptic Christmas Eve – for the second year running. Amid raucous applause he did the most un-presidential thing: he apologized

‘We have taken too long to fix and renovate the churches that were burned,’ the President told Copts, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. ‘God willing, by next year there won’t be a single house or church that is not restored.’

On 14 August, 2013, six weeks after then Defense Minister Sisi deposed President Morsi, military and police units violently dispersed his supporters as they staged two sit-in protests in Cairo.

Over the next three days angry Islamists ransacked dozens of Christian establishments across the country.

In Belhasa, 240 kilometers south of Cairo, youths climbed the roof of the neighbouring school and hurled firecrackers and Molotov cocktails into the church.

‘We prayed, we cried, we were in a difficult situation,’ Malak Ishak, a 40-year-old middle school teacher, told Lapido. ‘God, why did you let your house burn?’

The tiny community of Christian farmers and labourers abandoned the building which was charred beyond recognition, and lamented its fate.

And for the next three Christmases they trudged country roads to worship in Kom al-Akhdar village four kilometers away.

Belhasa Church
Top-of-the-line construction in Belhasa

After the initial attacks Sisi immediately promised that the military would cover the costs of all reconstruction.

But progress was slow-going and some Copts began to complain. Local media also questioned if the job would get done.

But on 14 January, one week after the President’s apology, St George’s Church was reopened. Refurbished with top-of-the-line construction material and additional floors, engineers also included a sprinkler system and fire alarm.

Abuna Yu'annis at Belhasa
Fr Yuannis (R) inside Belhasa’s restored church

Fr Yuannis Anton from nearby village Qufada had helped Belhasa church get its licence in 1999, after it was converted from a simple village home.

Now drawing on his biblical heritage, he praised the generosity of the military, which covered the £270,000 cost of restoration.

‘We were very sad when the church was burned,’ he said. ‘But we held to what Jesus once said, “You do not realize what I am doing now, but later you will understand.”’

Village relations with Muslims were now much better than in the time of Morsi, teacher Malak Ishak said.

Priority

Bishop Biemen echoed this theme about the country as a whole.

Consecrated in 1961 and an engineer by background, the Bishop was chosen to coordinate the nationwide effort with the Army Corps of Engineers.

Priority was given to churches that were the only ones to serve a given area.

Consideration was also given to the security situation, with the army not being placed in situations where confrontation with still-angry pockets of Morsi supporters might occur.

Stage one involved ten locations and was originally scheduled to be completed by the anniversary of Morsi’s ouster, he said. But there were delays until the end of 2014.

Stage two incorporated the remaining 33 locations, ten of which were made a priority. But these few took all of 2015.

Reports circulated in the press about materials being dumped. Other reports cited local priests saying their burned churches had not been registered.

‘As the army procrastinated there was grumbling from Copts that the job was not getting done,’ said Ishak Ibrahim, Religious Liberty Officer for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

‘But since Sisi’s announcement there has been a renewed push on the part of the armed forces.’

Bishop Biemen
‘Our country appreciates us’: Bishop Biemen

Bishop Biemen agreed, but took the blame for the delays.

‘We have the responsibility to plan and redesign the churches, not the army,’ he said. ‘Before God and my conscience, we were working the whole time.’

Popular confusion came from two misunderstandings, he explained. The project only involved locations damaged during the three-day melée. And after supplying initial materials, the army then paid upon completion.

But since Christmas the final phase has begun in earnest. It even includes the church in Arish, in troubled northern Sinai where the army remains in conflict with an ISIS affiliate, he said.

In total the army will pay out £16.5 million on 65 locations including 52 churches and 21 additional religious buildings.

But though he said it had not been needed, Bishop Biemen is most encouraged by an apology that runs counter to much of Egyptian culture.

‘Many people view saying sorry as an act of weakness,’ he said. ‘That the President did so is a big deal, and shows us our country appreciates us and is worth defending.

‘As the Egyptian proverb says, “We have been patient, but then received everything we need.”’

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Q&A with an Expert in Customary Reconciliation Sessions

This article was first published at Arab West Report.

Hamdi Abdel Fattah
Sheikh Hamdi Abd al-Fattah

For many Christians in Egypt, customary reconciliation sessions (CRS) represent one of the most visceral symbols of discrimination against their community. Existing outside the scope of formal law and justice, CRS offer a quick alternative to the lengthy judicial process as village elders and religious leaders decide matters of guilt, innocence, and punishment.

In some cases, however, punishment against Copts has been collective. In others, the only guilt is in breaking local custom, not law. At times, Muslims guilty of crimes have been ‘reconciled’. And often the CRS is conducted in the presence of police, lending the appearance of state legitimacy to proceedings.

But does this description characterize the CRS in its entirety?

In 2010 Arab West Report conducted a major study into the practice, entitled Social Reconciliation: Pre- and Post-Conflict in the Egyptian Setting. Using a case study from Izbat Bushra, it examined the factors behind and efficacy of this common practice.

In July 2015, AWR investigated a CRS with Georgetown University PhD candidate Matthew Anderson which drove a Christian family from their village in Kafr Darwish. Matthew’s report was published on January 14 and can be found here. In November, 2015 AWR translated a document supplied by a CRS practitioner, Sheikh Hamdi Abd al-Fattah of Maghagha, detailing the proscribed penalties for various offenses.

And on January 16, 2016, AWR returned to Maghagha to allow Sheikh Hamdi to field questions from a collection of interested Egyptians and foreign residents. The session was held in a church in the village of Qufada, where Fr. Yu’annis maintains a strong friendship and CRS cooperation with Sheikh Hamdi.

The following is a summary of the questions asked of the sheikh and the answers he provided.

CRS can be compared to the origins of English common law. Do you find it to be widely practiced in Egypt because of social and cultural acceptance?

Yes, this is correct. CRS is completely different from the judiciary system in terms of speed, but it is like it in terms of Muslims and Christians being equal before the law. But in Upper Egypt people respect our traditional customs more than the law, and fear the punishment of the CRS more than the judiciary. Our proceedings help contain problems before they spread, whether they are between Muslims, Christians, or one of each party.

What is your background as a CRS practitioner?

I have studied Shari’a, obtained a diploma in international arbitration from Cairo University, and am a consultant with the International Arbitration Association and a member in the Egyptian Committee for Customary Arbitration.

How did the rulings in the translated document come to be agreed upon?

Most were the judgments given in actual cases, but others were decided by local sheikhs in order to help prevent these cases from occurring in reality.

Why are all the penalties given in terms of specified fines?

The formal law system can prescribe either a fine or a jail sentence, but not the CRS. But in three cases the CRS is sometimes able to authorize a greater punishment and kick the offending party out of the village, with security implementing the terms. These involve murder, sectarian conflict, or sexual assault.

Do both parties have to agree in order to enter a CRS?

Yes, usually the victim comes to us first, and then we try to get the accused to come also. [At this Sheikh Hamdi showed an official CRS document with the signatures of both parties.]

If the accused does not present himself there are two methods to gain his assent for the CRS. First, we can threaten to involve the police. Or second, we bring the issue to the elders of the village, who are generally greatly respected. They then know how to get all parties to comply.

Are witnesses needed in the proceedings?

Yes. If there is conflicting testimony both sides present their witnesses and we decide between them. But if there are no witness both parties are put on oath by swearing on the Qur’an or the Bible, and then we evaluate the case by what they say. Sometimes police are present, but they do not interfere and lend only their legitimacy.

Some of the penalties demand a very high fine. What if they person cannot pay?

Customary law does not judge the person alone, but his family as well. If the person cannot pay on his own the family must assume the responsibility, or someone else on their behalf.

In the case of murder and if the accused admits to the crime, he will take a symbolic burial shroud to the victim’s family. This signifies him saying to them, ‘My life is yours, you can kill me or not as you choose.’ But always the custom is to forgive and accept the shroud in place of his life.

What about domestic disputes between husband and wife? Can they be part of CRS?

Marriage relations have their own set of regulations, as do other inter-family relationships.

How are the people educated in customary laws?

This is the responsibility of parents, who assume it naturally as part of society. But one important aspect of the CRS is that it is public. A lesson is always stronger if it is both seen and heard.

How can your example of cooperation with Fr. Yu’annis spread throughout Egypt?

We are not a backwards people; we have values and a heritage of civilization. The type of relationship I have with Fr. Yu’annis is not unique, it is found nationwide. Western media is not just, for it shows you only what will reinforce the image it wants to present, and misrepresents our reality of cooperation.

In Kafr Darwish, I blame our local media, for when the Christians were kicked out of their village, it failed to report that in another location a Muslim was kicked out of his village for similar circumstances.

A man was insulting women on social media in Ishneen al-Nasara, both Muslims and a few Christians. I presided over the session and banned him from the village for a period of five years. This penalty was proscribed regardless of his religion, and resembles the circumstances found in Kafr Darwish.

What I want now is for you to return to your countries and speak about us correctly. Will you do that?