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Tawadros Celebrates New Coptic Catholic Pope

Image

From MCN (behind paywall):

Pope Tawadros II noted the word patriarch has three meanings; the first is fatherhood, as the patriarch is a father who carries the feelings of fatherhood which stem from the work of the Holy Spirit towards each one, adding humans need this feeling of fatherhood every day.

“The second meaning is love, which is the main need of humans,” Pope Tawadros II continued. He acknowledged the world is currently hungry for the true love God planted in their lives to present to everyone.

The third meaning, Pope Tawadros II remarked, is service, adding the priority for the patriarch is to be a servant but that service means humans should serve everyone.

The Coptic patriarch added that washing the feet is one of the traditions established in the monasteries to express humility. He said their service comes from a heart of love and fatherhood to meet the needs of everyone, including marginalized people, tired people, the old and young. Service, he stressed, is the work of the patriarch.

These are good words. The new Coptic Catholic Pope is named Ibrahim Isaac. He replaces Antonious Naguib, who retired for health reasons, but is currently in the Vatican enclave due to his status as a cardinal.

The article is not clear about all that took place during the ceremony, but Pope Tawadros’ words could have been even more powerful if accompanied by the symbol he mentioned.

Imagine if he had stooped to wash the feet of the new Coptic Catholic Pope.

The Coptic Orthodox Church represents the overwhelming majority of Egyptian Christians. Interdenominational relations have ebbed and flowed over the years with Catholic and Protestants, but Pope Tawadros appears intent on fostering unity. As mentioned previously, he has helped facilitate the Egyptian Council of Churches. Each denomination will have equal weight and rotational leadership. It is a humble concession on the part of the Orthodox.

Pope Ibrahim Isaac also spoke of the connection between leadership and service, according to MCN:

During his speech at the inauguration, Pope Isaac remarked that the Holy Bible teaches us authority is there to serve, taking after Christ and his teachings.

It is a common practice in the Coptic Orthodox Church for the leadership to wash the feet of the people, in a special ceremony once (perhaps more?) a year. Perhaps the Coptic Catholics do similarly, I don’t know.

But on this occasion, if only Pope Tawadros had washed the feet of his counterpart – equal in ecclesiastic authority but so much less influential in Egypt. This is no criticism, only imagination. But to demonstrate this teaching on such an occasion would have been noteworthy. In Christianity, the greater serves the less.

Even just in writing that sentence the protest issues: Shouldn’t Christianity make all people equal?

Yes, and it does. But the world does not. Therefore, those who are invested with authority and privilege of position must do all they can to demonstrate their humility. They must overturn the way of the world, however rife with hypocrisy the statement may be, if they are not careful. Washing the feet can easily become the new pride. It is proved otherwise away from the cameras, in demonstrated service away from the eyes of the world.

If only to continue imagining, might also the Grand Sheikh of the Azhar wash the feet of Pope Tawadros? Here, we are crossing religions which maintain their own traditions. It is not a proper comparison.

But the Sheikh of the Azhar has consented to a similar humble concession. He has helped facilitate the Family House, in which he and the heads of all Christian denominations meet regularly to maintain good relations and solve sectarian conflicts.

Muslims represent the overwhelming majority of Egyptians, yet the Grand Sheikh is outnumbered.

In the world, everyone knows where power lies. This reality will not change because of humble participation in councils, nor in symbolic gestures like foot washing. People in power also have it in their interest to appear humble, which actually increases their effectiveness.

But to lift up the lesser, to honor, and to give more power even at your own expense – this is of God. “He must become greater, I must become less,” said John the Baptist of Jesus. Jesus, meanwhile, said of those who follow him, “They will do greater works than these.”

Egypt’s spiritual leadership, Muslim and Orthodox, appear to heed this pattern. God only knows, but may he similarly equip Pope Ibrahim Isaac, and make him a shepherd to his people.

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Assault on the Church of St. George: Dissecting Media Reporting in Sarsena, Fayoum

Photo of a brick thrown through the window, reportedly taken from inside St. George Church, by a woman who snuck a camera past security.
Photo of a brick thrown through the window, reportedly taken from inside St. George Church, by a woman who snuck a camera past security.

From my latest article in Arab West Report:

In Egypt, sectarian conflict can be dizzying. When news breaks it explodes – Muslim mobs, churches burned, priests attacked. When the news crests it collapses – Muslim denials, church agreement, security clampdown. Only when the news settles can the situation be understood – however incomplete, contradictory, and subject to enduring confusion.

The recent incident at the Church of St. George in Sarsena, Fayoum, approximately 100 kilometers southwest of Cairo, contains all the above elements.

This is a somewhat lengthy report, but the basic summary (disputed) is this: A church in a small village was bothersome to its Muslim neighbor. Perhaps this was because the priest was looking to expand the building, perhaps because of the noise of the mass, perhaps because he simply did not want a church as a neighbor.

During a priest-arranged reconciliation session between the two, the family of the neighbor appears to have attacked the church with stones and handmade firebombs. During a second reconciliation session to settle this development, the attack began again. Eventually, the church agreed to a number of restrictions on its noise and future expansion, but was allowed to remain on it current plot of land.

This is the basic summary. The full report shows how this understanding developed, wading through the different versions which circulated in the media, including the denial of the local bishop that anything happened at all. The report also includes testimony from researchers who visited the village firsthand, as well as the account of the local priest.

Here is the conclusion:

At this point it is important to recall Allam’s editorial. Exaggeration and sensationalism do not serve the Coptic cause, let alone the cause of justice. Initial reports of hundreds of attackers, thrust from the mosque, recall the worst examples of sectarian tension since the revolution. As the reality appears much simpler, though still serious, media attention prompted immediate denial from the church.

The church denial now casts all in suspicion. Fr. Dimyadios appears a crusading priest. Nader Shukry appears an activist first, a journalist second. Coptic-focused news outlets appear more bent on discrediting Muslims than on reporting truth. Even the mostly corroborating testimony of the judicious EIPR appears doubtful – are they making a mountain of a molehill in service of their distaste for Islamist governance?

Of course, all the above may be true, even if only in degree. But EIPR’s Ibrahim states why this case is relevant, even in its less than exaggerated details.

“The law must apply to all,” he said. “The customary, traditional solution is only a temporary solution.

“Letting go of your rights through reconciliation sessions only provides encouragement to those who transgress, and shows Christians are less than full citizens.”

That is, unless nothing happened at all. Such is sectarian tension in Egypt.

Please click here to read the full report.

 

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt’s Five Largest Denominations Unite for the First Time

Egypt Council of Churches
Egypt Council of Churches

From my recent article in Christianity Today, published February 22:

February 18, 2013 may prove a monumental day in the modern history of Egyptian Christianity. Heads of the five largest denominations – Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican – created the Egyptian Council of Churches. Since the dawn of Catholic and Protestant missions in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Egypt’s Christians stand united.

“I believe history will record this day as we celebrate the establishment of a council for all churches of Egypt,” said Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which boasts approximately 90 percent of all Egyptian Christians. “I think such a step was delayed for years.”

The rest is a brief summary, in which participants actively deny any political role for the council, closing instead with these words of faith:

“The Lord has answered prayers which have been offered for thirty years,” said Baiady. “Our diversity must become a source of richness rather than a struggle.

“Unity is built on fruitful, humble love which favors the other over the self.”

Please click here to read the whole article, containing quotes also from the Catholic and Anglican representatives. It is a good step, a formal admission to the unity asserted by most Christians I know here.

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Excerpts

Copts Protest to Deter Aggressors in Upper Egypt

From MidEast Christian News (behind paywall):

Dozens of Copts assembled in front of the governorate building, over incidents such as these:

Adel Wadie Fahmi said his house was seized by eight thugs, who forged contracts to prove ownership of the house land, and asked him to pay two million Egyptian pounds, roughly 300,000 USD, to give the house back to him. Fahmi said that he filed a report with the Samalout police.

The security services inspected Fahmi’s house and managed to arrest one of the thugs and Samalout prosecutor remanded him in custody for 15 days pending investigation, but Fahmi’s house has yet to be restored to him.

Medhat Lewis Guirguis said a group of thugs demolished a wall encircling a plot he owns, and when he objected they showed him a false contract of their ownership of the land. Said thugs called on Guirguis to pay 450,000 pounds to leave the land. Upon filing a report with Samalout police, five of the accused were arrested and imprisoned for 15 days pending investigation. Guirguis, however, has received new threats urging him to pay the required amount.

Other incidents are listed as well. The above is a good example of wishing you could be in all places at once. Many stories described as kidnapping reflect simply a young woman who has run away with a lover. Even when this is the case, however, there are often breaches of law that go ignored by authorities. If someone was there, they could better investigate.

So we are left with this investigation, which probably is only a recounting of the claims of those demonstrating. Might some be claiming sectarian discrimination over simple land disputes, perhaps even if they are in the wrong?

Maybe, but there is no joy in being a cynic. Rather, this demonstration is a warning about the real possibility of sectarian aggression against Copts, especially in Upper Egypt. The region has always been rather lawless; amid further decline, might some encroach further, taking advantage of lax enforcement and a slow or absent judiciary, to enrich themselves at the expense of Copts?

Do similar instances happen among Muslims, but are as infrequently reported in the regular press and altogether ignored in Christian-focused publications such as this one? Does Islamist dominance of the public square mean such incidences against Christians will be less rebuffed than normal? Why should it, are there not simple matters of right and wrong at stake? Do Islamists care only about advancing their fellow Muslims? Or should they not be men of principle more than the earlier administrations, and take a stand to investigate and stop such transgression?

So many questions. Would I be able to know better the answers if I was there? I am in Cairo, and there is so much here I don’t know, so why would it be different?

But I wish someone did, and there was a publication that could be trusted. Thank you, MidEast Christian News, for bringing these stories to attention, but I wish you investigated more thoroughly.

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Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

The Growing Pains of Salafi Politics

Asala Party Elections (photo: Clara Pak)
Asala Party Elections (photo: Clara Pak)

From my latest article in EgyptSource:

The Salafi political movement experienced massive transition in the past two weeks, enduring splits, recriminations, and leadership changes. Having long foresworn the political process, it is right and natural for growing pains to characterize their apparent embrace of democracy. Taking stock, three observations describe their current standing.

These are:

  • The process is transparent, but is the result foreordained?
  • The rhetoric is clear, but are they learning spin?
  • The inspiration is worrisome, but does it determine?

From the first:

The main question directed to Islamist politicians is if they truly believe in democracy or simply use it as a ladder to power. Egypt’s constitution declared its governing system to be both democratic and of an undefined shura (consultation). The shura provision was added at the request of Salafis, whose ideas of democracy issue from the selection process of the early Islamic caliphs, which was consensual. If internal elections are any indication, Salafis are willing to be transparent about their leadership choices, but greatly prefer the predetermined aspects of shura.

From the second:

There are reasonable reasons to reject quotas as well as to trust sharia provisions toward non-Muslims. Yet probing beyond the headlines exposes differences of nuance, if not outright contradiction.

Opponents of Salafis do credit them for being straightforward and sincere, unlike their opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood. As they develop political skill, however, it appears Salafis also are learning the unfortunate art of spin.

From the third:

Then effortlessly, unprompted, and without rancor, he slid into a passionless diatribe. “When we reach the stage of our empowerment, we will collect jizia from the Copts.

“Permissible for us are the blood and spoils of those who disbelieve in God and refuse his prophet,” he said. “This is not for the people of the book, as long as they do not fight us. But inside and outside Egypt they are fighting us, taking millions from America to accumulate weapons.”

So when Sheikh Abdel Khaleq Mohamed states at an official party function, “Democratic work is unbelief, but as long as it leads to the victory of God’s religion it is permissible to us,” does he represent its official line? Or does party president Ehab Shiha, who clarified the misquote, adding after ‘unbelief’ the words ‘… as a doctrine’ which were clipped in the article? On the contrary, Shiha accepts the definition of democracy as ‘government by the people, of the people, and for the people’ as long as it does not transgress the laws of God.

Please click here to read the full article on EgyptSource.

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Personal

Orient and Occident: Winter Edition

Orient and Occident

From my latest article on Orient and Occident:

‘The church in Egypt is better resourced to participate in society than in other countries of the Arab world, whereas in Palestine/Israel it constitutes only 1% of the population,’ says Stephen Sizer, a renowned critic of Christian Zionism, who presented a series of lectures in Cairo, including at the Anglican Cathedral.

Sizer is an Anglican minister from the UK and directs most of his energy combating US evangelical Christians who find Biblical warrant for supporting the Zionist policies of Israel. Instead, Biblical theology should direct the Christian to support the oppressed and stand for justice, on both sides of the separation wall.

Yet local expressions of theology have failed Palestinian Christians as well. In an interview with Orient and Occident Sizer suspects a similar deficiency among many Egyptian Copts.

‘Theology that says, “Stay out of politics and worship quietly; don’t get in the way or cause problems” will lead only to a victim mentality,’ maintains Sizer. ‘We have to get out of our ghetto and show the rule of law applies to everyone.’

Please click here to continue reading the article on Orient and Occident.

Orient and Occident is the bilingual online magazine of the Egyptian Anglican Church, of which I am privileged to be the editor. We seek to highlight voices who are able to articulate how the values of faith – Christian in particular, shared widely with Islam – can be lived practically in society, and in particular the Arab world. We welcome contributions from Christians and Muslims alike.

Please click here to view the Winter edition homepage in English, and here in Arabic. This season’s edition also features the following articles:

While on this blog Julie and I always appreciate your sharing of our thoughts about Egypt, we would like to invite you particularly to share any of these articles you find enjoyable or challenging. We hope Orient and Occident will be a service to the Arab world – both by inspiring its readers inside and by sharing a vision with the world outside. Thanks for any small steps you can take to help it be better known.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egyptian Christians Face the Future Under New Islamist Law

Face the Future

From my new article on Christianity Today, published December 28, 2012:

Egyptian Christians spent this year’s Advent season awaiting more than the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Christmas Day dawned with Copts still processing the rushed passage of a new Islamist-backed constitution and its implications.

Days before voting began on the hastily completed charter—which, despite only 33 percent turnout and accusations of fraud, passed December 25 with 64 percent of the vote—more than 10,000 Christians gathered at an interdenominational prayer vigil in Cairo’s famous “Cave Church.”

Please click here and here for more information about this prayer gathering. But the article continues:

“Morsi has not kept his promises to be a president for all Egyptians when he had a chance to do so, and he is losing credibility,” said Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt. “When the leader is not working for consensus, it makes it very hard for anyone else to do so.”

Yet Atallah still advises Christians to remain politically active while grounding their expectations in the necessary dual perspective of Christianity.

“We must be good citizens,” he said. “This panic is not justified in our faith, even if it may be justified in terms of politics.

And here is a section on liberal ‘hope’ for political reversal in the midst of anticipated economic difficulty:

But as liberals have consistently failed to win at the polls, some place a morose hope in Egypt’s expected financial difficulties to aid their parliamentary campaign.

“There is an economic disaster coming,” said Michael Nabil, an Egyptian accountant. Since the revolution, Egypt has lost more than half of its foreign currency reserve fighting inflation and devaluation. “This will affect the situation negatively for the Muslim Brotherhood and give the opposition more credibility,” he said.

I had hoped to write this week’s Friday Prayers for Egypt about the economy, but was unable to. Perhaps after the climax of the constitution nothing this week seemed so urgent for prayer. That is not true, of course, but like many in Egypt, I feel somewhat drained, and this week was a week of recovery. Western Christmas celebrations helped.

The main issue for the prayers would have been the feared coming economic collapse. It may well happen, but is also tinged with manipulative rumors that seem almost designed to produce a panic.

Finally, a quote on what seems a very proper perspective for Egyptian Christians:

“There is no connection to political stability and the success of the gospel,” said Atallah. “In fact, the opposite might be true: People depend more on God in difficult times.”Maybe God will use the Muslim Brotherhood to do his will in Egypt, even if we don’t want them to be in charge,” he said.

Please click here to read the entire article on Christianity Today.

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Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Why did the Brotherhood Protest at the Palace?

Translation: Sharia, God protect it; Legitimacy, People Sacrifice for it
Translation: Sharia, God protect it; Legitimacy, People Sacrifice for it

From my new article in EgyptSource:

Politics in Egypt has degenerated into the question: Who do you trust? A more critical question right now is: What was their plan?

President Morsi addressed the nation late Thursday evening and tied Wednesday’s violence at the presidential palace to undefined ‘political parties’. If the vagary was intended to present the clashes between supporters and opposition neutrally, his overall point was clear in labeling the ultimate culprit as the old, corrupt regime. Surely he was not implicating the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet it is undeniable the recent violence would not have taken place if not for a decision made by the Muslim Brotherhood to protest at an opposition site.

So, why did they do it?

Of course, the size of the protest, eyewitness reports putting the number at “hundreds of thousands,” was important enough for the Brotherhood to argue it was no more than 2,000 people. The threat, though, was the increase, and the permanent presence of a sit-in Morsi’s doorstep.  As the clock ticked toward the date of the referendum, it would be a constant reminder of the standing refusal of Morsi’s constitutional declaration.

This is the best reading of the official Brotherhood announcement of their stated intentions after clashes began. IkhwanOnline announced it rejected violence and went to the presidential palace to ‘protect legitimacy.’ Egypt Independent reported a Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau decision to hold a sit-in at the presidential palace, while Essam al-Erian called on the people to “flood to squares in all governorates, especially at the presidential palace, to protect legitimacy.”

Already convinced there was a conspiracy to unseat them, it appears they could not allow a picture of popular support for the opposition

But was their motive more sinister?

This is the key question, and though the article weighs possibilities, it cannot be determined from located public or reported statements. Certainly if others have found them I would like to know.

Now, of course, their public discourse denies anything, claiming they were the victims. Their rhetoric, though, is telling – indicating a great conspiracy against them, their paranoia it exists, or their invention thereof:

The day of the clashes IkwanOnline collected round-ups on the events from newspapers around the world. They chose to headline this article, however, quoting a detail from the New York Times. “Wealthy and Christians Demonstrate at Ittihadiya [the name of the presidential palace],” it read.

Meanwhile, al-Fajr reports former Brotherhood parliamentarian Sayyid al-Atweil told the Islamic channel Hafez that Copts led the armed thugs in their confrontations. He claims to have seen Copts entering churches carrying weapons. Earlier, the Freedom and Justice newspaper reported Naguib Sawiris, a wealthy Coptic businessman and financier of the liberal Free Egyptian Party, was also being investigated for inciting insurrection.

And as mentioned above, President Morsi stated the violence was tied to ‘political parties’.

May Egypt traverse these waters safely. Please click here to read the whole article at EgyptSource.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egyptian Churches Give Up on Helping Create New Constitution

From my new article on Christianity Today:

In another blow to Egypt’s democratic transition, representatives of the Muslim nation’s three main Christian bodies jointly decided to end their participation in writing a new constitution.

“The constitution … in its current form does not meet the desired national consensus and does not reflect the pluralistic identity of Egypt,” said Bishop Pachomious, acting patriarch for the Coptic Orthodox Church. The announcement was made one day before Pope Tawadros II assumed the papal throne of St. Mark, the gospel writer.

A primary complaint is over the role of shari’ah. Article Two of Egypt’s 1971 constitution, as well as the current draft of the new constitution, enshrines the “principles” of shari’ah to be the primary source of legislation. Pope Tawadros does not dispute the article as currently defined—including its designation of Islam as the religion of the state. But all churches reject its expansion.

“They left Article Two as is, but then added another article defining the principles of shari’ah.”

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.

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Solemn Ceremony and Contentious Politics Surround the Papal Throne

Pope Tawadros

From my new article on EgyptSource:

In a solemn, emotional ceremony, Pope Tawadros II was enthroned as the 118th Coptic Orthodox patriarch on Sunday, November 18.  Only one day earlier, a different atmosphere prevailed. Acting Patriarch Bishop Pachomious announced the withdrawal of church representation from the constituent assembly writing Egypt’s new constitution.

As Pope Tawadros took his seat on the papal chair of St. Mark, he was the picture of spiritual reflection. His demeanor was subdued, almost resigned to his new responsibilities. On a few occasions he shed a tear.

Two days prior, the church – behind closed doors – was the picture of enflamed political discussion.

Tawadros is the disciple of Pachomious, who spoke of his protégé:

Following the reading of the gospel, Pachomious introduced the new pope. Tawadros’ gravity was matched by Pachomious’ triumphal proclamation. “I tell him I will be his son and his servant,” stated Pachomious, “for we know the meaning of spiritual fatherhood.” He then exclaimed, driving home an intended contrast, “There is no struggle for authority in the Coptic Orthodox Church!”

The contrast, of course, is with the Egyptian political system, which the church strove hard to rise above.

But why would Pachomious make such a critical decision a day before the new pope, presumably, should start guiding these matters?

According to Bishop Yohanna Golta, Deputy Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church and its representative in the constituent assembly, the pope’s distance was deliberate. “The goal of Bishop Pachomious’s announcement … was to avoid entangling the new pope in this matter,” he said.

Politics entered the papal ceremony through another route – the decision of President Morsy not to attend. Many saw this as a failure to assuage the Copts amid an Islamist presidency, but others were relieved.

Perhaps Morsi, like Pachomious, also spared Tawadros the difficulty of political complications. The pope may prefer a non-politicized papacy, but this luxury may not be afforded until Egypt’s government stabilizes, if then.

And finally, here was the lead-up to the conclusion which needed to be edited out to fit with EgyptSources political focus:

Regardless of the explanation, during the ceremony Bishop Pachomious publically thanked President Morsy for sending a deputy, but focused on the spiritual definition of leadership.

‘We are the children of St. Mark,’ he said, ‘who taught us to wash each other’s feet.’ In this he referred to the example of Jesus, who took the place of a servant to wash the feet of his disciples.

Perhaps Pachomious and the church did so for Pope Tawadros, leaving him enough room to change the decision positively should circumstances warrant.

Though only speculation, perhaps it was these wranglings which produced Tawadros’ tears.

Please click here to read the whole article on EgyptSource.

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Bishop Tawadros

God,

Prayers have been plentiful in the Coptic Orthodox Church these past few weeks. The pleas of the faithful, complete with fasting, sought wisdom and providence in the selection of a new pope. When the lot fell on Bishop Tawadros, there was much contentment.

So for now, let the prayers be simple. Give Tawadros space to prepare himself spiritually before his consecration. Humble him and speak to him, that you might give him the weakness of Christ with the strength of conviction. Allow him to take his office a servant of Copts and Egyptians alike.

Give him time, God. Spare him the immediate crisis posed to test his mettle. Help him to organize his office, his staff, and administrative responsibilities. Surround him with trustworthy people – those who will pray with him and challenge his thinking. May he win the confidence of the family of bishops.

Give him discernment, God. Wisely, he asserts he must not be a political player. Yet the demands of Egypt may challenge his preference. Help him to feed his flock spiritually, that they may apply principles practically. Protect him from the temptation to act when he must wait on you. As he carries the weight of leadership, may he know when to speak and when to stay silent. Work through the whole body, God, not only through its chief shepherd and administrator. May he know he is not the head.

God, bless Egypt through him, and bless him through Egypt. May the nation recognize him as a wise representative of an institution, and treat him accordingly. May he be worthy of them, and may his prayers be effectual for them. In particular may he bless the president; honor and work good through them both.

Give him good health and a sound mind, God. Grant Egypt the same.

Amen.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Tomorrow, God to Select the Next Coptic Orthodox Pope

From left: Bishop Tawadros, Fr. Raphael Ava Mina, Bishop Raphael

While Americans prepare to elect their next president on Tuesday, Egyptian Christians are leaving this Sunday’s choice for their highest leader up to a higher power: God.

On November 4, one of three final candidates will succeed Pope Shenouda III, the beloved “pope of the Bible” who died in March, as the 118th patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church. But in contrast to the “group consensus” method used to select Roman Catholic popes, the casting of lots will determine whether Bishop Raphael of Cairo, Bishop Tawadros of Beheira, or Father Raphael Ava Mina, a monk from the Monastery of St. Mina near Alexandria, becomes the next spiritual leader of Egypyt’s 8 million Orthodox Christians.

This excerpt is from my article describing the papal selection process for Christianity Today. Please click here for the article in full.

It is an exciting day for Coptic Christians; may God honor their faith and grant them wise leadership. Two other angles to note:

First, all observers declared the election process prior to the lot was very organized, clear, and transparent. A limited pool of around 2,400 electors brought the number of candidates from five to three, of whom the lot will fall on one.

Some remarked the church wanted to present a picture of democracy and order that has so far escaped the Egyptian transition. Yes, for both parliament and president, democracy has been present and the lines to vote have been orderly. Yet the church has bent over backwards to ensure its election majors on the key missing ingredient in Egypt: transparency.

Second, if indeed there is transparency in selecting one of these three names, it presents an unmistakable spiritual picture of leadership to Egypt. One liberally-minded Muslim friend questions the reality of the lot, saying there is no way any large institution can leave their top leadership position to chance. He believes Bishop Raphael will be chosen; tomorrow we will see.

I am not sure how to interpret this spiritual picture, if indeed the blindfolded child has three separate names from which to draw. Yet given the wrangling, ambition, and conspiracy that has surrounded the Egyptian presidential contest – with unmistakable religious overtones – the church is saying: We trust in God.

As always, statements must be modified. The church is not saying it is a model for the Egyptian state. On the contrary, if anything, it is a rebuke by contrast. As a church we can be clearly spiritual in our leadership selection, but we are all Christians. The state, as a mixed polity, should be clearly secular.

If this is the lesson offered by the church, it is received. But it is not received with full transparency. The final choice is for God, and the election from five to three was by an accredited election. But the movement of candidates from seventeen to five was not particularly transparent. Twelve candidates were removed by a committee, and among these were the most controversial and polarizing figures.

Of the five that remained, three were of a similar disposition, while two were monks who were largely unknown. Please read the article to learn a little more of this disposition, but if the election from five and the lot from three will result in a similar pope no matter the candidate, where is the transparency?

By and large, Copts are very happy with their choices, so there is no need to complain. Furthermore, the church is not a democracy and should not be held to the standards of modern revolutionary conventional wisdom.

But on what basis were other candidates removed? Perhaps, simply, spiritual wisdom? This is not the same as transparency, on which democracy rests. Democracy can be transparent yet produce an unwise choice. But spin this differently, and the question is necessary: Is an appeal to spiritual wisdom simply a justification for paternalistic arrogance?

Now extend this question to Egypt, as President Mubarak did: Is Egypt ready for democracy?

Countless non-Islamists might look at the results and wonder, for they dare not articulate contrary to holy democratic principle, ‘No’. Democracy demands faith in the people, who can be rather fickle and easily manipulated.

Meanwhile, countless Islamists recognize ‘faith in the people’ as idolatry. They demand the coming constitution state clearly that sovereignty belongs – not to the people as currently written – but to God.

In the above, three models are presented: the reception of a system from God, the full sovereignty of people, and the paternalism that allows choice along a spectrum. Where does wisdom lie?

As I stated, I am not sure how to interpret the lessons from the papal selection process to the Egyptian society at large. I sense, however, the observations are poignant. I only wish for their proper translation.

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Blasphemy

God,

Egypt’s legal and judicial history is historic and impressive. Yet like other societies with a strong legal tradition, litigation is common. One result is often the slow pace of justice as cases can be tied up in court for years.

Yet this fact betrays the speed in which blasphemy cases have been processed recently. A number of Copts are under investigation or have already been sentenced for insulting Islam. The most recent case involves two children under the age of eleven.

What is behind this, God? Blasphemy laws have existed from before the revolution, so it is not simply a product of an Islamist regime. But the number of cases following the anti-Islamic film feels unprecedented. They are brought by individuals, not the state.

Weigh on the hearts of these men, God, to convict them if their zeal outpaces their mercy, if they are driven by judgment, or worse, by vindictiveness. Give wisdom to the judges as well, God. May they handle these cases with discretion and wisdom, submitting both to law and conscience.

Speak also to the accused, God. Rebuke them if they have intended offense; comfort them if they are unjustly tried.

There is even a Muslim under investigation, depicted on video burning a Bible. Many have noted his trial proceeds slowly, and he is not being detained. He acted at the scene of the US Embassy, perhaps enraged at the film in question.

If he was rash, help him seek forgiveness. If he was making a statement, give him guidance. If he sowed the seeds of discord in society, rebuke him.

But with him, God, and with all the others, spare them the judgment of law. And for those who cannot pray this sincerely, may the law be designed to justly honor both holy sanctities and inviolable freedoms.

And apart from the law, may honorable men of religion rush to forgive the offenders and show mercy. May they intercede for the accused in both this life and the next.

Weighty issues are at stake, God, beyond the dignity of each of these individuals. A constitution is soon to be written, which may well include provisions against blasphemy. Odd thoughts lend to conspiracy; was the outrage over the film meant to rally support? Could these cases be fast-tracked to provoke outrage and rally against?

And within this context, conflicting reports surround the small Coptic community in Rafah. They received threats if they did not leave the area. It seems some did, while the bishop denies they were forced. This may simply reflect the foibles of human nature. But if not, the story fits perfectly into either a conspiracy against Copts by Islamists, or into a conspiracy involving Copts (as either pawns or abettors) against Islamists.

But God, end the avails to conspiracy! In all these scenarios human lives are at stake. Open Egypt to a culture of transparency, so that men may live in dignity and know the reality of the challenges they face. Cease manipulations and constrain all manipulators. Establish soon a political system based on just principles and the consensus of society. May the constitution be written wisely and celebrated by all.

God, the impossibility of this task is well known, but intervene. Change the hearts of troublemakers and sincere disputants alike. Knit them together in this crucial stage, so that they may differ properly in the days to come.

Honor Egypt, God, and give her peace. Give her peace of mind.

Amen.

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Non-Traditional Justice in Upper Egypt

Throughout Egypt the justice system is known to be very slow. Though it has a long and respectable history, as the population exploded and litigation increased, many turn to non-traditional methods to avoid spending a year or more in court.

Sometimes, a non-traditional method can be thuggery. A landlord, for example, might expel by force a legal tenant and deal with the consequences later – whenever the court gets around to hearing the case.

Sometimes, a non-traditional method can be arbitration. Egypt, mindful of the slowness of its judiciary, has established a limited number of licensed arbiters, especially for commercial and business disputes.

Yet for many, especially in Upper Egypt, the non-traditional method of choice is the reconciliation session. Completely outside the law, two aggrieved parties turn to a respected man of the community, and set their dispute before him.

Reconciliation sessions have a deserved bad reputation, especially as pertains to sectarian conflicts. Rather than ruling by law, the police enforce calm in an enflamed village, and then Muslim sheikhs and Christian priests sit together to ‘reconcile’ their people. Perhaps a local dispute – where a Christian may very well be at fault – escalates and a Muslim mob distributes group punishment by burning shops and homes.

If the judiciary in Egypt is slow, the law is weak. The efficient solution is to engage the sheikhs and priests to determine monetary compensation for the Christians and then make a public display of reconciliation. Valuable as this may be, too often it covers over smoldering resentment and rarely punishes wrongdoers.

Yet far more frequent in occurrence are the ordinary instances of two parties settling their grievance amicably. This does not always mean a happy ending, nor is it free of questionable rulings. But where a flawed legal system is the norm, it works.

I encountered two examples recently which help give perspective. These examples hear from only one side, and both involve Christians exclusively. At the very least, they indicate how Christians are not simply the victims of reconciliation sessions, as often portrayed in the media. On the contrary, they are willing participants mirroring exactly their Muslim neighbors.

In the first example, a Christian family consisting of three adult brothers suffered tragedy when the third brother died young. That he also died unmarried added conflict to the tragedy.

What to do with his share of the family inheritance? To whom should he leave it? If the simple answer is to divide it equally, the equation is complicated by the fact he lived with one of the brothers as a semi-dependent.

Yet the other brother stated he paid ‘rent’ to the first brother to help offset costs. In the end, they took their problem to the church. The two priests of the village convened, heard the stories, and pronounced a simple 50-50 division between the surviving brothers. All were satisfied, and life carried on.

In the second example the dispute involved the church – that is, the priests themselves. The family of the priest in question inherited a large tract of land, complete with ownership papers establishing their right. Further distant relatives, however, received no share but believed they were entitled. Yet as the church was complicated in the conflict, the petitioning family decided to go to a Muslim village sheikh.

This particular Muslim sheikh is very well respected as a non-traditional ‘reconciler’ in the village, by both Muslims and Christians. He is said to deal according to the right, and not by religion or benefit. Yet he also draws a fee for his services; it is not simply a service provided. His authority comes only from village reputation. He has no license from the government.

This fee can reach up to several hundred dollars, and is traditionally paid by the disputant who first appeals to arbitration, win or lose. Trusting the judgment of the sheikh, who has been known by both parties since childhood, the landowning family agreed.

In the end, the sheikh ruled for the landowners – their names were on the legal documentation; it was a simple case. But in doing so the sheikh put himself in a quandary. The landless family was poor; they had no means to pay his fee unless they won the judgment.

In saying so, care here must be taken since the sheikh’s perspective is not known. Yet it is said of him he was on watch for any impropriety on the part of the landowners, so as to extract from them a fee for ‘contempt’.

Apparently, the landowner believed the sheikh was listening too favorably to the complainant’s cause, and not letting him speak. At one point he interrupted angrily, ‘Shut up, sheikh!’

With this highly culturally insensitive remark, the sheikh fined the landowner the several hundred dollars which should have been his fee from the original litigant. Whether or not this swayed his understanding of the case, he then ruled according to what appears to be justice.

Of course, the winning Christian family finds this an example of injustice, but once the non-traditional reconciliation session is begun, its judgments are final.

It is reported the sheikh has spoken privately to other members of the family, saying he will return the fee if the insulting party simply apologizes, or even has his landowning relative do so for him. Both refuse.

These examples are not complete pictures of non-traditional justice in Upper Egypt. They do not include the issues of vendetta, honor killings, or the messy intersection of these with sectarian conflict.

What they provide instead is a picture of the normalcy and unremarkable nature of Christian participation in reconciliation sessions. It is not simply the headline-making instances of miscarriage of justice that characterize the practice.

Swift justice and rule of law would be better. In their absence, however, non-traditional methods work reasonably well.

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Photo Credit: al-Masry al-Youm

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Dahshur and Cabinet

God,

It is good there is now a cabinet in place, because they have work to do.

After a long delay, presumably over negotiations, President Morsy has now sworn in his new government. Public reaction is mostly blah. Most members are technocrats, there are few Muslim Brothers, and no Salafis. Some complain over the number of old regime figures included; others that the cabinet is not at all revolutionary.

If anything, the cabinet is like much in Egypt these days – even the marks of stability seem temporary and transitional.

Yet they are men (and two women out of 35) with responsibility to their country. They bear burdens and must work the wheels of government bureaucracy. Much is on their shoulders, while little has been working the past year and a half.

Give them grace, God, to work as unto you. May their diligence, creativity, and determination be first of all present, and then afterwards rewarded. They have much to do.

Let alone reviving the mechanics of government, there are urgent bubbles bursting. In downtown Cairo there were deaths in classist clashes. In Upper Egypt there were deaths over sexual harassment. Yet the biggest challenge is in Giza – Dahshur – where Muslims and Christians exchanged Molotov cocktails.

A stray bottle killed an innocent Muslim passerby following a simple consumer complaint that spiraled out of control. Security forces intervened when Muslim residents sought revenge for the death of their neighbor. Many were injured protecting the church and Christian homes, but several were burned along with their shops. Police then evacuated 120 Christian families from the village.

It is hard to understand Egypt sometimes, God. Yes, a tribal mentality and culture of revenge is prevalent among many. But how could the masses rally so quickly against an offense? Is it a problem of culture, education, religion?

Forgive the culprits, God, on all sides. Yet hold them accountable. Be merciful in the next world, but may perpetrators and observers see the hand of law in this one. Change the hearts of these men; change the culture in which they live. May grace be valued more than retribution.

The parliament’s upper house has dispatched a committee to seek reconciliation. May they find favor in the eyes of men. May they listen, confront, rebuke, and restore. May they be humble; may they act from purity. Give them the words to say and the hearts to incline. Bring good from this tragedy and knit the hearts of those torn asunder.

Give wisdom to the president, God. His words so far have been wise; may his actions confirm them. He has promised the harsh application of law. He has esteemed Muslims and Christians as brothers. He has pronounced that no citizen must live in fear.

Ah, but may his cabinet apply these sentiments. May the president not rest until his words are enacted. A just settlement will prove so much for his presidency. Fairness may well win over the Copts. It is a new era in Egypt; may sectarian tension not be dealt with in the old ways.

God, may Egypt have peace in all its spheres. May the revolution reach to the hearts and consciences of men. Have mercy, God. Forgive. Above all, redeem and set straight. Continue and complete all the goodness Egypt has won. May the old wineskins be replaced.

Amen.

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Sameh Makram Ebeid: On the Wafd, Hillary Clinton, and Current Conspiracies

Sameh Makram Ebeid

Sameh Makram Ebeid handed me his business card with the words, ‘I hope I get to use this again.’ Underneath his name it spelled out ‘Member of Parliament’. He took it back momentarily and penciled in an additional word in Arabic: ‘Dissolved’.

‘I don’t have the right to disagree with a court ruling. We were never MPs; this is what the court said. But I will run again for parliament and make a fight for my district.’

Ebeid is one of two elected Coptic parliamentarians, and won his seat from the Red Sea district under the banner of the Egyptian Bloc. The choice of the Red Sea was personal – he owns a home there and likes the region – but also political. Ebeid estimates 75% of governorate residents hail from Qena in Upper Egypt, which is his family home.

The choice of the Egyptian Bloc as a liberal coalition was natural, as Egyptian politics post-revolution evolved into a secular-Islamist confrontation.

The Bloc is a coalition consisting of the Free Egyptian Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and the Tagammu’ Party. Under Egyptian law, however, Ebeid does not have to belong to any of these parties. Though his official parliament membership papers list him as a member of the Bloc he ran with them as an independent candidate.

Perhaps this is fitting. Ebeid hails from the historic Egyptian family associated with the Wafd Party in opposition to British colonialism. Saad Zaghloul, a Muslim, and Makram Ebeid, a Copt and Ebeid’s ancestor, contributed to the founding of modern Egyptian politics along nationalist lines without any religious distinction. The party’s logo depicts both the Christian cross and the Muslim crescent.

‘The Wafd is the secular party of Egypt.’

Ebeid had previously served as the Wafd Party’s assistant secretary general and member of the political bureau, but resigned during the chairmanship of Sayyid el-Badawi, who won party elections in 2010.

‘He became very autocratic and wanted to run the party the way he wanted. He was vengeful against everyone who was there before him. He never represented the true Wafd Party which I belonged to.’

Ebeid’s major source of contention was Badawi’s cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood. He brought on prominent Islamist Suad Salah, and sought to place her on the religion and human rights committee. Compromises such as these turned the Wafd, he said, into a typical ‘wishy-washy’ party.

After the revolution Badawi entered the Wafd into a coalition with the Brotherhood, though they withdrew at the last minute.

Badawi’s election was ‘clean’, states Ebeid, but like the parliamentary and presidential elections, this does not mean they were not manipulated.

‘The elections were not rigged but the road to the ballot was unfair; if you promise people heaven or buy their votes, this is not fair.’

Ebeid is critical of the electoral machinery of the Muslim Brotherhood which distributed food packages in poor areas before elections. Similarly, many Salafi sheikhs stated voting for Islamists was part of obeying God’s will.

Yet Ebeid testifies that in his election monitoring he did not discover fraud; certainly not in comparison to past elections. For this he puts no stock in the conspiracies which say Ahmed Shafiq was the actual winner of presidential elections over Mohamed Morsy.

‘As long as Shafiq did not contest the election, I have to accept it as correct.

‘If he knew the elections were rigged and he did not voice this, it is treason and he should be court-martialed.

‘There were 13,000 polling stations; did he not have this many volunteers to count the vote as the Brotherhood did?’

Even so, Ebeid took issue with the recent visit of Hillary Clinton to Egypt. His critique was not about clandestine US support for the Brotherhood, as many liberals and Copts advanced. On the contrary, in coming to Egypt the secretary of state was just doing her job.

‘I don’t see any reason why Clinton should not visit the president of Egypt; these are the true forces of Egypt. Did they push SCAF to accept Morsy? I don’t know and nobody knows. But it is actually her job and duty to come.

‘I think we should meet with the Americans and tell them what we think right to their face.’

As a politician Ebeid has the right to be frank. His criticism of Clinton, conversely, is in her conduct as a diplomat.

‘There has been a lack of tact on the part of Clinton and her team.’

The failure in tact concerned the nature of her visits to political forces. It was right for her to meet Morsy and the Brotherhood, Ebeid believed. It was right for her to meet with Salafis. It was right for her to meet with the military. But it was not right for her to meet with ‘Copts’.

‘You should not meet with the Copts as Copts, but as part of the liberal movement, as the third way between military and Islamist, and bring in non-Christians.

‘If you start segregating the country you’re making a big mistake.

‘She wanted to meet with individual politicians, but they were all Christians.’

For this reason, Ebeid believes it was correct for liberal and Coptic forces to boycott the meeting with Clinton. He himself did not receive an invitation, but he supported the decision of those who did.

As for the current political situation in Egypt, especially on President Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood, Ebeid is critical as well.

‘There is no such thing as the Freedom and Justice Party. They call themselves the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the real force.

‘So far I have not seen Morsy act as the president of Egypt. We have to see if he will elevate himself above parties to be the president of all Egypt. I hope he will do this.

‘The Brothers have a special agenda and we have a different agenda. If he is representing the Brotherhood then he is not my president, he’s the president of the Muslim Brotherhood. He should be the president of everyone.’

Though Morsy is not directly involved in the crucial issue of the constitution, Ebeid witnesses the Brotherhood special agenda here especially.

‘The constituent assembly [which will write the constitution] was a trick. It was agreed to be a 50-50 Islamist-secular split, but they did not go into the details about parties or people.

‘The Wasat Party and the Reform and Development Party of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya are Islamist parties, are they not? They must be counted as part of the Islamists. But what the Brotherhood is saying is that we never said it, we said 50% for MB and Salafis. As the Americans say, the devil is in the details.’

Ebeid’s criticism is not just of the Brotherhood, but of the process itself.

‘The whole process was flawed. We should have gone through the list person by person; defining by position means nothing. We could stipulate the selection of a judge of a court, but if he is an Islamist this makes the difference.’

As media reports the progress the constituent assembly makes on the constitution, Ebeid prefers not to comment on details until he sees an official text. Yet he is not reticent to make his views known on certain issues.

‘The first three articles are most important as they define the identity of Egypt. What are we, a secular country or an Islamic country?

‘What does the word shura [‘consultative’, proposed by Islamists as part of the definition of the state] mean? It has been debated for the last fourteen centuries. Putting the word there is not just semantics, it means something.

‘As for the right of Christians and Jews to refer to their own sharia: What about non-believers, what if we have an Egyptian Buddhist?

‘We should have a presidential system for the first two terms, and then move into a semi-presidential like the French. We’re not ready for a semi-presidential system yet.’

Within the debate of these issues, Ebeid was careful never to assert, or even speculate, secret deal-making between political powers. The accusation that someone was an agent of America, for example, has been a political tactic for the last thirty or forty years, he stated. He wanted nothing to do with this pattern.

Yet there was one area where he opened the door just a little. It is the crucial error which resulted in the muddled transition Egypt is experiencing.

‘If there was a deal, the deal that harmed Egypt was made in March of last year in the national referendum. This reversed everything, putting parliament first, then president, then constitution.

‘Deal, negotiation, agreement, whatever; this is what destroyed the whole eighteen month process.

‘The whole thing is a series of errors, whether intentional errors or a lack of knowledge I’m not sure.’

 

 

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Christian Century Middle East Published Articles

Wary of Morsy

This article was originally published in the Christian Century on July 17, 2012.

President Mohamed Morsy’s decision to reinstate the dissolved parliament has set off a firestorm of debate in Egypt. Is Morsy fighting for full democracy against a military regime? Or is he trying to institute a full Islamist takeover of government? Christians worry about the second possibility.

“There are attempts to take control of all state institutions,” said Karam Ghobrial, an activist with the Coalition of Egypt’s Copts, “and the biggest proof is Morsy’s decision to bring back parliament.” Ghobrial is one of many lawyers who filed an injunction against the president’s ruling. Ghobrial’s comments reveal a deep-seated Coptic distrust of Islamists. “There should be international attention from the United Nations to protect minorities,” he said, “because Morsy broke his oath to respect and uphold the law.”

Morsy’s presidency did not start off this way. “We as Egyptians, Muslims and Christians,” he proclaimed in his victory speech…

Please click here to continue reading at the Christian Century.

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Clinton Visits Morsy amid Coptic Protests

Outside the US Embassy in Cairo

Traditionally, it is the Copts who look to America for support of their minority rights. With the Muslim Brotherhood now in the presidency, though not in full power, some Copts wonder if the United States is switching sides.

The statement of ‘looking to America’ should not be taken as normative. The Orthodox Church and most leaders of influence insist on Egyptian solutions to Egyptian problems. They believe an appeal to the West would brand Copts as traitors in their own land. Average Copts, however, often state a sentiment of longing for America – either for pressure on Cairo or as an escape through emigration.

Amid frequent meetings between Islamists and members of the US administration, however, some Copts believe Washington’s interests are beginning to trump its commitment to human rights.

Bishoy Tamry

‘We believe there is an alliance between the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood,’ stated Bishoy Tamry, a member of the political bureau of the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic revolutionary group formed after attacks on Egyptian churches. ‘This alliance is to support fascism in the Middle East.

‘The US thinks the Muslim Brotherhood will protect their interests in the region, but this will be over our bodies as minorities.’

The revolutionary character of the Maspero Youth Union plays a role in seeing the United States making a deal with the devil.

‘We knew the next president must have US support,’ Tamry continued, ‘because the military council rules Egypt and the US pays the military council.’

Most of the United State’s foreign aid to Egypt is in the form of military support, with smaller percentages given to economic and civil society development.

A few hundred people gathered at the US Embassy in Cairo to protest the visit of Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. Early chants at the demonstration included, ‘The people and the army are one hand’, but these were silenced by Maspero Youth Union leaders. Tamry explained their group called for an open protest, and some attendees see the military council as the best means to limit or even depose Islamist rule.

One such group is the supporters of Egyptian television presenter Tawfiq Okasha, somewhat comparable to America’s Glenn Beck. These are strong supporters of the military council and clashed briefly with assembled protestors when they arrived, according to Ramy Kamel, an independent Coptic activist helping organize the demonstration. This drove the protest ten minutes south to the Four Seasons Hotel.

According to Nader Shukry, the media spokesman for the Maspero Youth Union, the United States is looking to preserve its interests after the Arab Spring shook their control of local governments. Yet their eye is not on the region’s good, but on its destruction.

‘[The US] knows Islamist rule will bring ruin to these countries, and the best evidence of this is their previous experience.’

As for proof of this alliance, it is found in their frequent meetings.

‘We see evidence in the pre-election visits of US representatives to the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters,’ said Tamry. ‘If the US was looking simply to political representatives it would have visited their Freedom and Justice Party.’

Others see this reasoning as absurd.

‘The United States has relations with every nation in the world,’ said Raed Sharqawi, an investigative journalist present at the demonstration.

‘The United States is also the shield for the Copts, and always will be. This protest is foolish.’

During Clinton’s visit she asked President Morsy to ‘assert the full authority of his position’. The president is currently engaged in a struggle with the military council over the dissolution of parliament. His party, the FJP is also pushing him to confront the military over its supplementary constitutional declaration to preserve some of its powers until a new constitution is written. Clinton did state the details of the transition should be left to the Egyptian people to determine, but urged the military return to its role of protecting the borders.

It is an open and contested question if the military is seeking to preserve its power and resist the revolution, or if it is defending democracy against a premature Islamist takeover of all institutions of government.

Nevertheless, whether the demonstrations against Clinton are foolish or astute, it is a dramatic step for a segment of the Coptic community to turn against the United States so publicly.

Translation: No to the Brotherhood-American Alliance to Interfere in Egyptian Issues. (Pictured: Hillary Clinton and MB General Guide Mohamed Badie)

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Personal

A Protestant Pastor with President Morsy

I am currently working on an article summing up the Coptic reaction to President Morsy’s first days in office. Unfortunately, the publisher’s word count means squeezing out a few otherwise indicative quotes.

One interesting quote that didn’t make the cut is from Rev. Mina el-Badry, a Protestant pastor from Minya in Upper Egypt. Responding to my inquiry, he said:

‘Morsy is our president; we are all with him and all behind him, as we want the nation to stabilize. It is not up to Copts to oppose the president – these are political issues. Some will oppose him and some will support him, but as Egyptians.

‘I believe all power and all sovereignty is for God, and he knows best how to protect us – whether the president is Morsy or anyone else.’

The conventional wisdom in Egypt is that Copts are very concerned about Morsy’s presidency, despite encouraging rhetoric I will highlight soon. Yet also important to note are spiritually oriented thoughts such as these. It will be interesting to follow the evolution of Egyptian Christian thinking toward Islamist rule as the years go by … if indeed they have that long.

Note: Ha. I meant by that last statement if Islamists will rule that long. A second glance revealed it could be read if Egyptian Christians survive that long. Which way did you read it, and what might that reading communicate? Gulp. Of me I wonder if it reveals a subliminal schizophrenia.

 

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Counting Votes

God,

It should be such an easy matter. Collect the ballots and count them. Unfortunately, it has become more complicated.

One complication is the accusation of fraud. This is requiring more time to investigate the circumstances of each polling station, and in one case, of the printing house which made the ballots.

The other, and more serious, complication is the prevalence of politics. This has put the whole counting operation in question. Islamists have already done their vote count, declaring their candidate the winner. They say if the final result is not so, it is clear evidence of fraud.

God, give officials the blinders necessary to simply count the total. Give investigators the insight to tell who, if any, are cheating.

Give the military council – the ultimate arbiter – the discipline to work by principle, for the good of Egypt. May they surrender power to the choice of the people, no matter how easy, or difficult, that is to ascertain.

And God, give peace to Egypt after the announcement of a winner. There is much talk of ensuing violence, as well as much denial. May there be no sore losers; may there be no manipulated chaos.

God, give wisdom to the Brotherhood. If they win, may they govern justly. If they lose, may they accept graciously. If they are cheated, may they find recourse. If they are cheating, may they be humbled, held accountable, and come to repentance.

God, give wisdom to their opponent and those who stand behind him. If they win, may they conciliate between all parties. If they lose, may they not sabotage. If they are cheated, may they unearth the truth. If they are cheating, may they suffer the exposure of truth, be judged, and come to repentance.

In all cases, God, bring reconciliation to Egypt.

God, give wisdom to the Copts. As the country suffers – or even is blessed by – political division and disagreement, help them to stand firm. May they not be drawn into conflict; may they not suffer as scapegoats. May they as individuals act as you lead each one; may they as a community be salt and light to all. May they find guidance from you alone, much deeper than elections.

God, give wisdom to the Muslims. Give them discernment to know if those who speak in the name of Islam and politics represent an honest voice for faith. Do they deserve support, or abandonment? Do they call to a proper implementation of Islam, or misrepresent it. The votes are cast but the challenge is open. May they find guidance from you alone, much deeper than elections.

In all cases, God, bring love to Egypt. May no party be abandoned; may no party be scapegoated. May each embrace the other, with all warts and with all beauty.

God, give Egypt a good president, but give her a foundation much deeper than the leader. Give her a confident people who will not accept falsehood. Give her a culture that celebrates creativity, responsibility, and servanthood. Give her a government accountable to just law.

Give Egypt your best, God. Keep her from harm and cause her to thrive. May she be blessed.

Amen.