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Bibles Get American Pastor Tangled Up in Turkish Politics

Image: Ryan Keating
Pastor Ryan Keating and his family, in front of his cafe

Will the Turks create another Andrew Brunson?

On the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, they claim to have found his disciple.

Three months ago, American pastor Ryan Keating was detained for 11 hours by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state unrecognized by every nation except Turkey. Its police raided the café and wine shop that housed his church, and then proceeded to his home.

They confiscated dozens of Arabic and Farsi language Bibles.

Keating, 44, was released on nearly $20,000 bail, after local friends bonded deeds to their property, vehicles, and even a tractor.

Last month, Keating was charged with illegally importing Christian materials. His passport has been confiscated while he awaits trial. A fine has been assessed of at least $60,000—ten times the value of the Bibles, which he said is “wildly inflated” to begin with.

The raid, however, was based on the accusation that he did not have a permit to make wine. Yet Keating showed CT his 2018 license to operate the café, his 2019 license for winemaking from the municipality, and the additional requested paperwork from 2020, when his permit renewal was delayed by the customs department.

The interrogation focused only on his ministry.

“This country, its government, and our neighbors have been friendly to us,” he said. “But there are not insignificant pockets of hostile nationalism.”

Keating linked his arrest to the changing political environment. Last October, the pro-Turkey prime minister defeated the incumbent president to assume the territory’s top office.

“My case is an example of localized opposition,” Keating said. “But now, Turkish-style politics is being enforced in Cyprus.”

He was the victim of such politics once before. Resident on the island since 2017, Keating previously lived…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on April 23, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Return to Roots

Flag Cross Quran


Egypt strives to be a good neighbor. She was once also a good host. What future does she desire?

What do you?

Over the past many months Egypt has cultivated its relationship with the Mediterranean nations of Greece and Cyprus. The have a sea to share, natural gas to protect, and economies to integrate.

They have similar vision for their region.

But this week they recalled their past. Egypt invited the two presidents to ‘Nostos,’ which in Greek means ‘return to roots.’ Thousands of Greeks and Cypriots used to live in Egypt, Alexandria in particular.

There are far fewer today. ‘Egypt for the Egyptians’ discouraged their welcome; over time, so did declining economy.

But Nostos celebrated their heritage, and invited their families back for a visit.

Their churches still function. The monastery at Mt. Sinai is theirs. Egypt is still much Mediterranean.

It is a beautiful neighborly gesture. But is it an openness for return?

God, bless Egypt in her hospitality. She is still a good host. African and Syrian refugees in the thousands call her home – at least temporarily. They live, work, and are part of society.

Guide her also in wisdom. Egypt is for the Egyptians. But Greeks and Cypriots – and Italians, and Armenians, and Turks – were also Egyptian. Many still are.

God, if you prosper Egypt, perhaps more will seek her. Wealth often extends welcome.

But the reverse is also often true. Welcome brings material reward.

God, what of the spiritual? Does multiculturalism dilute authenticity? Does a mix of religions tepid them all? Does culture thrive? Do values change?

Alexandria is now known as a city conservative in its Islam. Yet Christians have their historic see.

May all believers be faithful. May all neighbors be kind. May all nations be friendly.

You determine the exact times and places for all peoples to live.

Honor Egypt for celebrating her past. Direct Egypt in treading her present. Bless Egypt in shaping her future.

Many do well in returning to roots. But from where there is strength, spread wide the branches. Allow the birds of the air to rest in their shade.

Uproot the evil, God. Root deep the good.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Energy Hub

Flag Cross Quran


It has long been an ambition. Now it is becoming reality. But strange the one who makes it happen.

Egypt is an energy hub.

Not long ago she sold off share at cut rate prices. Not long after that she was begging fuel from international partners.

Then an enormous natural gas field was discovered, giving promise of self-sufficiency.

Came the bombshell: Importing more.

Came the explanation: To liquify, and then export.

Came the confusion: Israel.

As some gasped at the deal the government nodded. Private sector, but an awaited development.

Given infrastructure and a large consumer market, Egypt positioned herself to profit from regional exploration and extraction.

Israel is the first client, having discovered large fields shortly before. Others may emerge.

God, may they find a good partner.

Help shared economics promote common peace. Egypt has strengthened ties with Greece and Cyprus; now even Israel is drawn closer.

Keep contested economics from sparking further tensions. Turkey eyes developments warily; Sudan and Ethiopia jostle over Nile water.

God, there are details to confirm and obstacles to overcome.

But bless Egypt in the management of her resources. May she build a foundation, and distribute well.

Let not her ambition trump her reality. She is still a long way from prosperity.

But God, let it happen. Allow Egypt to rise.



Middle East

Erdogan in Egypt: Teenage Turkey Tests Her Limits

Erdogan with his image of prominence, popularity

I had the opportunity to witness the keynote address of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on September 13. Beginning a tour of Arab Spring nations, he met with military, political, and business leaders in Cairo, and then spoke generally to the nation from the historic Opera House, in a session hosted by Cairo University. The following are a few highlights from his speech, concluding with some personal observations:

  • For a lecture scheduled to begin at 4pm, Erdogan began speaking at 6:45pm. Attendees had been asked to arrive no later than 3pm for security.
  • The audience chanted continually during the speech, lauding Erdogan for his regional politics.
  • Erdogan praised Egypt and her revolution, as well as historic Egyptian-Turkish ‘sisterhood’.
  • A devout Muslim, Erdogan laced his speech with Quranic references, though in a different setting he praised the virtues of a ‘secular’ state which values religion.
  • He believed the spirit of liberation in the Arab world was spreading to America and Europe to sensitize the whole world against injustice.
  • Turkey and the Arab world will dismiss orientalist myths that the region cannot support democracy or strong economies.
  • In a nod to protestor concerns and as a prod to military leadership, Erdogan stated the coming elections should be held according to a set schedule.
  • Erdogan highlighted the dramatic increase in trade between Turkey and Egypt, and pledged it would only increase further in the future.
  • He declared that Egypt is Turkey’s key to Africa, just as Turkey is Egypt’s key to Europe.
  • Erdogan spoke of his efforts to get Syrian President Assad to reform, but stated he can no longer trust him in his pledges.
  • Alarmingly and surprisingly, Erdogan predicted that Syria will now face sectarian problems, which are played upon by foreign forces.
  • He stated that the illegitimate policies of Israel are the biggest obstacle to peace in the region, especially in her disregard for international law.
  • Erdogan prompted the greatest applause when he reiterated Turkey’s diplomatic efforts against Israel will continue until an apology is received for Turkish deaths aboard last year’s flotilla.
  • He also condemned as illegitimate the deaths of Egyptian officers in an Israeli raid across the Sinai border; he also offered his condolences to their families.
  • He expressed hope the Israeli people would realize their settlements are illegitimate, and that they are leading the nation into difficulties.
  • Erdogan pledged to hold Israeli leaders accountable while expressing he bore no ill will against the Israeli citizen, who like all must be respected on account of their creator.
  • He promised to always stand side by side with Palestine, hoping for an independent state in the framework of the United Nations.
  • Erdogan counseled the United States to reconsider its stance toward Palestinian statehood, to better accord with traditional concerns of justice in American foreign policy.
  • He believed Fatah and Hamas needed to keep from being divided and to love each other.
  • Erdogan predicted the Egyptian economy would rebound after elections, and promised that Turkey would stand by Egypt’s side forever.
  • Erdogan closed by announcing he cannot forget, and will never forget, what was accomplished in Tahrir Square.

Erdogan addressing the crowd

I have few strong opinions on Turkey. The nation has done well to craft for itself a strong economy and independent foreign policy. All is not perfect, of course: Turkey has major problems with her Kurdish minority, and human rights organizations complain about a lack of journalistic freedom and other issues. The Armenian massacre and the division of Cyprus are long unresolved issues still staining Turkish public image. Yet there is little denying the accomplishments of her democracy as well as her emergence from supervisory military rule.

I wonder, however, if Turkey in recent weeks has become like a teenager in an adult body seeking to assert his newfound power. Sometimes bravado is found right, as in Turkey’s early calls for Mubarak to heed the will of protestors. Sometimes bravado is found empty, as in Turkish impotence to stand up to Syria. Sometimes bravado takes on unwise enemies, as in Turkey’s threat to freeze EU relations if the presidency – assigned by rotation – is awarded to Cyprus. And sometimes bravado can be for its own sake, as in Turkey’s increased tension with Israel.

To be sure, Turkey’s diplomatic row with Israel is a matter of principle. Turkey opposes the Gaza blockade and the illegal settlements in the West Bank. Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli commandos in international waters, no matter how much provocation may have been directed at the soldiers. Yet the feeling is that Turkey’s response to Israel is measured and calculated. Is Turkey using her Israel policy to enhance her regional power?

Certainly Turkey is placing Israel in a no win situation. An apology conveys guilt, and admission of guilt can precede liability. Israel’s soldiers, though the initiators of overt hostility (as opposed to the symbolic hostility of breaking the blockade), were severely attacked. No nation will sell out its military to appease a demanding neighbor, unless her soldiers were clearly at fault (which remains disputed, of course).

Yet Turkey’s announcement of downgrading diplomatic relations came immediately on the heels of Egyptian outrage at her military leadership for failing to take a hard line with Israel following the death of her officers in a cross-border Israeli military raid. Turkey had already been lauded by many liberals and Islamists alike as a possible model for democratic transition. Shortly thereafter the Arab Spring diplomatic tour begins.

Beyond rhetoric, the main substantial element of this tour is the promotion of business. This seems shrewd. While the West and the IMF offer loans and the Gulf States offer cash influx, Turkey seeks job creation. It remains to be seen how much capital remains in Turkish hands, but this is the appropriate action of a growing economy, and may well serve to buttress Egypt’s economic needs as well. Is there more behind the courtship, however?

Though Egyptian populism celebrated Erdogan’s arrival, political leaders – both liberal and Islamist – were more cautious. Despite claims to historic ‘sisterhood’, Arab-Turk relations have not always been rosy. Is Turkey carpet-bagging on Arab Spring gains?

It remains to be seen if the Turkish teenager is ready for adulthood. Turkey has been an ally to the West, while maintaining relationships with Syrian and Iran. She has been an Islamic model, while maintaining relationships with Israel. Turkey’s efforts to craft a ‘Zero Problems’ foreign policy are coming apart at the seams, but this could simply be the teenager outgrowing his clothes (after significant muscle flexing).

Can Turkey stand as an independent actor on the world’s stage? Can she continue to risk offenses against entrenched Western positions? Is Turkey too big for her britches, or has she reached geopolitical maturity? Perhaps like a teenager, the only way to know is to test her limits.