Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt’s President Promotes Religious Choice During Human Rights Rollout

Image: Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP / Getty Images
A neon sign portraying now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (center) between Coptic Pope Tawadros II (left) and Grand Imam of al-Azhar Shiekh Ahmed el-Tayeb (right) during a rally in Cairo in May 2014.

Committing Egypt to a five-year program of human rights reform, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi did not mince words about religion.

“If someone tells me they are neither Muslim nor Christian nor a Jew, or that he or she does not believe in religion, I will tell them, ‘You are free to choose,’” he said. “But will a society that has been conditioned to think in a certain way for the last 90 years accept this?”

The comment sent shockwaves through Egyptian society.

“Listening to him, I thought he was so brave,” said Samira Luka, senior director for dialogue at the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services. “Sisi is fighting not only a culture, but a dogma.”

Last month, the government released its first-ever National Human Rights Strategy after studying the path of improvement in 30 other nations, including New Zealand, South Korea, and Finland. The head of the UN Human Rights Council praised the 70-page document as a “key tool” with “concrete steps.”

Egypt’s constitution guarantees freedom of belief and worship and gives international treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the force of law. But Article 98 of the Middle Eastern nation’s penal code stipulates up to five years in prison for blasphemy and has been used against atheists and Christians alike.

Will Sisi’s words signal a change?

Since his election in 2014, Egypt’s head of state has consistently spoken about the need to “renew religious discourse,” issuing a challenge to Muslim clerics. And prior to the launch of the new strategy, his comments even hinted at a broader application than atheism.

“We are all born Muslims and non-Muslims by ID card and inheritance,” Sisi stated. “Have you ever thought of … searching for the path until you reach the truth?”

Egypt’s ID card indicates the religion of each citizen. It can be changed to state Muslim in the case of conversion, but cannot be changed to Christian. Prominent public figures have called to remove the label, and debate ensued at the new strategy’s launch. Some argue the ID’s religion field is used by prejudiced civil servants and private businesses to discriminate against the minority religion.

Sisi’s timeframe of “90 years” roughly corresponds to the 1928 founding of the Muslim Brotherhood. And Luka’s “dogma” indicates a widespread social acceptance of interpretations of Islam that privilege the religion’s place in law and culture.

According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 88 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe converting away from Islam should be punishable by death.

Calling for the application of sharia law, the Brotherhood won Egypt’s presidency in 2012, only to be overthrown by then-defense minister Sisi the following year after massive popular demonstrations.

Since then, Egypt declared the group to be a terrorist organization, and has moved to eradicate their influence from public life. Thousands—including unaffiliated liberal activists—are in prison or self-imposed exile. Bahey Eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), called Egypt’s human rights situation “catastrophic.”

Concerned, President Joe Biden withheld $130 million of $1.3 billion in yearly aid to Egypt last month, conditioning it on the release of human rights and civil society activists.

Three days earlier—on September 11—Sisi launched the new human rights strategy to a national television audience. In addition to his comments about religion, he declared 2022 to be the “year of civil society.”

But a new law passed this summer to regulate NGOs was largely panned by human rights advocates. And Hassan stated that the 9/11 timing indicated the document’s primary audience. So too did the fact that the drafting committee was headed by the foreign minister.

“Before it was circulated in Egypt,” he said, “the strategy was published on the webpage of the Egyptian embassy in DC.”

A week later, charges were dropped against four NGOs.

Egyptian Christians, however, are far less critical…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 18, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

ISIS Executes Christian Businessman Kidnapped in Egypt’s Sinai

Image: Wilayat Sinai / Telegram screenshot
Nabil Habashi Salama, a Coptic Christian kidnapped from Bir al-Abd in North Sinai, speaks before his execution in the propaganda video of an Egyptian ISIS affiliate.

The Islamic State has claimed another Christian victim.

And Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church has won another martyr.

“We are telling our kids that their grandfather is now a saint in the highest places of heaven,” stated Peter Salama of his 62-year-old father, Nabil Habashi Salama, executed by the ISIS affiliate in north Sinai.

“We are so joyful for him.”

The Salamas are known as one of the oldest Coptic families in Bir al-Abd on the Mediterranean coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Nabil was a jeweler, owning also mobile phone and clothing shops in the area.

Peter said ISIS targeted his father for his share in building the city’s St. Mary Church.

In a newly released 13-minute propaganda video entitled The Makers of Slaughter [or Epic Battles], a militant quotes the Quran to demand the humiliation of Christians and their willing payment of jizya—a tax to ensure their protection.

Nabil was kidnapped five months ago in front of his home. Eyewitnesses said during his resistance he was beaten badly, before being thrown into a stolen car. It may be that these were kidnappers, because in the video that shows Nabil’s execution, he said he was held captive by ISIS for 3 months and 11 days.

On April 18, he was shot in the back of the head, kneeling.

“As you kill, you will be killed,” states the video, directed to “all the crusaders in the world.”

It addresses all of Egypt’s Christians, warning them to put no faith in the army. And Muslims which support the Egyptian state are called “apostates.” Two other Sinai residents—tribesmen who cooperated with the military—are also executed in the video.

Peter said that in the effort to drive Nabil from his faith, his teeth were broken.

His daughter Marina joined in the tribute. “I will miss you, my father,” she wrote on Facebook. “You made us proud…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on April 19, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

If Muslims Can Build Churches in Egypt, Has Persecution Ended?

Image: Egypt Cabinet of Ministers Media Center
An Egyptian government infographic depicting recent progress in legalizing Christian churches.

Egyptian Christians have long struggled to build their churches.

But now, they can have Muslim help.

Last month, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam issued a fatwa (religious ruling) allowing Muslim paid labor to contribute toward the construction of a church. Conservative scholars had argued this violated the Quranic injunction to not help “in sin and rancor.”

The ruling is timely, as the governmental Council of Ministers recently issued an infographic highlighting the 2020 land allocation for 10 new churches in eight Egyptian cities. An additional 34 are currently under construction.

Prior to this, two prominent examples stand out. In 2018, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated the Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland in al-Our, a village in Upper Egypt, to honor the Copts beheaded by ISIS in Libya. And in 2019, he consecrated the massive Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in what will become the new administrative capital of Egypt, alongside its central mosque.

This is in addition to restoration work at 16 historic Coptic sites and further development of the 2,000-mile Holy Family Trail, tracing the traditional map of Jesus’ childhood flight from King Herod.

And since the 2018 implementation of a 2016 law to retroactively license existing church buildings, a total of 1,800 have now been registered legally.

Persecution has long been a term applied to Copts in Egypt, ranked No. 16 on the Open Doors 2021 World Watch List of nations where it is hardest to be a Christian. But shortly after the mufti’s fatwa, which restated a ruling last given in 2009, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar gave a pronouncement of his own…

[But there are dissenting cases also.]

Ramy Kamel, a 33-year-old activist, was once dodging tanks near Tahrir Square, protesting for Coptic equality. Ten years later, he is in jail for “spreading false news” about Coptic discrimination, and “financing a terrorist group.”

Soad Thabet, a 74-year-old Coptic grandmother, was in the Upper Egyptian village of al-Karm, minding her own business. Ten years later, she is fighting for justice after having been stripped naked and paraded through town, with her Muslim attackers acquitted.

These examples show that the term persecution remains “appropriate,” said Kurt Werthmuller, a USCIRF policy analyst specializing in Egypt…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 22, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

God’s Word Is Like Manna in the Middle East

Image: Illustration by Sarah Gordon / Photo Courtesy of Anne Zaki

Anne Zaki is assistant professor of preaching and practical theology at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. Raised in a Presbyterian home in Cairo, at age 16 she left the Middle East to travel alone to a progressive boarding school on Vancouver Island, Canada.

In 2000, she married a Syrian-Canadian pastor, and as a mother of four, she completed her master of divinity degree from Calvin Theological Seminary in 2009. Zaki was always confident she would return to Cairo, and the family relocated there nine months into the chaos of Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

CT spoke with Zaki about the transformative power of Scripture in her own life and in the Egyptian church.

How did Scripture shape your early faith?

I grew up in an environment that was saturated with Scripture. My father was a pastor. My grandfather was a pastor. After retirement, my grandfather came to live with us. I would wake up every morning to hymns and Scripture being read out loud. His prayers were incredible, almost as if he was echoing God’s words back to him.

Eight months before going to Canada, I had an experience of personal encounter with Jesus. I knew I was different. Even my family noticed the change.

But in my new school, for the first time I was being exposed to religions other than Christianity and Islam. And it wasn’t just exposure. It was a school that was set up to appreciate and promote diversity. I had my first big spiritual crisis. I had to ask myself: Why do I believe what I believe? Is it just because I grew up in it?

I sort of made a deal with God. I told him, If you really are who I have known you to be, who they told me that you are, then prove it to me through your Word without the influence of anyone else. So for me that meant no church, no youth group—not even Christian music. And during that period of six months, God’s Word was sufficient to reveal himself, to prove himself, to be his witness.

How did you sense God revealing himself to you through his Word? Can you explain further?

Every day, I would read a certain portion of Scripture, meditate on it, and pray it back to God. The things that didn’t make sense I would throw back at him, and we’d have a debate about them. Usually…

This article was originally published in the special September print edition on women’s voices in scripture engagement. Please click here to read the full text, where you can download the entire issue for free.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Arab Christians Have Lost Easter Before. Here’s What They Learned.

Losing Easter Churches
House of St Ananias, Damascus

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on April 3, 2020.

Christians around the world are about to lose their usual Easter celebration—the highlight of most congregations’ annual life together.

Yes, there will be a livestream. Their pastor will likely call them. They may even chat on Zoom with friends and family.

But it will be different. The community of believers has been sundered by the new coronavirus. And threatened with it is Christ’s body, his bride, his temple for his presence in the world.

If there is any consolation, it is that this is not the first time.

“There are forces of nature—and forces of man—that challenge our ability to experience the presence of Christ,” said Gregory Mansour, the Maronite bishop of Brooklyn.

“[COVID-19] is different from persecution. But it is the same.”

A born-again Catholic led into personal relationship with Christ by the Navigators, Mansour later reconnected with his ancient Lebanon-based church. His clerical colleagues there received thousands of ISIS-fleeing Christians from Syria and Iraq.

“There was a deliberate desire to obliterate churches, hymnals, prayers, and people,” he said. “The only thing we had left was…

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

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt’s Christian Women Treated Like Muslims in Inheritance. Until Now?

Nasrallah Kamel
Nasrallah (L) and Kamel (R), both working to address Coptic grievances, find different receptions from the state. Image: Associated Press / Jayson Casper

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 5.

Two stories here, so the article deck is an important follow-up to the headline:

Meanwhile, Coptic activist who insists true religious equality does not yet exist goes to prison on terrorism charges.

Here’s the intro to the first:

Coptic lawyer Huda Nasrallah may have won a great victory for Christian women in Egypt. Last week, a Cairo court ruled in her favor, dividing the family inheritance equally between her and her two brothers.

Nasrallah’s verdict followed the decision of two other courts to reject her appeal on the basis of the sharia law stipulation that a male heir receive two-thirds of the inheritance.

This past summer, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) took up her cause. In a campaign called “Christian on ID card, Muslim in Inheritance,” it claimed millions of Coptic women suffer similarly.

Coptic men are sometimes all too willing to go along with it, Nasrallah told the Associated Press. But she is “thrilled” by the verdict, and hopes it will inspire other women.

“It is not really about inheritance; my father did not leave us millions of Egyptian pounds,” she said. “If I didn’t take it to court, who would?”

And here is the second:

But a few days earlier, Coptic activist Rami Kamel may have suffered a great setback for all Egyptian believers. He was arrested for his reporting of sectarian tension, and accused of joining a terrorist group.

A founding member of the Maspero Youth Union when Egypt’s military tanks rolled over Coptic protesters in 2011, he later documented sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians.

He is now facing charges of joining a terror group and spreading false information, his lawyer told Agence France-Presse. Additional charges include harming public peace, inciting strife between Muslims and Christians, and agitating against the state.

“There is no credible evidence to support these charges,” said Thabet, who last spoke with Kamel a few days before his arrest. Around 10 days prior, security called Kamel in for informal interrogations as a warning to stop his activity.

But Kamel continued, speaking out against the recent arrest of Khalil Rizk, a Coptic labor rights activist charged with joining a terrorist group.

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

Categories
ERLC Light Middle East Published Articles

A Tale of Three Churches

New Capital Cathedral
U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo visits the Cathedral of the Nativity in Cairo, Egypt, on January 10, 2019. [State Department photo/Public Domain]
This article was first published in the Summer 2019 print edition of Light magazine, produced by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

In January, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt stood side-by-side with Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Inaugurating the Cathedral of Nativity, the largest church in the Middle East, he uttered two remarkable words that reverberated through the national broadcast to Muslim homes throughout the nation.

“Merry Christmas.”

If some Christians find this phrase under siege in America, they have no idea the power unleashed by the president’s words. Eight years earlier, emboldened by the Arab Spring and empowered by the Muslim Brotherhood presidency of Mohamed Morsi, ultra-conservative Salafi Muslims sparked nationwide controversy by declaring no pious Muslim could utter the words.

Their point was theological—Christmas celebrates God becoming man in Jesus, and a Muslim cannot congratulate a Christian neighbor for such blasphemy. But the impact was social. Easygoing Egyptians had long wished each other good greetings on respective religious feasts. Salafis are better practicing Muslims than we are, many would admit, and a chill began to spread in community relations.

When then-defense minister Sisi overthrew Morsi following widespread protests against his rule, he did so with Pope Tawadros—and the head of al-Azhar, the leading Islamic institution in Egypt—standing nearby in support. As president he became the first to attend a Christmas mass, a practice he has continued. He speaks strongly about the rights of Christians and their place in the nation. And in building a new capital city he made sure the centerpiece landmarks would be the region’s largest mosque and church, built side-by-side. There is no Merry Christmas controversy today.

But do Sisi’s words fall on deaf ears? Are the arms of the state too weak? Or might he be of double mind, grandiloquent in gesture, apathetic in implementation? Two other church examples counterbalance the cathedral…

Please click here to download the print edition; my article is on page 54.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt Approves 168 More Churches

Egypt New Churches
(via Religio Mag)

This article was published at Christianity Today on December 17.

Egyptian Christians now have an additional 168 legal church buildings.

On November 30, a cabinet committee approved the requests of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic churches to formally register facilities long functioning as centers of worship.

Prior to a new law passed in August 2016, churches faced an arduous task to secure recognition by the government. Local authorities could delay or deny paperwork, often on security grounds placating neighborhood Muslim refusal.

CT previously reported how this new law was not without controversy, but that it designed to streamline the process, allow judicial review, and transfer final approval from Egypt’s president to the local governor.

The law also established a committee to review church requests to license existing church facilities. Consisting of the prime minister, ministers of justice, housing, antiquities, and others, it officially convened in January 2017.

A total of 3,730 requests were submitted for approval, pending review of structural soundness and compliance with local regulations. The first batch of 53 church buildings was approved in February of this year.

According to the government statement, the current decree brings the total number of approvals to 508.

“I am pleased,” said Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. “The process has been slow in the beginning, but I think going forward it will be better.”

Zaki is optimistic…

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

 

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Spanning the Great Schism between Evangelical and Orthodox Christians

 

Spanning the Great Schism
Image: Benedetto Cristofani / Salzmanart

This article was first published in the June print edition of Christianity Today.

Three brief excerpts in the efforts to unite evangelicals and Orthodox believers.

Four years ago in Istanbul, a humble Turkish book partially reversed the 11th century’s Great Schism. Catholics joined Eastern and Oriental Orthodox—alongside Protestants—to publish a slim, 12-chapter treatise on their common theological beliefs.

“You can’t find a page like this in all of church history,” said Sahak Mashalian, an Armenian Orthodox bishop and the principal scribe of Christianity: Basic Teachings. “It is akin to a miracle.”

If this is contemporary, here is history…

“The Copts largely resisted conversion,” Suriel wrote, “[but it] awakened in them a spirit of inquiry and an impulse to reform.”

Missionaries supplied Girgis [Orthodox founder of the Sunday School Movement] materials, and the Bible Society of Egypt gave him free or low-cost Bibles for his students, said Sinout Shenouda, the Orthodox vice-chair of its board. “The Americans initiated the idea, and the Orthodox came to imitate,” he said. “It was competition, but useful in that it profited from the missionaries rather than just attacking them.”

So what about the future?

Evangelical principles seep into traditional churches. Evangelicals do too—and the cross-pollination continues.

“I don’t think it is possible to overstate the influence of evangelical converts to Orthodoxy in terms of missions,” said Alex Goodwin, annual giving director for the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). “It has been transformative for many of us who are ‘cradle Orthodox.’ ”

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

 

 

Categories
Christianity Today History Published Articles

How Sunday School Sparked Revival in Egypt’s Oldest Church

 

Habib Girgis
Habib Girgis, memorialized on the curtain separating the altar from the sanctuary of a Coptic Orthodox Church

This article was first published at Christianity Today on June 19, 2018.

My wife had just dropped off our kids at the local Coptic Orthodox Church we attend in Cairo and sat down with her Egyptian friend at the adjacent church-owned cafe. After initial pleasantries, she spoke of this current article I was then researching.

“Oh, do Americans have Sunday School also?” inquired the mother. “I never knew.”

My wife and I have lived in Egypt for nearly nine years and consider ourselves of evangelical faith. But we wish also to learn about ancient Christianity and, to the degree possible, worship within the Coptic Orthodox Church, which many Protestants here respectfully call “the mother church.”

We have been impressed by their biblical fluency. We have marveled at their forgiveness after martyrdom. But to entrust our own children to them?

We have been blown away by their care for the next generation. It takes two years of training to even teach a kindergartener.

It was not always so, and they have the Americans to thank—sort of.

This article is about Habib Girgis, the recently canonized Coptic saint who doubled as a humble educator. This past month the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of what he set in motion: the Sunday School Movement.

Girgis lamented the situation of his time, when Western missionaries were making inroads among the Copts.

But then again, they left fallow their own fields:

“Is there among us anyone who is capable of responding to those who ask him about his religion and why he is a Christian?” Girgis asked in a student lecture four years later.

“I am sure that most of us do not have an answer, except to say that we were born from Christian parents and hence we are Christians.”

Please read the article to see how Girgis sparked the solution, but spark it he did. Today the Coptic Church is among the most devout in the world. Here is testimony from one of Girgis’ disciples, who carried forward his teacher’s reforms once he reached the highest levels of the church:

Looking backward eight decades, the beloved Pope Shenouda III, known as “the teacher of generations,” described the solution with primordial imagery.

“Our teacher … started his life in an age that was almost void of religious education and knowledge,” said the patriarch, who died in 2012.

“Then, God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And the light was Habib Girgis.”

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

And if you are interested in an earlier post, excerpting a book review on Habib Girgis, please click here.

Habib Girgis Sunday School

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Homeland Future

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Give Egyptians their right representation. May they bear well the concerns of their district.

But in whose name?

Many MPs have publicly signaled their intention to switch parties, and the Future of a Homeland is poised to receive them. Doing so would make them the largest party in parliament.

Some are current independents, leaving a coalition that recently hoped to become the majority party.

Some are rival partisans, leaving parties they deem to be failing and riven by internal disputes.

But all have prompted a legal question. The Constitution and parliament bylaws appear to bar any change in status while seated in office. The penalty is expulsion.

God, guide Egypt in this formative period.

Mergers are sensible. Attrition is natural. Institutions are rebuilding and like will find like.

But are you pleased?

The president has expressed hope that the political scene will coalesce.

Are these movements healthy, or manipulating? Do they serve the people? Do they serve the nation?

God, guide each politician’s heart and conscience. Guide the judges who may have to decide.

But not all representation is inside the parliament.

A number of activists were recently arrested, under a variety of charges. They vary in their opposition, but also aim to speak in the name of the people.

Give voice to that which is healthy. Where charges prove true, hold accountable the manipulative.

Guide each activist to serve the people. Guide each authority to serve the nation.

Guide also the judges who have to discern.

God, Egypt’s future is not yet determined. Choices and foundations lay a path forward.

But if the future is open, the homeland is ancient.

Give Egypt peace, you have preserved her before. Give Egypt hope, you have prospered her prior.

Give her good representation, to multiply both.

In whoever’s name they speak, may your will be done.

Amen.

 

Categories
Excerpts

Abortion and its Complications, in Egypt

 

Abortion Egypt
via Mada Masr

Ireland is in fierce debate over its future with abortion. Such high-stakes battles are often called a culture war.

Abortion, like war, is a terrible thing. Even if one believes it is necessary, it is still death. Defining it otherwise, depending on one’s convictions, makes it almost worse than war. It is the prevention of life.

From war, at least, can come great virtue. All too often, abortion comes because of convenience.

Except in Egypt. Even when a willful choice, it is anything but convenient.

The good journalists at Mada Masr wish Egypt could be otherwise. On Safe Abortion Day, September 28, they posted a heart-wrenching two-part article, telling three stories of women aborting.

So as background, here are the essential facts:

Egypt has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world. The law, which has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s, punishes women who intentionally abort a pregnancy with imprisonment. Abortion is not permitted on any grounds, including rape or incest.

The only exception is that a woman does not face punishment if she attempts to abort unsuccessfully. The Doctors Syndicate Code of Ethics also allows physicians to perform an abortion if the woman’s life or health is threatened, but this is a moral, not a legal, duty.

While there is a widespread assumption that this restrictive stance to abortion is rooted in religion, the origins of the law are colonial in nature. Articles that are still in force today were based on items in the French Penal Code.

The article does not tackle the controversy of whether abortion is legal in Islam. For those interested, here is how BBC and Wikipedia cover it. For many of our Muslim friends it is a non-issue.

But as will be seen, judicial rulings made little difference to the following three women.

Story one concerns a woman who had to hide away for her abortion, as she afterwards struggles with the morality of her choice.

Story two is of a woman in a forbidden relationship despite a knowing mother, which the abortion threatens if the wrong people find out.

Story three is of a married woman whose pregnancy puts her life in danger, only to be left unattended by doctors reluctant to get involved.

Please click here and here to read the article, but I’ve excerpted the most poignant sections below.

Story one

Had I been married, I would have had the abortion at home. There would have been no need to make up excuses to escape my family during that time. I would have been able to receive my friends at home, or at least I would have been able to use the bathroom freely without having to kneel whenever I passed in front of the window so the neighbors wouldn’t notice me.

Had I been married, I would have been able to go to any hospital as soon as the bleeding started. I would have been able to pretend that this was an accidental miscarriage and I would have received medical attention.

Had I been married, I would have received the news of my pregnancy differently, even if I decided to abort in the end.

Much of my resentment arose from the feeling that I was doing something illegal, even though it’s my own body. If I were in a different country, I might have been able to go to a hospital and request counseling. It’s disturbing not to be able to ask for help, to feel oppressed under a guardianship imposed by law and society.

Even though I had read over and over that a fertilized egg has no soul, I felt that I was killing my son or daughter. I felt the pain of loss and I was troubled by my questions:

Why did I have to do it this way? Perhaps I was worried more about the standard of living and the kind of life we had — if I didn’t have to struggle so much to eat and drink and do everything else, would I have opted to keep the baby?

 

Story two

I had always heard that male partners disappeared in these situations and that the whole relationship would end soon after. …

Every time I used the bathroom, he waited for me and took the sanitary pad to throw it away. This comforted me. I felt accepted. He wasn’t disgusted by my blood. I didn’t have to worry about the practicalities. I stayed focused on the pain I felt in my lower abdomen.

It’s such a false notion that only a husband will act responsibly and care for you — the notion that you should get married in order to have a man by you. No, the truth is that the man who took care of me during that period was one with whom I had what society sees as an illegitimate relationship.

Despite my persistent need to have a woman by my side at this time, I never imagined that my mother could be that woman. Our relationship wouldn’t allow it.

Everything I do goes against everything she believes in. I am in a relationship, which she knows about from Facebook. The idea of being in a relationship was itself too liberal for my conservative family.

The more important point was the future of my very small family, whose escape from my father was brought about by circumstances in which I played a key role.

Our separation from my father made my presence at home a source of strength to my mother. I was the eldest daughter and always supported her. I was the one who encouraged her to leave home when she was still with my father.

We were a family paying the price for choosing our own peace of mind. That price was living in a home beneath our social standing and having much less money to spend than we were previously accustomed.

So I faced a dilemma: If I left them, this might drive them back to my father. Also, if my father learned of this, he might force them to return, arguing that my pregnancy was proof that my mother was unable to handle us on her own.

 

Story three

I closed my eyes to the sight. My son was wrapped in a transparent plastic bag. His heart was beating slower and slower, until it came to a complete stop. I stopped screaming. My mother stopped crying. And I drifted out of consciousness.

I saw blood and wished I were asleep. I wished I hadn’t been awake for that experience, and that I didn’t relive it dozens of times in my nightmares.

I felt my soul escape my body to watch me from above. I was knocking my head against the wall. My sister’s skin was under my nails mixed with her blood. I grabbed at her with a strength I didn’t know I had.

She was crying, my mother screaming. My father was looking for the doctor who had already told us he wouldn’t help until he saw a head coming out of the womb.

“Haram [it’s wrong],” he said, very simply, judging me in my worst moment, as I both pitied and hated myself. From one in the afternoon until 11 at night, he left me to kill my son on my own.

The two doctors were in agreement, saying that the fetus would die. They provided the reports that they told me would allow me to have an abortion in any hospital.

I was allowed an abortion because I am a married woman and because the pregnancy was a risk to my health. They insisted, however, that neither would perform the abortion himself.

The first told me nicely that he doesn’t do abortions, and the second said that he wouldn’t do anything. I went to see a third doctor, but he was religious and said it was haram. His voice joined the first two: Even if I went through labor, I would still have a dead child. I surrendered.

I went home and listened to all the things I didn’t want to hear on that day. “You will be compensated. You will be rewarded. God’s will is never bad,” my family said.

Throughout, I felt my son resisting my body’s attempts to eject him. I was his home, but I was kicking him out. I was his safety, but I was expelling him. I felt him fight to stay alive, as I fought for him to die.

“Just open my stomach and get him out!” I screamed. I felt guiltiest at this point: He was still alive. His heart was still beating. My body wants to get rid of a living baby, a baby I claimed to love beyond belief, a baby whose ultrasound pictures I cherished, a baby whose every heartbeat was precious.

Every two weeks, I’d gone to the doctor just because I wanted to see this baby. But in that moment, I would have done anything just to get rid of him. I just wanted it to be over.

My father ran again through the corridors looking for someone to cut the cord, yelling like a man who was about to lose two lives, one of whom was struggling for his last breath.

Finally, the hospital manager intervened and severed the umbilical cord himself. He refused to give us any documentation of his involvement, or of any other doctor’s in my case, perhaps fearing legal ramifications. Before we left, and based on his request, a friend of my father’s, a gynecologist, came and cleaned my uterus in an operating room.

I walked to the room with blood dripping down my legs. My son was dead, and I was in a room lacking the most basic hygiene. I felt I was a woman having an abortion in a shady backroom clinic in Cairo.

I parted with my placenta and my faith. He departed to a new world, and I remained here for them to blame me for the loss. They forbade newlyweds from visiting me. “It’s a bad omen,” they said. I was faced with judgment from beginning to end. I was made to be guilty for a mistake I never made.

And then, a few months later I found out I was pregnant again and my first reaction was that I couldn’t deal with this.

I carried my pregnancy to term. I have a baby girl who is coping with a chronic disease for which there is no cure. I love her, and I accept her. My pregnancy and labor with her was very different. I continued to hear the same provocative consolations, however, things like, “You see, God rewarded you well.”

Story one struggled with guilt. Story two worried about shame. Story three was hit with religion.

Legal abortion in a culture of tolerance promises to do away with these pains. Pains they are, and they are not the only ones. The issues are real, and compassionate care is necessary.

There is forgiveness from guilt. There is freedom from shame. There is redemption in religion.

But I think that like war, abortion – legal or otherwise, necessary or convenient – would do well to keep its stigma. The barriers should be high, lest death, and life, lessen in sanctity. Like war, abortion should never become an easy option.

Like the reception of soldiers returning from war, however, all depends on a culture and community ready to embrace them.

Most pro-life people I am familiar with in the United States are like this. Media often depicts those angrily protesting in front of abortion clinics. I’m not sure who is more numerous, and there is no necessary distinction.

One can rail against cultural license one moment, and comfort a licentious teenager the next.

Listen to her stories. They may not be as frightful as the ones above. But they are all felt fully, in the moment, as a great war.

War is Hell? Yes. Abortion?

Whatever your answer, heaven is waiting. Consider both carefully in the ranking of priorities.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Fasting

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Bless those who deny themselves as they deny their stomach. Bless those who celebrate with others as they celebrate your mercy.

Bless those also, who push either to greater piety.

And if in their encouragement they lack piety themselves, God, bless them, too.

May they deny their pride. May they discover your mercy.

May Egypt’s fasting in Ramadan lead her along your way.

Not just her Muslims: Many Christians continue their weekly Coptic fasting. And they do not eat or drink in public, from respect.

So of them all, draw them closer to you in word and deed and being.

Ramadan often becomes a battleground. One critic questioned if fasting is even necessary. Others condemn the popular tradition of hanging lanterns.

Some defend their religious turf. Others hawk merchandise and gouge prices.

Some complain all day and eat all night.

And some—surely many—have a heart contrite and humble.

Bless them all, God. Honor their fasting.

Amen.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Gaza Again

Flag Cross Quran

God,

By now, the tragedy is well known. Dozens of Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli fire at the border separating the two territories.

Some were crossing illegally. Others were protesting.

Decide between the narratives, God. There is only one truth, however nuanced.

There may be guilt widely spread. There may be ample justification.

But there is blood. And the blood draws attention to another tragedy: the situation itself.

Gaza is suffering. God, give them hope.

But give them more. Give them consistent electricity. Give them clean water. Give them movement.

Egypt has opened its border with Gaza to allow some flow of people and goods, throughout Ramadan.

But afterwards, God? What future with Egypt? What future with Israel? What future with the West Bank?

What future at all?

Give wisdom to all. There are security threats. There are humanitarian concerns. There are issues of basic dignity.

It is likely the protests at the border will continue. It is likely that some will grow increasingly desperate. Some of these will give up. Some of these will act out.

Where there is power, let it serve humbly. Where there is need, answer it graciously.

God, Gaza is just part of a larger, intractable struggle. Unstuck it.

Bring peace to the people on all sides of divide. Help Egypt be a friend to many.

Amen.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Uber, Iran

Flag Cross Quran

God,

If the world is being remade, make it well.

Peace is pending in North Korea, while Iran is thrown in doubt.

Taxis fall out of favor, as private conveyance newly legalizes.

And metro prices have risen again.

Give guidance to Egypt in wading the waters.

The region has already been shaken. Will it shake further? Tehran and Tel Aviv. Damascus and Golan. A new embassy.

Let there be peace, God. Let there be justice. Right the past wrongs, without making new ones.

But change will always displace. Care well for taxis, even as new earnings—and costs—come to be. Does it make the world better? It does make it different.

Is Egypt prepared to change? Is she prepared to preserve? Discernment, God, and quickly.

May she know her friends. May she know her principles.

Remake her, God, in your image. Lest she be remade by others.

Amen.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Return to Roots

Flag Cross Quran

God,

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.

Amen.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Internet, Puddles

Flag Cross Quran

God,

It is hard to fix everything at once. Help Egypt prioritize well.

To boost the struggling economy, the government emphasized the importance of e-commerce.

Steps will be taken to promote the sector. A local company is poised to pioneer an Uber-like regional bus service. And Google offers free digital training in Arabic.

It is a wise move, God. But so few in Egypt are connected, and internet quality lags far behind world standards.

But honor the effort and multiply the gain. Spread it through society. Internet, and all.

Technology can rapidly transform an economy. It can also rapidly transmit vice. Give wisdom.

But if technology starts with the few, the rain is no respecter of persons.

It comes so infrequently sewers are left long-ignored. There is much else to do.

Yet after two days of downfall, the streets are aflood.

The government has by now cleared most. The president has pledged preventative action. Every few years, the problem repeats.

But even so, Egypt needs rain.

God, let it be your blessing. Pour out your mercy, soak deep your love.

Let not the promise of novelty distract firm foundations. From underneath, drain well the filth.

Cleanse Egypt, God, and fix right her flaws. Make repentance priority, that all may be well.

Amen.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Education Reform

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Egyptians have long lamented the state of their schools.

Often overcrowded with teachers poorly trained. Private lessons necessary for tests perhaps manipulated. Rote memorization required in subjects not fitting the needs of the nation.

The list is long. The school year is short.

But with the help of the World Bank and a minister formerly responsible for the American University in Cairo, Egypt will soon embark on an extensive reform.

Bless the intentions, God. Guide the outcomes.

More schools will be built. Teacher conditions will be improved. Curriculum will be revised. Tests will begin at an earlier age. Grading will be revamped. Comprehension will be emphasized.

Results will still determine the university future, so perhaps an educational reality will remain. 30 percent of high school students suffer depression; 20 percent contemplate suicide.

God, give the students a deeper understanding of their worth. Give them the motivation to succeed, and the means to do so.

The means require millions. The World Bank will provide some. Help Egypt find the rest.

Many say Egypt requires generational change. Let this be the one, raised properly at home and school. And, properly to fear you.

May such fear prompt duty, creativity, industriousness, and love.

But no more lamenting, God. May school success come.

Amen.

Categories
Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Russia, Air and Chemical

Flag Cross Quran

God,

For the first time in two years, Aeroflot returned to Cairo. Russia had suspended all air travel following a terrorist attack on a tourist carrier, and security precautions still prevent direct flights to the popular Red Sea resorts.

Let it not happen again, God.

But as Russian-Egyptian relations return to normal, give discernment in current affairs.

How should the government consider accusations of poison in the UK, and gas in Syria?

Let the truth be known, God, if only to the privy of world leaders. Let Egypt’s president act accordingly.

But give knowledge also to the world community.

Allow heads-of-state the discretion to maneuver. But disclose secret deeds done in darkness. Give no cover to illness in conduct.

None can stand on your holy hill, God. But the heart of a man may yet be made pure. May such men lead their nations well.

Help Egypt stand with many. As necessary, help Egypt stand alone.

Strong. In peace.

Amen.

 

Categories
Personal

Happy Orthodox Easter, from the Egyptian President

EGYPT-POLITICS-RELIGION-COPTIC-SISI
President Sisi visits Pope Tawadros in advance of Easter 2014, via AFP.

Happy belated Easter, to Protestant and Catholic Christians who celebrated last week.

But having enjoyed either “Pascha” or “Paas” (or both), please do not be remiss in remembering your Orthodox brothers and sisters today.

After all, even the president of Egypt extends his greetings — and more.

I call on all of us to remember the teachings of Jesus Christ that lead humanity to the ways of love and peace,” he said, as reported by Ahram Online.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a Muslim.

Muslims join Christians in acknowledging the virgin birth of Jesus, but not his resurrection. Most believe he never died, delivered from the cross and taken to heaven.

Many of Salafi orientation go as far as saying that Muslims should not even give Easter greetings, lest they encourage a theological error.

Christmas is a national holiday in Egypt, but not Easter.

Even so Christians are administratively equal. They are given vacation time, and recently have even been legally encouraged in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as Muslims are to Mecca. 

Of course, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is also a politician, and politicians can say many things to curry favor.

But one, give credit not only for what could have been tepid acknowledgement, but instead is near fervent preaching.

He calls Muslims also in the teachings of Jesus.

And two, give credit to Egypt that if he is only currying favor, he judges the 90 percent of Muslims as at least non-offended by Easter greetings to the 10 percent minority.

Therefore, follow his example, and greet also the Orthodox minority in your own nations. And when the time comes, greet too the Muslims.

Encourage them both, like Sisi, toward greater love and peace.

And Ekhristos Anesti, for those who believe.

Tawadros Tayyib Easter
The Grand Imam and a delegation from al-Azhar greets Pope Tawadros for Easter 2018, via the Coptic Orthodox Spokesman.