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Exodus, Judges, or Nehemiah: Lebanon’s Evangelicals Assess Surprising Election Victory

Image: Marwan Tahtah / Getty Images

On the eve of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections last weekend, Resurrection Church of Beirut (RCB) called for a prayer meeting. The short meditation focused on Psalm 147: heal the brokenhearted and sustain the humble—but cast the wicked to the ground.

Mired in economic crisis, many Lebanese blame a corrupt political class.

Three years ago, a massive popular uprising shouted “all of them means all of them” against the traditional sectarian parties. But within a few months, protests fizzled as COVID-19, the Beirut port explosion, and a World Bank-labeled “deliberate” financial depression drove many to despair.

For many, emigration seemed the only answer.

Hikmat Kashouh called out to God.

“Confuse many in the election booths, and encourage others,” prayed the RCB pastor. “Cause them to vote for those you desire.”

One of Lebanon’s largest evangelical churches, only 35 members from the main Baabda campus prayed along with him. The turnout mirrored that of the nation, which initially reported that participation dropped to 4 in 10 eligible voters. Very few expected significant movement in the political map.

“For three years we have cried out to God, reflecting his love as we ministered to everyone regardless of religion,” said Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, also known as the Baptist Society. “And then at the fourth watch of the night, when everyone was losing hope, God said, ‘I am still here.’” Most evangelicals, he said, supported…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on May 19, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Supervision, Security

Flag Cross Quran


It is too early to work out the details, but the plan is set in motion.

By 2024 Egypt will surrender full judicial supervision of elections. 

In their place will be an election commission. The change accords with the constitution, and on paper all should be fine.

But God, Egyptian paper is not a strong papyrus. 

Past elections have been manipulated. Some say these days are over. Others fear they may return, without the oversight of a generally respected judiciary. Some don’t trust the judiciary either.

So in the coming seven years, God, establish credibility. Grant sequential elections that reflect the people’s will.

The same in all institutions, God. The same in all bureaucracy. Honest conduct and honest outcome.

Establish the supervision necessary to keep wayward ambition in line. 

Prepare the hearts proper to make it all superfluous. 

It is never too early, God, but it needs a plan. May this one work.


Addendum: 26 soldiers were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in Rafah, northern Sinai. God, have mercy on their souls, and eliminate terror. Give the nation a healthy resolve.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Election, Debt

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Very shortly Egypt will begin two long anticipated processes. She will vote to elect a parliament, and negotiate to secure a loan. The first aims to restore a democratic institution; the second a sound economy.

Bless both efforts, God. Whether virtue or vice brought Egypt to this stage, may wisdom lead her forward.

Seven electoral lists and hundreds of individuals will compete in polls that could stretch into December. They will be tasked first with review of all laws passed in parliament’s absence, and then work with the president and cabinet to supervise the nation’s agenda.

Candidates are diverse. Leftists, liberals, and a remnant of Islamists. Supporters of the old regime. Representatives of tribal and business interests. Some criticize the entire procedure as manufactured. Some celebrate it as the completion of a democratic path.

Some, it seems, view parliament as a burden. Some don’t seem to care at all.

God, whether flawed or noble, invest these elections with importance. Rally each citizen in support of civic duty. May they pursue their local interests. May they pursue their political principles. Inspire them to be involved in the right running of their nation.

May they choose able and honorable representatives.

And of the nation’s current representatives, give them discernment in economic policy.

Billion dollar loans have been mentioned by officials, sought through the World Bank and IMF. With low interest and long repayment, some see these as the solution to meet a budget deficit and win time for necessary reforms.

As the pound devalues and tourism and direct investment lag in adequate rebound, stability is needed. Such loans signal confidence from the international community, they also tie the nation to an economic agenda. Wise men debate these matters, and disagree.

Let the wisdom filter into public discourse, God. Let the people know the challenges before them. Let them work, save, and invest to win good life for their families. Let their collective efforts win good life for Egypt.

Let Egypt repay her debts and restore her economy.

God, may politicians owe their debt to the people. May they receive it in interest a hundred times over.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: China, Elections

Flag Cross Quran


Two fronts are brewing, and both received a push. Egypt is trying to stabilize through its economy and elections.

For the first, President Sisi traveled to China and signed a number of trade agreements. For the second, just before leaving he signed into law the mechanisms for parliamentary elections.

In March is scheduled a major investment summit; around then the polls are expected as well. If both are clean and well supported it will be a sign the nation is moving forward.

God, move Egypt forward, but with more than money and ballots.

Bring investment, but distribute it well. Clean the centers of corruption and ensure fair return for both capital and labor. Egypt recently mandated electronic tax payments for corporations; help the state to receive – and use – its fair share, wisely.

Bring voters, but prepare them well. Give them worthy candidates who will represent their constituencies. Spread a culture of democracy that gives no one a blank check; help the state to facilitate its own accountability.

But God, others are not comfortable with Egypt becoming stable in its current shape. Some are looking to sabotage and disrupt, keep them from causing harm. But others wish for deeper or different justice. Honor the sentiment, God, and weigh the demands.

May Egypt more forward in that which is good.

Seek knowledge as far afield as China, says the hadith. Help the president find one source, but forsake the other. Not all stability is honorable.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Voting Options far from Home

Flag Cross Quran


Nine days from presidential elections, Egypt allows its expats to cast an early tally. But those in prison must choose other options to make their voice heard. Two are said to be close to death after prolonged hunger strikes.

But if the presidential contest is not anticipated to be a battle to the death, it still feels so to many Egyptians. Three years of upheaval make many feel a vote for Sisi is vote to save the nation, while others stress Sabbahi is a vote to save the revolution.

One hunger striker, however, is the Egyptian-American son of a Brotherhood leader. He says he is charged while innocent, just to get to his father. Another is not charged at all. An al-Jazeera journalist has been detained since the break-up of the pro-Morsi sit-ins. Their only vote is with their stomach, hoping it might save something.

Preserve their lives, God. Honor their commitment, highlight their cause, establish all justice. Grant wisdom to the authorities to deal with them wisely. If they die, may it be with peace of heart, and contribute, somehow, to the peace of Egypt.

But for all those with simpler options, God, may they choose with discernment. Free all minds from the contaminations of rumor to select the man best suited to govern Egypt. May they sense the importance of this moment – whether from idealism or realism, hope or concern – but may no falsity enlarge the contest.

And for those who find the contest false altogether, give them alternate options to express their voice and build their nation. Allow no further destruction, whether to property, body, or soul.

For Egypt has suffered much, has chosen often, and still has little to show for it. Of those abroad and those in prison, give them all an idealism grounded in reality. Give them a spirit of sacrifice to serve their homeland.

And give them a taste, soon, of a nation that moves forward leaving none behind. Coming elections will soon dwarf their various options into near insignificance. But nothing is insignificant to you, God.

May all share in the struggle, as best they are able. Redeem each and every goodness, right each and every wrong. Death has been far too common an option in Egypt; deny it an ultimate victory.

But may its sting fuel vigilance toward liberty. For those who know it abroad, for those who lack it at home, and for the ordinary millions beside, may these be their eternal options.



On How to Draw Electoral Districts

If this seems like a boring title, read on. This article from Foreign Policy sheds much light on how Egyptian politics works, or at least used to work, and may again:

The attempt to restore the Mubarak-era way of doing business reflects the nature of the coalition that backed Morsy’s removal in July. The most critical opposition to Morsy’s rule outside Cairo came from the large families and tribes in the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt, which comprised the Mubarak regime’s base and benefitted from its clientelist approach to politics.

“These traditional powers are the critical mass of voters,” Abdullah Kamal, a journalist and onetime official in Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), told me. These clans, he continued, “had sympathy” for Mubarak, voted for Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik in the 2012 presidential elections, and would likely back Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi if he runs for president.

For decades, these clans wielded substantial political influence. They were empowered by the Mubarak regime’s use of relatively small electoral districts, which allowed them to mobilize their family members and local supporters to win elections. And since Egypt’s parliament was largely a mechanism for distributing state resources, the clans typically used their electoral victories to deliver resources back to their districts and thereby entrench their local support. Following the 2011 uprising, however, the new electoral system entailed much wider electoral districts that diluted these traditional powers’ support. Meanwhile the Islamist parties rode their internal unity to overwhelming, nationwide victories.

While the details for Egypt’s next parliamentary elections will be determined by the government, it is widely anticipated that the next system will feature smaller districts that will re-empower the old tribal networks. Influential players within the Egyptian state are pushing for a system that would shrink electoral districts considerably.

This is likely common knowledge to those who have followed Egypt for years, but it paints a very different picture than the argument issued after the revolution. Newer, non-Islamist parties complained about the large districts because they lacked the organizing power necessary to campaign across the whole area, as well as the social base of their competition and its charitable networks. What may have been meant is that they didn’t have the time to recruit and organize these stalwart power bases of old National Democratic Party support.

That could be a very unfair accusation. But the powers that drew the electoral districts – and I would have to research more to remember who did so (was it the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament or a state appointed electoral commission?) – made what could have been a revolutionary decision to break these ‘feloul’ power brokers, and it worked out very well for Islamists.

Gerrymandering. Politics is the same the world over, isn’t it? Alright, forgive me if it was still a little boring.


Missing Prayers for Egypt

Apologies to all for not getting up a Friday Prayers for Egypt this past weekend. On one count I was traveling in Upper Egypt, and when I returned home I was quite fatigued and fell ill.

But on another count I hardly knew what to pray for.

Faithful readers of this theme will notice that the prayers are often similar, no matter how current political events shape them. I pray for what is right and just to triumph. I pray for those men of ill intent or selfish ambition to be exposed. I pray for the Egyptian people to live in freedom and sovereignty. I pray for peace and honor to be exchanged by all.

I try not to let my own interpretations of these matters enter the prayers, for these are only seen through a glass darkly. I thank you for praying along with me, and adding the details as you see fit.

But last Friday – albeit hampered by sickness – I had nothing.

We should be able to pray in all circumstances, of course, and to a degree I did. But finding the words to help shape your prayers for Egypt was too tricky.

Why? One, the repetition of the themes of these prayers seemed empty, for whatever reason. Two, the reason could be that so much is now out of the hands of the people and main players, and in the hands of the law.

It is harder to pray for the law.

Presidential run-off elections between the candidate of the old regime and the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood are scheduled for June 16-17. Since I am not praying at this moment, I can be candid in stating neither one of these choices is especially appealing – a fact recognized by about half of Egyptians as well. So asking prayer for the right choice – and either candidate may the choice of God’s best – while necessary, is difficult and somewhat depressing.

But that is not what killed the prayer. On June 14 there are two court cases due which may dramatically alter the Egyptian landscape.

One concerns the constitutionality of parliament. If the technicality is applied, which has precedent in Egyptian law, parliament could be dissolved. This may throw Islamists, perhaps revolutionaries, and some liberals into a fit.

The other concerns the constitutionality of the candidate of the old regime. Parliament quickly issued a law – targeting him – to bar high placed figures from Mubarak’s government. On June 14 the court will rule if the law is applied. If so, it eliminates him as a candidate, but no one knows exactly what would happen next.

So back to the prayer – how do you offer prayer for an event that may not even take place?

With a few more days of reflection I can say we can pray for these decisions; perhaps one or the other is best for Egypt’s transition. We can certainly pray for the heart of the judges who must navigate the corridor of what the law says, what is best given the revolutionary situation, and whatever pressures are put to them, if any. There situation is not enviable.

But even here, from my vantage point the legal pretexts seem flimsy, and the question of the independence and integrity of the judiciary is under heavy suspicion. Like much in Egypt, few if any know the full truth amidst propaganda, manipulation, and lies. And in the end, all conspiracies may well be empty.

But these circumstances are poison for event-specific prayer life.

Which returns the prayers, if offered, back to the repetition of general themes:

I pray for what is right and just to triumph. I pray for those men of ill intent or selfish ambition to be exposed. I pray for the Egyptian people to live in freedom and sovereignty. I pray for peace and honor to be exchanged by all.

God intends us not only to pray without ceasing, but also to make our prayers like the incessant cries of a widow demanding her rights from an unjust judge.

I will leave the formulation to you this week, but thank you for carrying this baton, if not this cross. Egypt is certainly in need in these coming days.

Even then, if all is normal, they then have a presidential election two days later.

God, be merciful.



Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Elections Defacing Egypt?

Despite the muddled political scene, street violence, and general unpredictability facing Egypt, most still see the upcoming presidential elections as the lynchpin of the nation’s democratic transition. As such, there is anticipation and hopeful expectation.

But there is a side of political campaigning which on a minor level does Egypt a disservice, and a good example is visible right outside our home.

Following the revolution Egypt was awash in patriotism and love of nation. It was a euphoric moment; up until this time the sense of Egypt-ness was a declining factor in personal identity and many yearned for the chance to live abroad. Suddenly, all was right with the world again. ‘Raise your head high, you’re an Egyptian!” was one of the most popular revolutionary chants.

Our neighbors expressed their national pride by painting a several feet long Egyptian flag across their front wall. For months, even as the revolution (d)evolved into politics, the flag beaconed the new Egypt and made us smile when we left the house.

Then one day, Salim al-Awa appeared. Rather, the picture of his spectacled face.

Salim al-Awa is a prominent Islamist thinker. Before the revolution he generated controversy by intimating Copts were storing weapons in their churches and monasteries. He later retracted and claimed misstatement, but the suspicion/rumor/slander was widespread even without his contribution. It, among other factors, played a role in inciting the attack on and burning of churches in Imbaba from May of last year.

Interestingly, al-Awa is also a proponent of inter-Islamic reconciliation between Sunnis and Shia. This has generated further controversy in Egypt, especially among Salafis who reject Shiism as ‘innovation’ if not outright heresy.

These are anecdotes, and they are minor ones. They are fitting for a minor candidate who does not stand much chance in the elections.

Even so, his posters are plastered everywhere, including the painted flag on our neighbor’s wall.

Then one day not long after, nearly every poster was torn down. Unfortunately, the sticker-back left an even uglier scene behind.

The defacing of candidate posters is almost as common as their ubiquity on walls across the country. In ancient Egypt, a disgraced Pharaoh would have his face removed from the hieroglyphics etched in his honor. After the revolution, a disgraced Mubarak had his name removed from schools, libraries, and the Cairo metro system.

Now, the disgracing begins before a misstep is even made. Perhaps Salim al-Awa is a flawed candidate, but he deserves the courtesy of unimpeded candidacy. Yet his image, as those of other candidates, tends to last only a few days to a few weeks before someone disfigures it.

Of course, it was his supporters who disfigured the Egyptian flag in the first place.

Democracy at its best is a culture, not simply a system. While the values of culture may disintegrate – see similar examples from the West – they also take time to build. This does not lend credence to the cries of Mubarak’s officials that Egypt was not ‘ready for democracy’. It simply means that Egypt is undergoing a new experiment, as America did over two centuries ago, stumbling and bumbling along the way.

As with all experiments, the outcome is unknown. This pertains not only to the choice of president, but the success, viability, and permanence of the new system. Perhaps this applies to American democracy as well.

In the meanwhile, posters are torn, flags are covered, and Egypt… Egypt remains. She is among the unique nations of the world that has staying power beyond a system. Millennia of history engrain not only a culture, but a civilization.

All the same, she can still be defaced. May conduct in these elections not leave a permanent scar.

Note: This article was originally published at Aslan Media.


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Disappointment with the Brotherhood

Polling Station Info, Handwritten on an FJP Leaflet

The morning of elections, I marveled at the political acumen of the Muslim Brotherhood. By afternoon, I was disappointed.

At polling stations across Egypt the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party volunteers manned tables equipped with laptop computers and logged into the voter registration system to assist confused citizens where their vote must be cast. The volunteers wore yellow FJP hats and wrote down the requisite information on a specially designed party leaflet. It was a beautiful stroke – practical service to create last minute impressions. The only problem, I discovered later in the day, was that it was illegal.

Election law proscribed campaign activity during the final two days before the vote. Many parties violated the law by passing out literature to passers-by as well as those waiting captive in long lines to cast their ballot. The Brotherhood’s violation was simply more creative and effectual than all others. Shame on the rest for not thinking of it first.

But shame on the Brotherhood for doing it at all. Many volunteers denied knowing of the regulation, and likely they were innocent. Party leaders, however, either failed in knowing the law or failed more egregiously by ignoring it. Yet this is politics, which is rarely celebrated as an arena of virtue. Why then should disappointment reign?

I am among those not wishing to dismiss Islamist governance out of hand. A nation’s rulers should reflect the makeup of their people, and there is a place for religion (morality, virtue) in crafting legislation. While politics can corrupt religion – and vice versa – I would, in general, desire a God-fearing man or woman to represent me in office. Religion should promote the humility and other-centered-service required of transparent leadership. I would wish to believe the Muslim Brotherhood, being Muslims, might fit this bill.

The laptop affair violated not only the law, to which believers should submit, but also the ideals of religion. I am most familiar with Christianity, where Jesus says,

Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before me, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven … but when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Mt. 6:1-4)

Truly the Brotherhood was giving to people in need. Perhaps the reward of electoral victory, having been seen by men, is enough for them.

I must pause before pronouncing anything concerning Islam, but I understand it contains similar sentiments:

If ye disclose (acts of) charity, even so it is well, but if ye conceal them, and make them reach those (really) in need, that is best for you: It will remove from you some of your (stains of) evil. And God is well acquainted with what ye do. (Qur’an, Baqarah, 271)

Seven people will be shaded by Allah under His shade on the day when there will be no shade except His. They are … (#6) A man who gives in charity and hides it, such that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives in charity. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 2, no. 504)

Islamic morality champions niyyah, or intention, in weighing the value of good works. No man can state what was in the hearts of Brotherhood leaders when they crafted their polling station strategy. Yet they could have worked without their hats, without their leaflets, without ever mentioning their identity, and provided the exact same service.

I wish to believe an Islamist government will root out corruption. I wish to believe it will aim to create a just economic order. I worry about the absolutism of claiming ‘God’s will’ for that interpreted by men, but I wish to believe Islamist leaders are at heart decent, pious Muslims who fear God.

They may be, but early appearances suggest they are also politicians who seek to please men. It is an inauspicious start.

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Coptic Participation in Elections

Samir Zaki is an employee of the Egyptian National Bank, but his passion associates him with the Bishopric of Youth under the leadership of Bishop Musa, in which he encourages Coptic Christians to fully participate in society. On January 2, 2010 he was invited to present a lecture at St. Mark Church in Maadi, Cairo on the necessity for Copts to participate in Egyptian elections. For two weeks previous Fr. Ishaq had closed the Friday mass with an invitation to the church to attend this important lecture. He stressed that this was vital to the life of Copts in Egypt, noting the success of Copts abroad in affecting American politics due to their coordinated efforts. Though St. Mark Church boasts a regular attendance of five hundred people, only fifty came to attend the lecture, mostly from the older generation. Perhaps this is enough indication of Coptic neglect of elections, and an apt foreshadowing of what was to come.

Samir began his address discussing religion, asking in reference to the Coptic mass, do we pray for Christians alone or do we pray for the whole world? Everyone nodded in agreement that Coptic prayers implore God’s blessing on all, and Samir followed up by asking rhetorically if it were to be that Muslims were slaughtering other Muslims, would we not pray for them? All agreed that of course they would. The church, he maintains, teaches us that we belong to the communities in which we live, and we are to care for that world in which we find ourselves. Christians, Jesus declares, are the salt of the earth; salt is an agent of preservation. Just as food without salt tastes bad, so this world without Christian participation leaves it lacking. Samir implored the audience to present a good taste to those around them.

Following this introduction he moved into history. Beginning with Muhammad Ali he mentioned the major political figures in modern Egyptian history, celebrating them for their modernizing influences and allowance of Coptic participation in society. Sa’id Pasha allowed Copts to participate in the army and lifted the payment and stigma of jizia (an Islamic tax on non-Muslim peoples) from both Christians and Jews. Later, when the British occupied the country Copts followed the leadership of Muslim leaders Mustafa Kamal and Sa’d Zaghlul in resistance and nationalism. The Wafd party enjoyed wide Coptic membership, and the unity flag of cross and crescent flew over the city streets. During this time Cops occupied influential posts, even as foreign minister and leader of Parliament. It was a golden age, but an age that was brought about as Copts invested themselves in the national cause.

This positive situation continued but then reversed itself over time. The causes may be numerous, but from an era in which 15% of the Parliament was represented by Copts, today there is but one percent. At this point Samir shifted his focus and addressed the audience. He asked how many of the fifty present had voted in the last elections. Only ten people raised their hands.

At the beginning of the presentation Samir distributed a small handout encouraging Copts to register in the upcoming elections. Now he referred to the paper, which also contained instructions on how to complete the form required at the police office. He said a voter registration card is a symbol of citizenship. Copts are proud of their current status as citizens of Egypt, but they neglect this important expression of citizenship.

He continued, however, asking questions which revealed the depth of their neglect. How many people have run for a position on the school board? Four people raised their hands. How many have sought a leadership position in a non-church related NGO? One person raised his hand. How many have run for leadership in their professional union? Zero.

Having exposed their flaws, he sharpened his critique, turning to social participation. He asked how many people have even ten Muslims that they know well, even Muslims with whom they exchange friendly greetings? Perhaps the audience was battered; perhaps the question did not demand an answer. Silence was a sufficient confession.

Applying his point he spoke with pathos to the audience—we complain about our situation, but we have isolated ourselves, and have withdrawn from society. If this situation continues, he assured, in fifteen years there will likely appear a government minister, a preacher, a television announcer, someone who will declare, “Look at these Copts, they stand alone, keeping to themselves. They care nothing for us.” This sentiment, he warned, could become fatal.

He explained further. If you know a Muslim, he assured, he can see you as a friend, or at least a good person. Yet if he does not know you he will not think of you at all, and will likely think nothing of you. Why should he be blamed? He has nothing upon which to build a good opinion.

At this point one in the audience could not take it any longer. He protested, and Samir gave him the microphone. It is not we who have withdrawn, he lamented; it is they who have refused us.

Samir commiserated. There is a fanaticism which exists in society, and it exists even in sectors of the government. Yet at the same time, there is much room for us to participate—areas in which we suffer no hindrances. Even here, however, we are absent.

With this comment one woman countered angrily. In the faculty of medicine in the university certain Christians sought to cooperate together to improve things, especially since many of their members had good relations with the higher authorities. Yet when there were accusations of fraud the authorities ignored them, refusing even to launch an investigation. When we do participate, she argued, we are discriminated against, and our good standing does nothing to help us. Is there any question why there is increasing apathy?

Samir admitted that these incidents occur, but he raised a different issue, this time in the doctors’ union. Copts make up 35% of the membership, while those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood constitute only 6%. Why then did the 6% win? One reason was that many of the 35% did not even bother to vote, reflective of a larger malady in which Copts lack a culture of elections. Each and every member of the 6% was organized, not just in making sure to cast a ballot, but to maneuver behind the scenes with the legal tricks that can swing the outcome if properly manipulated. Copts are ignorant of these methods, largely because they have abandoned politics to others.

By the time he had finished this explanation, many in the audience were clearly murmuring. One spoke out. Why is our attitude negative, he asked? It is because we have tried to participate, but it has been to no avail.

The communal discontent was growing, and Samir’s partner approached to take the microphone. With the new speaker everyone fell silent, and Michael introduced his words with a confession of his comparative youth in view of the audience, but agreement with Samir. Do not be surprised, he counseled, Jesus has promised that we will be persecuted. Yet as we are a minority, we must keep to a positive attitude. We must be the ones who bring the social, or electoral, or union agenda which is superior to that of anyone else. If our plan is better, we will gain influence, respect, and votes, even from Muslims. Who will not support the best ideas for the community at large? Instead, he expressed, we bring nothing.

Samir built upon his words. Look at us, he said, we have the maglis al-milli, the denominational council, and we do not even participate in this! Why do we vote for nothing?

A younger woman advanced to take the microphone. She spoke with understanding of his message, but related that as a young woman she is afraid. Elections sometimes turn violent; it is better simply to stay away.

Samir answered sympathetically. Yes, he agreed, but this is mainly a phenomenon in Upper Egypt; in Cairo we do not face this difficulty.

The protest in the pews became palpable. The woman who spoke earlier of the faculty of medicine spoke again. She personally had gone to vote in an election, and was physically barred from entering. This was not just Cairo, it was Maadi!

Others told similar stories or raised other protests, and Samir tried to answer them all, but he was losing the audience. One person supported him—there are two thousand Copts living in Maadi, and the elections here are always close. If we vote with one mind we will swing the vote to whomever we wish. Another person simply stood and left in protest. Fr. Ishaq advanced to the podium and everyone quieted down. Samir understood the time was soon to end, and delivered his practical message.

The deadline for registration in the upcoming elections is January 31, he explained, and following this there is an election in June, another in October, and then a presidential election next January. Please, he implored, go to the police station and register, but do not go alone. Take your family, your friends, your co-workers with you. Whatever you think about this discussion today, go and register, and make yourself eligible to vote. You can consider what you want to do afterwards.

Fr. Ishaq took the microphone, and thanked Samir for coming. He continued emphasizing the importance of Coptic participation in the society in general, and in the elections in particular. He ended the evening with Samir’s earlier technique: Now with all we have heard, how many of you will go to be registered? Fifteen raised their hands.

I wondered about Samir’s opinion afterwards. Did this evening represent a victory of five, or a colossal failure? It is a struggle he clearly believes in, but it appears to be an uphill battle. As I left I greeted him, though he was pressed to leave. “May God encourage you,” I spoke in comfort. “It’s ok,” he replied, “I have been at this now for fifteen years.”