Reporting on Kerdasa

A view shows a damaged police station burnt in a blaze by supporters of former president Mohamed Mursi in Kerdasa, a town 14 km (9 miles) from Cairo in this September 19, 2013 file photograph. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A view shows a damaged police station burnt in a blaze by supporters of former president Mohamed Mursi in Kerdasa, a town 14 km (9 miles) from Cairo in this September 19, 2013 file photograph. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Here is a recent report from Reuters, showing the difficulty in covering Egypt well. Kudos for going there, but we can only trust the journalist for his/her impressions.

The pronoun is not specified, as he/she requested anonymity. The fear, likely, is of covering anti-regime sentiment. The question is if he/she covered it well.

The brief story is that Kerdasa, Giza was the site of an Islamist take-over following the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda. That day locals stormed the police station with rocket-propelled grenades, killing 12 officers. Authority was not reestablished until a month later. Since then, 185 Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to death for their role in the violence.

The headline states: Sisi’s Crackdown on Islamists Yet to Win Over Egyptian Village.

Fair enough, as Kerdasa would be a difficult village to win over. The article reports that night raids on suspected Brotherhood members continue, and the police man checkpoints into and out of the village.

But the following first-hand anecdotal description could be found almost anywhere in Egypt:

A look around Kerdasa offers plenty of reminders that arrests and intimidation have never succeeded in silencing enemies of the state.

Idle teenagers who can be easy recruits for jihadists. Women covered from head to toe in black. Profanities scribbled on a burned-out police station insulting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and calling for Mursi’s return.

This is one of the troubles in reporting about Egypt — those reading don’t know the commonality of everyday life. Teenagers are idle in every city. Many women wear the full niqab. And anti-Sisi graffiti from the past year and a half has rarely been scrubbed from the walls.

None of this necessarily suggests a dissatisfaction with him, nor ongoing support for Morsi.

Good reporting gets local opinion, on the record. But still the journalist must be trusted in selection of sources. Some quotes against the current atmosphere were given anonymity, but the following are bold in their public criticism:

Ayman al-Qahawi works at Al Azhar, a center of Islamic learning seen by Sisi as an ally in the fight against extremism.

“Kerdasa has become a black spot in our lives even though there are only a small number of criminals. They treat all of us as if we are terrorists,” said the professor, adding that a colleague was not allowed to leave Egypt because his identification card showed he lives in Kerdasa.

Bus driver Sayed Hassan, 31, says that when he went to renew his vehicle license, police stopped him at a checkpoint.

“Pull over you terrorist. You are from Kerdasa. You will spend a lot of time with us,” he quoted an officer as saying.

What should be inferred from these voices? Is Kerdasa so Islamist they don’t fear to give their names, safe in the protection of village solidarity? Or that Kerdasa is in the process of being restored, and thus there is no fear to voice complaint?

Probably no inference is best, but the willingness to go on the record is a positive development.

Of course, the fear of the correspondent is still telling.

Even so, he/she did a good job of balancing opinion:

“We are sure that Mursi is oppressed and his case is political,” said student Abdel Rahman Mohamed, 22.

“The country will not calm down. The only solution is Mursi’s release and the release of the 40,000 people detained since the military coup.”

A pharmacist blamed both sides for the deterioration in Kerdasa and in his finances.

“Please don’t mention my name,” he told a Reuters reporter. “The Brotherhood are already boycotting my pharmacy because I don’t agree with their viewpoint. I don’t want to anger them even more. They are still around.”

Fear, apparently, is shared by many. It makes reporting difficult.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Authority and Margin

Flag Cross QuranGod,

The official space has been claimed. First, in response to massive protests the military removed Morsi from power and installed a transitional civilian government. Second, they closed down media sympathetic to a Brotherhood viewpoint. Third, they removed the standing pro-Morsi protests with much resulting bloodshed. And fourth, they jailed many Islamist leaders who stand accused of promoting violence. Each step of the way negotiations failed.

In each of these steps the transitional government has claimed both popular authority and that of the state, forcing Brotherhood sympathizers to the margins.

From there the response has been varied. In Sinai armed rebellion rages. In Upper Egypt churches were attacked. In various villages police stations were assaulted. And in many streets throughout the nation, small peaceful protests continue.

God, you care for those in authority and those in the margins. But those occupying each choose to struggle against each other.

The police recently reclaimed two margins; a sustained assault returned state authority to villages in Upper Egypt and Giza. The Brotherhood called them an attack against the people, who oppose the coup.

The ongoing rallies are a response from the margin; a sustained assault on state authority emerges as Islamists lay claim to the mantle of the youthful revolution. So far, the state permits them.

There is much to sort, God, and too much to decipher. Where do your principles direct?

You install leaders, God, which never implies your endorsement. But you do grant them authority to govern and maintain order.

In this time of crisis, God, give them wisdom with this rod. Your concerns go beyond governance and order; you care for compassion and justice. Help them to rule not simply with might, but also with heart. May the state ensure a society of opportunity and freedom.

But from the perspective of Islamists, this now only exists in the margins. As they push back against authority they risk – or rather actively disobey – the stability of the state. The margins are distant from official power, but they can choke it. With state authority weakened since the revolution, how much of Egypt is margin altogether?

Your prophets, God, have generally come from the margins. They call out against an improper order which has turned away from your principles. They have marshalled your power, God, and not sought their own.

In this time of crisis, God, give Islamists wisdom with this heritage. Your concerns go beyond criticism and protest; you care for vision and righteousness. Help them to demonstrate not simply from frustration, but also with reflection. May their movement serve the building of a better Egypt.

God, you possess all authority and power, and yet you choose to dwell in the margins. Reveal yourself to those in both places, that the fabric which binds them together may not be torn irreparably.



Egyptian Government Restores Antiquated Church

From Ahram Online, official promotion of Egypt’s Christian heritage:

On Wednesday, Mostafa Amin, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), inaugurated the Abbey Church of the Apostles in Atfih town in Giza governorate after the completion of its restoration with a budget that reached LE6 million.

The opening came within the framework of a drive by the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) to save the Coptic shrine and to open more sites to tourists, in order to encourage the tourism industry.

The church, like other Coptic and Islamic monuments located in rural areas, had suffered serious damage, including from high sub-soil water levels, high levels of humidity, and an outdated and decayed sewerage system installed 100 years ago.

It is one thing to show respect to buildings, another thing to honor people and their right to freedom of belief and expression. Negative examples of the latter have proliferated over the past two years, but this news is nonetheless encouraging, especially as it takes place in a diocese which experienced the first sectarian tensions after the revolution.

There, a church was burned due to village family tensions and rumors of witchcraft practiced inside. The army stood by and watched, but amid outrage and protests the government sought reconciliation, part of which was an agreement to rebuild the church. Whether or not the two efforts are related is not stated in the article.

Is the Egyptian government schizophrenic, then? Maybe. The current cabinet is composed of many technocrats joined by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. While many ministers carry out the functions of state as before, others appear to be actively ignoring incidents against Copts or pursuing legal action against them for defamation of Islam. The Ministers of the Interior, Justice, and the Public Prosecutor are not members of the Brotherhood, but were appointed by Morsi. Other ministers he simply inherited.

But the Minister of Antiquities, under whose authority this restoration project falls, was also a Morsi appointment. He is considered an Islamist, but is an expert in both the Coptic and Islamic heritage of Egypt. Was this project an ongoing one whose file he received near completion, or an example of his own initiative? Either way, it is a needed break from the ongoing flow of bad news.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Dahshur and Cabinet


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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