Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Hala Shukrallah: The First Coptic and First Female Head of a Political Party in Egypt

Hala Shukralla

From my recent article at Arab West Report, an interview with Hala Shukrallah of the Constitution (Dostour) Party:

Congratulations on your election as party leader, which as a Copt and as a woman is historic and unprecedented in Egypt. What does it mean both for the party and the country?

It represents a definite step forward, for at a conscious level people have not seen it as significant. A few years back this would not have been possible. The divide was not only visible, but vocalized. It would have created a backlash and instigated an attack, especially utilizing these two factors – woman and Copt.

That this was a non-issue within the party was very significant. It was not a focus at all during elections, showing that the party itself stopped perceiving these elements as a divide between people.

In society, it is another issue altogether. When we are speaking about our party we are speaking about a majority of young people. They have gone through a revolution – two revolutions – and have really changed so much of their thinking. You can understand why these things have stopped meaning so much to them.

But if you look at the way society has accepted this, and even celebrated it, this also is very significant. It shows there is a majority within society that wants to see change.

Your election was also celebrated by the Coptic community at large, which itself has gone through two revolutions and witnesses a divide between its youth and elders. How do you describe the Coptic electorate? As a citizen and voter, what is the average Copt like?

Especially since the 1970s, the Coptic sector in Egypt has been very aware there is a growing conservative element that perceives them as ‘the other’. What they have done is take a step backwards and basically hide in their own community. They have ghettoized, in a way, in the arms of the church, which has been speaking on their behalf.

From my point of view this is dangerous. I understand why they have done it, but they perceive themselves as a bloc, allowing the church to speak on their behalf, and therefore society continues to see them as a bloc, and not as individuals or citizens.

We have gone through this cycle over and over again, but it was broken on the 25th of January, when for the first time they went out into the streets and joined demonstrations. They began to protest as citizens. This was a turning point, very visible and vocal, with Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square holding hands as citizens.

Pictures of the cross and crescent together became very important symbolism that became ingrained in the minds of Egyptians over the last three years. This has made a difference and left its mark on us.

But with the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood there was an effort to roll back this progress made in the first year of the revolution. Citizenship was debated, whether we can give minorities rights, but maybe not all rights, and so on. The discourse excluded some sectors from being full-fledged citizens. But with their growth and that of the fundamentalist movements there has been a withdrawal, once more, of Copts into the church. And the church is again speaking on their behalf.

Please click here to read the full interview at Arab West Report.


Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

As Egypt Picks Next President, Christians Play Biggest Political Role in Decades


From my article at Christianity Today, published May 27, 2014:

For Egyptian Christians, today’s presidential election is not much of a contest.

Most support General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in appreciation for his role in deposing previous president Mohamed Morsi and ending the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. A smaller, younger contingent leans toward leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi out of appreciation for the revolution and skepticism of another military leader. But most on both sides expect Sisi will win handily, and most welcome the new era to come.

“This election [brings] great expectations to welcome a new Egypt with Muslims and Christians as equal citizens,” said Fawzi Khalil, a pastor at Cairo’s Kasr el-Dobara Church, the largest evangelical congregation in the Middle East.

But while most Christians are solidly in the camp of Sisi, many are taking advantage of the opening of political space after the January 2011 revolution to win leadership positions in a variety of political parties.

The article highlights one Christian woman who has become the first to head a political party in Egypt, supporting Sabbahi, and a man who is a founding member of another, supporting Sisi. A third figure is a human rights advocate seeking fair treatment for the Muslim Brotherhood, standing against the tide.

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


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Old and New

Flag Cross Quran


Egypt served up surprises this week, of both old and new variety. A new government is now an old practice, and some new politicians are decidedly old. But age, experience, and freshness matter little compared to competency and vision. God, give them the latter.

The new government is headed by a technocrat from the old regime. Three years beyond the 2011 revolution against Mubarak, there is little outrage. The new prime minister was the successful manager of one of the largest construction firms in the Middle East, so many people are hoping he gets similar results with the government.

But God, this is now the sixth government since the revolution began. Egypt needs stability and expertise, but it is uncertain if even this one will last. Presidential elections will be held shortly and parliamentary after that; another new government may soon be necessary. But if they are caretakers, replacing previous caretakers, well, help Egypt to care.

For Egypt is fixated not on the government, but the speculation whether its defense minister will run for president. Sisi has still not declared.

For each and every minister, God, burden them with a sense of responsibility to their nation. Whatever time you have for them, help them to work to the fullest of their ability. Help them to motivate their bureaucracies to do the same. Help them to root out any corruption they find.

For an old auditor is releasing new accusations. A veteran judge, the head of the Central Auditing Agency was appointed by Morsi but only new makes public his findings. They mostly exonerate the recent administration, but scathe the institutions of state. Sentiment is divided if he is serving the public trust, or undermining it.

God, only you know his heart, but his figures can be analyzed. His position is of paramount importance in this transitional phase. Clean the state with an impartial head of an impartial institution. May transparency judge between disputants, with men of integrity courageously empowered to hold entrenched interests accountable. But where there is manipulation, God, expose it.

But recently in civil institutions, perhaps you have now chosen a time of honor. A leading secular party voted in the nation’s first woman and first Christian head. Recently the Doctors’ Syndicate did the same, and this week she retracted her earlier resignation. Both face deep internal challenges, but were awarded the validation of their peers. Both are veteran leftist activists, but their leadership is entirely new.

With them, God, make all things new in their respective spheres. Give them a steadfastness of spirit to unite diverse opinions and do what is right for their constituencies. Help them to develop their institutions rather than raise their profiles. Give them humility amidst their honor, that they may diligently serve. And help them to have cooperative colleagues dedicated to the success of all, and of Egypt.

God, you are the ancient of days who is ever present. You guided the Pharaohs as you guided the revolutionaries. Guide now the politicians to whom you have entrusted Egypt. Guide the people to judge well between them.

Renew Egypt, God. Age her in wisdom. Shape her in fulfillment of your everlasting principles.