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Christian Zionism: A Lecture in Cairo

Rev. Stephen Sizer

Rev. Stephen Sizer, a renowned expert on Christian Zionism delivered a series of lectures in Egypt at Cairo University, the Anglican Cathedral, and other venues. This article is a summary of his presentation delivered on February 15, 2012.

According to Sizer, Christian Zionism is the view that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of our moral and political support.

Sizer opened with a brief history of Zionism, tracing its first political sponsor to Napoleon, who wished to wrest Jewish banking favor away from the British Empire in their struggle for supremacy. Britain eventually emerged triumphant, and then engaged Germany in the lead up to World War I, as both sides solicited Jewish favor in exchange for their support for a return of Jews to Palestine. The Belfour Declaration in 1917 was the pinnacle of Britain’s promise, set in the context of many geopolitical maneuvers with both Jews and Arabs.

The Christian element of Zionism received a great boost with the election of President Jimmy Carter in 1976, who believed the state of Israel represented the fulfillment of prophecy. During this time Rev. Jerry Falwell emerged as the leading advocate of Christian Zionism, and promised 70 million evangelical Christian votes for supporters of the cause.

After his death in 2007, Rev. John Hagee received his mantle, promising 50 million evangelical Christians would stand side-by-side with the 5 million Jews of Israel. Today, Sizer estimates 25% of US Christians identify with Christian Zionism, though this contrasts with only 5% of Christians worldwide.

Sizer identified five primary theological underpinnings of Christian Zionism, including:

  • Jews are to be restored to Greater Israel
  • Jerusalem is the eternal Jewish capital
  • The Jewish Temple is to be rebuilt
  • Antipathy towards Arabs and Islam
  • There will be a war of Armageddon

Theology, he noted, drives behavior. Sizer then illustrated how Zionist Christians:

  • Contribute money to support settlements and help Jews emigrate to Israel from Russia and elsewhere
  • Lobby the US government to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
  • Support the Orthodox in their effort to rebuild the Temple
  • Oppose the peace process as it compromises ownership of the land
  • View politics through the lens of a coming war between Russia, China, Arabs, and Europe against Israel

The consequence of Christian Zionism, Sizer noted, was the destruction of the church in the Middle East. Historic Arab Christian communities are being squeezed by the competing powers of Zionism and Islamism, finding no place for themselves. Many are immigrating.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey warned that the holy sites of the Middle East could be transformed into a Christian theme park, in which the only Christian witness is carried by tourists and pilgrims.

Sizer closed his remarks by quoting from the 2006 Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, signed by the heads of the Latin, Syrian Orthodox, Anglican, and Evangelical Lutheran churches in Jerusalem. Highlights include:

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption, and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism.

We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.

We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.

During a question and answer session afterwards, Sizer explained how Israel would like to have three separate achievements, but can only have two. These include:

  • Democracy
  • A Jewish State
  • The Occupied Territories

Israel can succeed in being a democratic Jewish state if it gives up the territories to an independent Palestine.

Greater Israel can succeed in being a democracy should it incorporate the inhabitants of Palestine as full citizens with equal rights, if it gives up its Jewish nature.

Or, Israel can succeed (?) in being a Jewish colonial state, but only at the expense of giving up its democratic nature.

Sizer’s presentation was warmly received by the majority of attendees, many of whom were less than familiar with this largely American religious phenomenon. The only issue taken with Sizer was his acceptance of the term, Christian Zionism. Some angrily rejected the coupling as an oxymoron – Zionism is not Christian at all.

Rev. Sizer and Bishop Mouneer, who provided translation into Arabic.

Personal Reflection

I wince when issues of the world are reduced to banking and Jewish conspiracies. Sizer does not take this bait and run with it, but much of anti-Zionist discourse does. Still, ‘follow the money’ is a truth worth reflecting upon, but surely historic world capital has been available via other than the Jewish ‘cabal’, no matter how disproportionate Jewish influence might be relative to their population.

Yet from my superficial studies of world Judaism, I believe that for most of modern history the majority of Jews have been anti-Zionist themselves. Before the creation of Israel they waited for the advent of the Messiah to restore their fortunes to Jerusalem. Furthermore, many deemed Zionist efforts to be counter-productive to the social necessity of proving themselves loyal citizens to the nations in which they lived. Why then would Jewish bankers wish to swing worldwide sentiment to creation of a Jewish state? Far more research than I have done is necessary to determine the validity of the question, but however it is sliced, Zionism is a peculiar entity.

As per Christian Zionism, I wish to recognize first that few evangelicals I am familiar with would use this phrase as a self-appellation. It is not a movement, however much it is a sizeable theological-political sentiment. Moreover, its sympathizers are good Christians, contra the disbelief of some who commented at the close of the lecture. Money given to support poor Jews in Russia may be manipulated politically, but it comes from a generous heart to help ‘the least of these’, as Jesus commanded.

One omission from this particular lecture of Sizer was an evaluation of the Biblical sources. Why is Christian Zionism faulty interpretation? Its proponents certainly name chapter and verse to demonstrate the grand plan of God.

Sizer’s website contains resources to address this question, as do the writings of Colin Chapman. I do not wish to enter into this discussion here, but it will suffice to say I recognize many of the principles of Christian Zionism, or of dispensationalism, its theological underpinning, as worthy Biblical options for interpretation. Christians disagree over interpretation all the time – what is important is that a common reference point judge between disputants. Both sides appeal to scripture, and therefore must not be excluded as the enemy, even if in error.

For me, the definition of Christian Zionism as given by Sizer contains the key to its essential error. Modern political Israel may or may not be the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Yet even if it is, this should not translate into the necessity of moral and political support.

Rather, it is the principles outlined in the Jerusalem Declaration that must guide Christian evaluation of Israel, as of all nations, including their own. Do the policies of a state nurture or hinder the flowering of love, justice, and reconciliation? Careful reading of the news is necessary, but in many cases the government of Israel violates these values. When it does, Christians must object.

The Bible maintains that it was God’s anointed hand and the fulfillment of prophesy which smashed the Jewish state via the scepter of wicked Babylon in 586 BC, and then again by the Roman Empire in 70 AD. That this was God’s design did not call on the people to approve, only not to stand in the way. On the contrary, in the case of Babylon God promises he will judge its rulers for their injustice and oppression.

Is God moving history toward a final confrontation between the world and Israel during which Jesus will return and inaugurate his kingdom? Perhaps. Those who scoff would do well to view events through this particular interpretive lens and gauge the odd correspondence. Why else would such an unimportant piece of land command attention of the whole world?

Yet even if this vision is true, God will hold Israel’s leaders to account for their conduct – not based on political exigency, but on divine righteousness.

He will hold Christian Zionists to account all the same. He will, in fact, judge the world.

As Coptic Orthodox repeat incessantly in prayer, ‘According to your mercy, oh God, and not according to our sins.’

note: Please click here for a five minute video of Stephen Sizer giving an interview to a member of the Arab media after his presentation. Due to sound quality the questions were edited out, but should be clear enough from his answers given, which are presented in full.

 

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Understanding Egypt’s Elections

Egypt’s first free elections in over thirty years did not err on the side of simplicity. Even so, this did not deter massive national participation and excitement, as 54% of the nation lined up for hours on the street to cast their ballot. Many, however, admitted to having little knowledge about the political process, enabling accusations of fraud and voter manipulation. In this they mirrored many casual Western observers who valued the accomplishment of the elections, but were confused by the mind-boggling complications.

The results were simple: Islamists won a major victory, securing around 70% of the seats. The tale of this victory, and what it means for Egypt, is the subject of this recap.

The Set-Up

Egyptian elections for the People’s Assembly were conducted in three stages over a period of nearly two months. Each of Egypt’s 27 governorates was then subdivided into electoral districts, according to population. Two-thirds of the seats were awarded by proportional representation according to votes cast for their party. The remaining third was chosen by individual ballot for the candidate alone. Of the total representatives chosen, fully one-half were required to be workers or farmers. Together, the People’s Assembly consists of 508 seats, 10 of which were appointed by the military council.

Confused? Naturally. The process did not result from consensus planning or a democratic heritage. Instead it was cut and pasted from a mishmash of Egyptian history through pressure and compromise between political parties and the military council.

The 50-50 division between workers/farmers and professional seats is a holdover from President Nasser. He stipulated a place for the common man in the People’s Assembly in accordance with his Arab nationalist and socialist policies, but in reality the designation was little more than an administrative token. The military council represents a continuation of his legacy, and insisted on keeping the division. Political parties did not raise significant objection.

There was loud protest, however, over the electoral system. The party list format groups candidates together under broad alliances. Citizens then cast one vote for their party of preference, which is awarded seats per district according to the total percentage won. If a district, for example, represents ten seats, every party must field ten candidates. Should the party capture 60% of the vote, its top six candidates would claim seats.

This was the system Egypt utilized for elections in the 1980s, before switching to an individual candidacy format more akin to politics in the United States. The winner was the first to capture 50%+1 of the ballots cast, requiring a run-off for the top two candidates, if necessary. Intentional or not, this allowed for simpler vote-rigging and intimidation of voters, allowing the National Democratic Party to win a sweeping (fraudulent) victory in 2010.

Fearful the remnants of the NDP would claim victory after the revolution through similar methods, political parties argued to return to a party list system. Through subsequent pressure on the military council the percentage of such party list candidates moved from one-third, to one-half, and finally to two-thirds. The military council refused to abandon individual candidacy altogether, leading to fears it would promote old regime fortunes in the election process.

These fears were also buttressed by their refusal to allow international observation of the elections. Instead the military council decreed the nation’s judges would supervise legitimacy, but this created a problem of logistics. In order to guarantee a judge at every ballot box, the elections were divided into three stages. Stage one took place in the governorates of Cairo, Alexandria, and others, while stages two and three mixed between the governorates of the Delta and Upper Egypt.

In the end, the military council did allow limited international observation. Former US President Jimmy Carter was prominently involved through his Carter Center, with its longstanding work in democracy promotion. While noting irregularities, he ultimately judged the elections ‘acceptable’.

The Parties

The military council further placated popular demand and issued a law to bar former members of the NDP from participating in elections. Though this law was struck down by the court, it proved to be unnecessary. A number of old regime parties acquired legal registration and ran in elections, but altogether secured only 3.5% of the seats.

The true competition centered on five parties/alliances, though initial efforts sought to maintain one national effort to unite all political forces. This hope quickly degenerated into a liberal-Islamist divide, as fears rose some wished to craft Egypt into a religious state.

Soon greater divisions emerged on both sides. The broad Democratic Alliance was led by the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood. It tried to position itself a religious but centrist force, keeping an alliance with the historically liberal Wafd Party. It faltered, however, as conservative Salafi Muslims split to form their own alliance, under the banner of the newly created Nour Party. Eventually, the Wafd also decided it could not align with the Muslim Brotherhood in good faith, and decided to go it alone.

On the liberal side, political parties from both the right and left of the economic spectrum formed the Egyptian Bloc, dedicated to the civil state. Yet the young revolutionaries felt marginalized, and split to form a left-leaning activist alliance named The Revolution Continues. A major factor in the dissolution of all alliances was the placement of candidates on the party list and assignment to favorable individual districts. The interests of party outweighed formation of a common front.

The Results

In the end this hurt the liberal far more than the Islamists, if indeed it was a factor at all. The Democratic Alliance headed by the FJP did slightly better than anticipated, winning 45% of the seats. The surprise of elections was the showing of the Islamist Bloc headed by the Salafi Nour Party. Assumed to be marginal and full of political novices, they captured a solid 25% of the People’s Assembly.

The liberal Egyptian Bloc fared decently in the first stage of elections due to concentrations of upper class and intellectual pockets in the big cities. Their appeal failed to materialize in the rest of the country, however, in the end receiving only 7% of the seats. The Wafd Party captured a slightly higher number, as their name recognition echoed through the rest of the nation winning the allegiance of most non-Islamist-inclined voters. Despite the popular appeal of the revolution, however, the Revolution Continues Alliance faltered miserably, winning only 2% of parliamentary representation.

The Stakes

Though the powers of the People’s Assembly remain undetermined, the military council has bequeathed it full legislative authority. This raises significant questions for the coming period. Will the Islamist forces align to move Egypt in the direction of a religious state? Will liberal forces find common ground with the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP to marginalize the Salafis? Will the FJP evolve into a new NDP with the blessing of the military council, to revive the former regime? Or, will they gradually continue the revolution in effort to send the military council back to their barracks?

Not much is clear except the existence of a popularly elected legislative body. This in itself is an achievement of the revolution.

note: This article is a bit dated but has been held until publication in the Maadi Messenger, a monthly magazine for the expatriate community in Cairo.

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Muslim Brotherhood Ties Israel Peace to US Aid amidst NGO Crisis

Essam el-Erian, a senior leader in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, called into question the Brotherhood’s commitment to the peace treaty with Israel.

Essam el-Erian

He commented on the ongoing NGO crisis embroiling the United States and Egypt. American and local NGO personnel in Egypt stand accused of fermenting chaos under the guise of democracy promotion.

The US has warned $1.3 billion in annual aid is in jeopardy if the charges, denied as frivolous, are not dismissed.

Erian told Lapido Media, ‘If the US withdraws its aid it gives us the right to review our side of the agreement as well. Aid is a part of the Camp David Accords, or why else would the US be giving this money to Egypt?’

There is only one problem. Former US president Jimmy Carter, who orchestrated the accords in 1978, stated, ‘There was no commitment of any finances going to Egypt as the result of the Camp David Accords.’

Is Erian ignorant of the text of these accords, or is something else in play? According to Raymond Ibrahim of Jihad Watch, Erian’s words fit into a larger context of Islamic behavior based on ‘circumstance’.

‘All Islamists understand that the treaty with Israel is a matter of necessity (i.e., Egypt cannot at the moment defeat Israel, therefore it is in its own interest to agree to peace). Might as well get money out of it.’

Ibrahim recently highlighted a video of Yasser al-Burhami, a prominent sheikh with the Salafi Call, an ultraconservative Muslim association. Burhami comments on how Mohamed at times made peace with the Jews, and at other times, subdued them through force and imposed jizia, a payment by non-Muslims in return for protection within the Muslim community.

Burhami then generalizes, ‘The prophet’s methods of dealing with infidels are available for Muslims to replicate depending on their situation and their capabilities.’

Speaking to Lapido Media, Ibrahim gave application. ‘Islamist politics and worldview are quite clear that once capability allows, Islam must go on the offensive.’

Gamal Nassar, a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood from Giza, Cairo, reinforces the notion of circumstance while commenting on Erian’s statement. ‘Things have changed since the revolution, and the US must realize it is not the same as before.’

Sheikh Osama al-Qusi is an independent Salafi scholar often criticized in his community for distinguishing between the affairs of religion and the affairs of the world.

Osama al-Qusi

Qusi notes that Burhami is correct in terms of Mohamed adapting to his circumstances, but notes many Islamists take this as license to be Machiavellian. Even so, ‘Just because Mohamed did something politically does not mean it applies to us. No, we must leave politics to the politicians.’

Furthermore, circumstance does not change the Islamic attitude toward other communities. ‘We are peaceful with those who are peaceful with us, and we fight against those who fight against us.’

Yet for many Islamists, ‘us’ applies to all Muslims. Essam al-Sharif is a leader for the Salafi-based Authenticity Party in Warraq, a district of Cairo. ‘According to sharia law, I have the obligation to defend Muslims.

Essam al-Sharif

‘If the Camp David Accords do not allow us to help the Palestinians in Gaza it is invalid and we must fight Israel. In sharia we respect the borders of this world administratively to honor our agreements, but they do not override our duty to support Muslims.’

Sharif believes Muslims must treat non-Muslims well whether they are strong or weak regardless of their circumstances. Yet this does not preclude jizia, and Muslims must be honest about it.

‘If we say we will not collect jizia, this is hypocrisy. No, non-Muslims must pay it, even if we are too weak to collect it now.’

Sheikh Abdel Muti Bayyoumi is a member of the Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy, a pillar of the Islamic establishment in Egypt. He dismisses Burhami completely, saying he is not specialized in jurisprudence, and is not fit to issue religious rulings.

Bayyoumi agrees the Quran allows Muslims only to fight those who fight against them. Where there is a pact of peace, however, Muslims must work with non-Muslims for justice.

As this concerns Israel and the opinion of Erian, ‘There is no relation between US aid and the Camp David accords. Thus, we are still bound to the treaty so long as Israel also keeps to it and does not review it first.’

Interestingly, Carter suggests issues of justice have been neglected in the treaty.

‘There is one element of the Camp David accords that has been abandoned in the past, even in Egypt, and that is the protection of the Palestinian rights.’

Interpretations of Islam are part and parcel of post-revolutionary Egyptian attitudes toward peace with Israel. Some reflect Burhami’s attitude about ‘circumstance’, and others Bayyoumi’s attitude about justice.

With whom does Erian’s interpretation lie?

 

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