Christianity Today Published Articles

How MB-Evangelical Dialogue Began

On February 28, 2012 the leaders of the Evangelical Churches of Egypt met with the Muslim Brotherhood, and produced a document delineating the shared values of both organizations.

About a month ago I posted the text of this agreement online. Today, my article was published on Christianity Today, drawing out from leaders on both sides the substance of what exactly was agreed upon. Please click here to read it on their site.

Seventeen evangelical signatories are listed; perhaps the one most surprising comes at the very end.

Rev. Rifaat Fikry is the pastor of an evangelical church in Shubra, a densely populated suburb to the north of Cairo well known for its high concentration of Christian residents.

Rev. Fikry is well known for his strident anti-Islamist stance. In fact, it is this very posture which involved him in the dialogue in the first place.

President of the Evangelical Churches Rev. Safwat el-Bayadi and Vice-President Rev. Andrea Zaki first contemplated the quiet invitation of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued through Dr. Rafik Habib. Habib is a controversial figure in evangelical circles. He is the son of Rev. Samuel Habib, founder of the Coptic Organization for Social Services – one of the largest charity and development groups in the country.

He is also a vice-president in the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Coptic community of Egypt is very wary of Islamists, fearing an agenda they believe will result in their marginalization and loss of citizenship rights. Knowing full well the sentiment of their flock, Bayadi and Zaki turned to Fikry as the best exemplar and most informed of those who could express Coptic fears through an evangelical lens.

They asked him to write a letter to the Brotherhood detailing every concern, complaint, and consternation. After review, Bayadi and Zaki placed their names on the document, and sent it to the Brotherhood through Habib.

As the original author, it was only appropriate for Fikry to attend the subsequent meeting. He was especially interested to sit face to face with Brotherhood leaders, to ask them the questions at the heart of his opposition. During the sessions, he did so, with boldness.

In the end, Fikry was very pleased with the document. His main complaint lies in the Brotherhood’s rejection of referencing international treaties on human rights. MB leaders were concerned this could open the door to an acceptance of homosexuality, but Fikry argued nothing of the sort. His concern was for religious rights principally.

Even as the meeting ended, Fikry maintained an anti-Islamist stance. He was skeptical; after many months he finds confirmation that the Brotherhood simply used the evangelical churches for political gain.

But he is not regretful. Fikry is clear that he will sit for dialogue with anyone. The lasting value in the meeting comes not only from the agreed upon document, but also from the beginning of relationship. Though this has not continued in subsequent months, it still exists. If Islamists reach to power – a proposition Fikry finds very unlikely – these relationships could be invaluable. If not, they are valuable all the same.

They enable a man to say his piece, and to hear an answer directly.

As the evangelical churches and Muslim Brotherhood agreed, this is part and parcel of citizenship.

The only question, for Fikry especially, is of implementation. Even so, fear thereof should not preclude the effort.

On the contrary, such fear demands it.

Note: Christianity Today also published a feature text on Egypt and the responses of Christian leaders to the transition period. Please click here for access, and click here for the article on the MB-Evangelical agreement.


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Lapido Media Middle East Published Articles

Brotherhood Faces Both Ways as Egypt Votes for President

Mohamed Morsy

The Islamist front-runner in today’s historic presidential election in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy, has ‘clarified’ the Islamic position on conversion, in what could be seen as an appeal to liberal election watchers.

He said on the popular al-Nahar satellite TV station, on 17 May, in Arabic: ‘There is a wrong concept widely misunderstood, that the apostate [convert] is subject to Islamic punishment. This needs clarification,’ he said on the eve of the first free elections in Egypt’s history.

The man described by the Times today as an ‘uncharismatic party bureaucrat’ was not the Brotherhood’s original candidate, but emerged after the interim authorities banned Khairat al-Shater, who had spent time in jail under the Mubarak regime.

His pronouncement is startling since apostasy – renouncing Islam – carries the death penalty in much of the Muslim world.  It is not proscribed by the constitutional law in Egypt, although citizens can bring cases against those suspected of contravening any aspect of the sharia which is still the primary source of law.


Morsy’s own conversion has come at an opportune time, on the eve of the second day of polling.  He believes he has found a new perspective on what is widely seen as the root cause of oppression in the Islamic world:  ‘The Egyptian citizen, between himself and God, if he wants to change his faith or his doctrine, he has complete freedom.’

Morsy, like all candidates, in appealing to as many voters as possible, speaks the language of Islam, with competition fierce between him, other Islamist candidates such as Abdul Moneim Abou El Fotouh and secular figures like former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.

Current polls show Morsy trailing in as low as third or fourth position, but few people doubt the organizational capabilities of the Brotherhood to get out the vote.

For his part, Morsy predicted he would capture 60 per cent of the vote in first round elections which began yesterday (23 May) but there would be a run-off if any candidate failed to win 50 per cent-plus-one of the electorate, between the top two, on 16/17June.

He has clearly chosen this issue due to its high symbolic value among human rights advocates, with two cases of Muslims converting to Christianity currently going through the courts, according to the 2011 US Department of State International Religious Freedom Report.

A third case concerns around 100 Coptic applicants seeking re-conversion to Christianity, having previously adopted Islam.

Countries where conversion is treasonable are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Qatar, UAE, according to the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies’ 5th annual report in 2010, and this has a chilling effect on Egyptian religious freedom.

A case can be made against any Egyptian citizen for any crime against Islam and a judge has the ability to accept or deny that case.

In the past decade, a number of judges have taken it upon themselves to rule according to Islamic law regardless of what the constitutional law says, and have imposed draconian punishment ranging from imprisonment and torture to enforced divorce and loss of position.

The apparent arbitrariness of this as a system – since Sharia is so widely interpreted in the Muslim world – accounts for the insecurity felt by many.

Revd Fayez Isack is a pastor at the evangelical church of Kasr el-Dobara in Cairo, the largest Protestant church in the Arab world. He maintains these legal cases are only the tip of the iceberg, but there is no sound research on precise numbers.

He finds little comfort in Morsy’s statement.

‘This is typical of the way they talk. The apostate has all the rights until he becomes a threat to the system of God, and then the law of God is applied,’ he said.

According to other Protestant sources, who asked not to be named for the sake of security, there are hundreds of thousands of ‘secret believers’ who have converted to Christianity. For these, the ‘clarification’ Morsy mentioned is important.

Morsy contends that religion is a private matter – up to a point.  He stated:  ‘Anyone who keeps his trouble in his home, to himself – no one has the legal or Islamic right to knock on his door and ask what he’s doing. But when the home begins to affect society, this is where the law and the sharia have the right to interfere.’

Official Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan backs up Isack’s critique. ‘Egyptian society is not like the West; calling to a different religion causes social strife, even if just one person to another.’


Morsy’s appeal to liberal voters contrasts with other MB efforts to reach conservatives with a pan-Islamic vision that has horrified some commentators in the wake of the Revolution.

Sheikh Safwat Hegazi, a popular television preacher who appears frequently with Morsy at rallies, was banned from entering France in April.

Safwat Hegazi

Endorsing Morsy, he declared recently before thousands at Cairo stadium: ‘We can see how the dream of the Islamic caliphate is being realized, God willing, by Dr. Mohamed Morsi.

‘Our capital shall not be in Cairo, Mecca or Medina; millions of martyrs march toward Jerusalem.’

Ghozlan dismissed these comments, but stopped short of condemning them.

‘Egypt is a sinking ship, and we need to get back on our own feet before we can worry about regional issues.

‘This is less a strategy than a dream, and his comments are not based in any reality.

‘We are part of the Arab world and we believe in Arab unity and greater integration both politically and economically, but we would need to wait decades, even centuries, before we can see a caliphate realized.

‘Wisdom says let the statement go and seek to clarify, rather than embarrassing the person who came to support you.’

Yet another MB commentator, Hassan Abdel Sattar Mohamed, member of the media committee of the Brotherhood for south Cairo, is clearer.  He stated: ‘Hegazi sees in Morsy one who will apply the goals of sharia, and who has a vision for the unity of Arab and Islamic states.

‘We refuse the Zionist entity which occupies al-Aqsa [in Jerusalem], and we support the Palestinian cause.

‘It is the ultimate goal to have Jerusalem as the capital and to march for its liberation, but reality does not permit this now.’

Politicians around the world seek ‘big tent’ politics, but often by default fall back on the strength of their base. Seeking the centre, the Muslim Brotherhood has made countless statements on their intention to create a civil state with full citizenship rights for all.

The question that remains to be resolved is whether such statements as these on apostasy and the caliphate represent an appeal for votes – or core policy objectives.

This piece was originally published on Lapido Media.


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Is a Man as Good as his Political Islamic Word?

Mahmoud Ghozlan

Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to visit the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Muqattam area of Cairo. I interviewed their official spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan about a recent document of principles agreed upon by the Brotherhood and the leadership of the Evangelical Churches of Egypt.

It is a very interesting document, and I hope to share a full article about it shortly. For now, I simply wanted to share some pictures of the building as well as brief reflections from the visit.

The MB HQ, labeled in both Arabic and English
From afar; translation: Headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood
The entryway; translation: The Muslim Brotherhood Welcomes its Guests; We Bring Good to All People (slogan of the MB's Freedom and Justice Party)

This final picture is from the reception area, displaying the nine ‘General Guides’ in Muslim Brotherhood history. Though each of these figures deserves further research, here simply I present their names, from left to right in the picture:

Hassan al-Banna (1928-1949)

Hassan al-Hudaybi (1949-1972)

Omar al-Tilmisani (1972-1986)

Muhammad Hamed Abu al-Nasr (1986-1996)

Mustafa al-Mashour (1996-2002)

Muhammad al-Ma’moun al-Hudaybi (2002-2004)

Muhammad Hilal (uncertain)

Muhammad Mehdi Akef (2004-2010)

Muhammad Badie (2010-present)

Our discussion centered on the document of principles establishing citizenship and religious freedom as common values. Still, I also gained some insight into the current political crisis between the Brotherhood, the military council, and liberal parties. Most interesting was the change in demeanor as we navigated certain topics.

It is not useful to read too much into the following, but when Ghozlan justified the Brotherhood for going back on an earlier pledge not to field a presidential candidate, his manner was humble and seeking an audience. He expressed that the media was engaged in deliberate mischaracterization of the group and its intentions, and appeared hopeful his story would be carried faithfully.

In another setting, I hope to, but while I find his explanations reasonable, I stated that for this article in particular I was not seeking political justification, but religious. If Egyptian Christians wish to have hope in the words of this document, how should they respond now that the Brotherhood has gone back on its word not to field a presidential candidate?

I was keen to not be accusatory, but to seek their mindset.

Strangely, his attitude changed. He immediately straightened and delivered justification from the life of Muhammad. It was no longer an invitation to see their political condition sympathetically, but a pronouncement of their non-culpability in terms of religion. I felt, hopefully wrongly, that he instinctively needed to assert/defend the moral high ground of Islam, or at least of their political Islam.

I had the distinct impression the group feels vulnerable and defensive. Indeed, it appears all are against them these days. Could it also be their conscience is pricked, underneath a Machiavellian exterior?

In the media, at least, it seems this is true of many in the organization, despite the official choice of the majority to go against their pledge.

It may be politically expedient and even necessary for the good of all Egypt. But as Muslims, is it right?

Ghozlan gave justification, even if the Christian or merely moral person might cringe – to be written about shortly. I think the pulse of general Egyptian morality will not permit it, though, no matter what presidential choice they make in the end.

Update: The article is still in process, but here is the full text and list of signatories to the agreement. Please click here.

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Brotherhood Revisionism on Maspero and Transitional Governance?

Mahmoud Ghozlan, official spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood

In recent weeks the Muslim Brotherhood has been engaged in public squabbles with the military council over formation of the government. According to most interpretations of the constitutional declaration which guides the transition in Egypt, the presidency – here the military council – has the right to appoint members of the administrative cabinet.

At first the Muslim Brotherhood requested to form a new government, but the military council refused. More recently they are stating they will field a vote of no confidence in the parliament against the Ganzouri government. Though it does not appear this will lead to its fall constitutionally, it may put pressure on the military council to sack it. The Brotherhood may then be poised to inherit this mantle given the legitimacy of its electoral gains.

A major question to be put to the Brotherhood is this: Why now? Ever since the Ganzouri government was appointed in November revolutionary forces have rejected it. The Brotherhood line has been one of patient support, fueling suspicion of a ‘deal’ between them and the military council. Yet their logic was sound; the government is only transitional.

Would their logic be even more true now, with three months remaining until a new president takes office, and with it the right of appointing a cabinet. That is, if such a right remains after drafting a new constitution.

Mahmoud Ghozlan, official spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, put it this way in a statement to Ahram Online:

We initially accepted this government as a replacement for the [previous] cabinet of Essam Sharaf, believing that Ganzouri had considerable experience, especially given that the most pressing issues were security and the economy. Today, however, we realize that the incumbent government is no different from its predecessor. No one was arrested for the massacres at Maspero, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and Qasr Al-Aini under the Sharaf government, which insisted on blaming all the problems on a ‘third party’.

His mention of Maspero, however, brought back to mind previous statements of the Brotherhood at the time of the massacre, when 28 people were killed during a mostly Coptic demonstration.

At the time, Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie told al-Masry al-Youm he suspected former members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party were behind the massacre. Furthermore, he rejected the widespread calls for the resignation of the government, saying, ‘Sharaf’s cabinet is a transitional one.’

In addition, ‘We must be a little patient and when there is an elected parliament that monitors the ministers and cabinet elected by the people, it will certainly set in place a long-term plan to solve all problems.’

Why is there no longer any patience? There is an elected parliament, and it is monitoring the ministers and cabinet. Speculation is possible: Was the Brotherhood confident it would capture the legislature but is less sure about the executive branch?

A more revealing memory comes from the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood, IkhwanWeb. Their statement following Maspero also urged patience for the current Sharaf government, but then ended in this manner:

Finally, we remind those who have already forgotten what General Amos Yadlin, former Director of Israeli Military Intelligence, said and published in newspapers on 2/November/2010, before the revolution:

“Egypt represents the biggest playing field for Israeli military intelligence activity. This activity has developed according to plan since 1979. We have penetrated Egypt in many areas, including the political, security, economic, and military spheres. We have succeeded in promoting sectarian and social tension there so as to create a permanent atmosphere of turmoil, in order to deepen the discord between Egyptian society and the government and make it difficult for any regime following that of Hosni Mubarak to alleviate this discord”.

Is it time to wake up?

So while Ghozlan criticizes the Sharaf and Ganzouri governments for blaming a ‘third party’, this was exactly what the Muslim Brotherhood did at the time. Who is a better third party than Israel?

Essentially, the Muslim Brotherhood is correct. No one has yet been held accountable for the massacre at Maspero, though three security personnel are currently submitted to prosecution. Certainly the Ganzouri government, as Sharaf before him, are to be held accountable for this and other as yet prosecuted offenses.

Mahmoud Ghozlan explained the perspective of the Brotherhood in a telephone interview.

The third party in these cases is still unknown, and we are unable to say who it is. It could be remnants of the NDP, corrupt businessmen who have lost their access to power, former regime members now in Tora Prison, or foreign powers.

But the role of the government is to find the culprit and keep security, and they have not done so.

In the days of Sharaf we gave him lots of opportunity, but he failed. This is the same of Ganzouri, who had much more experience for the job. But he has made the same mistakes as Sharaf, especially in terms of the Port Said massacre and the economic situation. Additionally his statement before parliament failed to impress many members, not just from the Brotherhood.

As for the difference between patience with Sharaf and eagerness now to form a government, Ghozlan clarified,

With Sharaf there was no evidence as to the political balance of power. But now after elections we see it distributed in parliament. Therefore, it is logical that these powers be left to represent the people.

Concerning the right of parliament to form a government according to the constitutional declaration, which most experts deny, Ghozlan explained,

The constitutional declaration was only temporary. In fact, the military council stated in the beginning they would only govern for six months and then return to their barracks.

It is known that any parliament in the world is responsible for oversight over the executive branch. Furthermore, we are like any other parliament with the right of legislation. Therefore, it is necessary we exercise these rights and hold them accountable.

Ghozlan was unaware if a date for a vote of no confidence has yet been set by the parliament. This is a matter in the hands of the speaker, Saad al-Katatni.

With these additional comments Ghozlan makes clearer the case of Brotherhood legitimacy. Yet however legitimate the complaint, are they operating under false pretenses? Observers must answer this for themselves, for who can know the heart of those involved. The only evidence available is their words and deeds, past and present.

But still, why now?


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