A Christian Death in the Western Desert

Desert Martyr 4

Egypt suffered another terrorism setback this week, as a shootout with militants in the Western Desert resulted in the death of at least 16 policemen.

That is the official, government tally. International media reported much higher figures, though the government dismissed their numbers and an alleged recording describing the chaos in the field, saying they were unsourced and reflecting unprofessional conduct.

Much speculation focused on the groups behind the attack, whether ISIS from the Sinai, Muslim Brotherhood linked militants, or a rogue army officer perhaps affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The government has launched an investigation, but it is also conducting funerals. Less well reported is this human side of the tragedy, causing Egypt to cancel even a major tourist festival in solidarity with the slain, when the sun shines directly on the face of Ramses II in Abu Simbel.

Desperate to revive the tourism industry, Egypt is more keen to maintain security commitment and morale.

Part of the task is to honor all dead. And among them was Boutros Sulimian Masoud, a Coptic Christian conscript from Ezbat Yacoub Bibawi in Minya. Military figures and Azhar sheikhs were on hand, draping his casket with an Egyptian flag.

Also honored was an army officer named Muhammad Wahid Musalhi. Bishop Makarios of Minya represented the church in both occasions.

And both figures are called ‘martyrs’, as per Egyptian practice, by both church and state.

Consider what you will theologically, but Egypt has suffered a multiplication of martyrs in recent years.

On the one hand, where the term is more familiar, Christians have been targeted by terrorists, though Muslims have also died in the carnage.

On the other, the army and police have been targeted by terrorists, irrespective of religion. Egypt is understood to be 10 percent Christian, and they die beside their brothers in the service.

The Egyptian security services are integrated, drawing all in general conscription. Copts sometimes complain they are kept out of senior positions until promotion at retirement, and that conscript deaths sometimes are under-investigated. But they are grateful for their place in the national army.

It was only in the mid-19th century that the Muhammad Ali dynasty lifted the jizia tax and enrolled Copts. Classical Islamic jurisprudence says that jizia is meant in part to protect Christians living in a Muslim country, that they need not participate in foreign jihad or defense of the nation.

But one of the most powerful proofs of citizenship is mingled blood, fighting side by side against a common enemy.

The pictures here were distributed by the Coptic Media Center and represent Egypt as she idealizes herself. One nation, three religions, one people mourning all.

It does not cover up the flaws, but it is a reminder to Muslim and Christian alike of what Egypt is meant to be.

This, too, is important to report.

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Desert Martyr 1

Tahya Masr, al-baqa’ li-llah, nayyihhum.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Military Missions

Flag Cross Quran


Bless the Egyptian military in its many responsibilities. They seem to be rapidly increasing.

The horrible explosion last week in Sinai killed 31 soldiers, and prompted the government to evacuate the area. A buffer zone is being created on the border of Gaza, with homes demolished and population relocated. The military is undertaking the effort.

The ongoing protests in university campuses has prompted the government to allow official security force intervention. Private security must be supplemented, and quick trials are necessary for saboteurs. The military is undertaking the effort.

The fiscal crises have prompted the government to stimulate the economy. New projects have been authorized everywhere, from building new apartments to building new soccer fields. The military is undertaking the effort.

God, may all tasks be done well.

But care also for those affected by these decisions. Have mercy on the evacuated; may they be treated justly in this sacrifice. Give patience to the students; may the accused have transparent trials and the rest find vibrant campus life. Help profit the businesses; may they employ many and expand their markets.

But are the tasks necessary, God? Are they good? Is this the place for the army?

Some say no, that the expansion of role damages the military and suffocates both public and private sectors. Some say yes, that in times of crisis the military can work quickly and avoid the bureaucratic corruption in the public and private sectors.

Judge rightly, God, and give discernment to the people. But give the government – military, police, and politicians – wisdom in combatting terrorism.

Give the government wisdom in promoting education. Give the government wisdom in facilitating business.

Above all, God, may the government be responsible. Bless it and the military, and Egypt altogether.



Military Rank

I know very little about military affairs, either in America or the rest of the world. With the important role of the armed forces in Egypt, however, I thought it useful to understand the local chain of rank.

The enlisted soldier is known as either a jundi or ‘askari. He has received no formal education, but is able to achieve a level of promotion. Once elevated, he joins the rank of non-commissioned officers, or dubat al-Saff.

  • Corporal (‘areef) – wears two chevrons (shareet)
  • Sergeant (raqeeb) – three chevrons
  • First Sergeant (raqeeb awwal) – three chevrons plus an eagle (nisr)
  • Master Sergeant (musa’id) – eagle

The path to being a commissioned officer (dabit) begins in military academy as a cadet (talib). The path of promotion is as follows:

  • Lieutenant (mulazim) – wears a star (nigma)
  • First Lieutenant (mulazim awwal) – two stars
  • Captain (naqeeb) – three stars
  • Major (ra’id) – wears an eagle
  • Lieutenant Colonel (muqaddam) – eagle plus star
  • Colonel (‘aqeed) – eagle plus two stars
  • Brigadier General (‘ameed) – eagle plus three stars
  • Major General (liwa’) – wears two swords crossed (sayfain)

This promotion path also mirrors that in the police force. Further promotion, however, is available only in the military.

  • Lieutenant General (fareeq) – wears two swords, an eagle, and a star
  • Colonel General (fareeq awwal) – two swords, an eagle, and two stars
  • Field Marshal (musheer) – wears crossed olive branches (ghasn zaytun), with crossed swords in between, and an eagle above

The current constitution of the Egyptian military has three officers at the rank of Lieutenant General. These head the Navy (quwat bahriyya), Air Force (quwat jawiyya), and Air Defense (difa’ jawwi). The head of the army proper is also the Chief of Staff, at a rank of Colonel General. The members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are all at the rank of Major General or above.

As a final note, translations of the above are qualified as the research of a civilian, but all is from the public domain. More knowledgeable readers are invited to submit their corrections.