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Current Events Jayson

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.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Nothing was Inevitable

From Ibrahim al-Hudaiby, a former Muslim Brotherhood youth leader, in Ahram Online. He writes that the primary reason for the fall of Morsi was his personal failures and those of his group.

His list is lengthy and worth reading, but this entry in particular is worth remembering:

After 30 June, Morsi did not call for a referendum. Had he done so, he would have prevented “military intervention.” Instead, he prioritised his group that crumbles in self-criticism when it fails with the masses and unites under threat; he chose to be ousted at the hands of the army 3 July, not by the masses on 30 June. He chose to cancel out the entire scene of the masses from the picture and consciousness (there were even comical statements about using Photoshop), in order to maintain the coherence of the group.

By choosing to fall to the army, Morsi and the Brotherhood can now frame their failures as a coup d’etat. The constitution, however, gave him legitimacy to call for a public referendum. He may have won or lost, but he would have been admitting the massive public uprising against his rule.

Houdaiby’s analysis is poignant. Speaking as a former member, he attributes this decision to the Brotherhood’s inability to accept internal criticism and reflection. They chose instead to rally their faithful against an enemy, as times of crisis do not permit introspection.

This decision, he argues, has led us to the dangerous impasse we are in. From his conclusion:

After that, the Muslim Brotherhood chose to play the most treacherous card, by claiming the army was divided (for the first two weeks we heard endless rumours about splits in the Second and Third armies, etc). The military, like the Muslim Brotherhood, was also a group that needed to demonise the other in order to maintain its unity, and so it did.

This pleased some media figures and members of state institutions, which paved the way to horrendous crimes against protestors.

And thus, each side came to demonise the other.

Sad. Demonization tears society apart as it seeks to patch over internal fissures and contradictions. Let us not put anything past the susceptibility of mankind to be manipulated and deceived, but inasmuch as this demonization is a construct, must it not fail eventually?

The question is if its failure will lead to only more destruction. Will the plugged-up fissures explode, or diffuse the situation by letting out necessary steam?

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Muslim Brotherhood Newspaper Soldiers on Despite Crackdown

This is a very interesting article from Reuters:

Whenever Muslim Brotherhood journalist Islam Tawfiq files a story about the group’s struggle for survival for its newspaper Freedom and Justice, he fears his Internet address will tip off state security agents to his whereabouts.

Thousands of Brotherhood members have been arrested in a widening crackdown on the group since the army deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3.

Reporters for the newspaper, which still appears in a tiny fraction of its previous circulation, see themselves as the last people left to tell the Brotherhood’s side of the story in a country dominated by media that back the military crackdown.

The price, the journalists say, is an underground existence, moving from place to place, communicating from Internet cafes, rarely seeing family or friends.

“The greatest form of jihad is speaking up against an unjust authority,” Tawfiq, 27, said by telephone from an undisclosed location, citing the words of the Prophet Mohammad.

It also has two very interesting tidbits of information I did not know previously about the paper. The first concerns where it got its money:

He and about 50 others produce Freedom and Justice. It used to be a 16-page daily but is now half that length because, since the arrest of Saad al-Katatni, chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party and the newspaper’s financier, it has no money.

And the second concerns who printed it, and does still:

A mystery is why the government, which has closed down Islamist television channels, still allows the paper to be printed on the presses of the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.

Some suggest it may help keep tabs on the movement, in the knowledge that the paper is struggling to stay afloat and reaching only a small audience. It also could provide a defense against accusations that the government is suppressing dissent.

The article also mentions that none of the paper’s employees are arrested, though it tells a horrific story of a photographer who was killed at a protest.

Now that we are back in Egypt after a long visit away, I am curious to find out the condition of mid-level Brotherhood members. I called one on the phone from the US and he spoke freely. Others, even prominent members, appear to speak freely in the press. Reports say that 100s have been arrested; do the rest live in immanent fear?

But courage to the FJP journalists who are still trying to tell their side of the story. I only hope they tell it objectively, rather than continuing in the pattern of partisan press they and others engaged in prior to the deposing of Morsi.

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Safwat Hegazi, Stool Pigeon?

This is an unbelievable video of Safwat Hegazi in custody. In previous posts I summarized his controversial statements as conveyed in the media, and provided an interview with him conducted by AWR.

Here is a translation of the written Arabic caption in the video:

0:06 – I swear by God Almighty, I am not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but no one believes this.

0:15 – I swear by God, if I knew there was a single knife in Rabia al-Adawiya (site of the MB sit-in) meant to kill a soldier, I would have left them.

0:43 – If I could go back in time I would not have stood by the Brotherhood ([spoken, not in caption] – not because they are terrorists but) because they don’t know how to do anything right.

1:39 – I am not against the deposing of Morsi nor his trial. There is no one in the world above the court.

Simply incredible. What is this man’s reality?

Categories
Current Events Jayson

AWR Interview with Safwat Hegazi

Safwat Hegazi
Safwat Hegazi

The following is from the newsletter of Arab West Report. Unfortunately, it is not available at its website due to its recent hacking.

————————

On May 31, 2012, Jayson Casper wrote about the controversial preacher Dr. Safwat Hegazy (Safwāt Hijāzī) for Arab-West Report (AWR) on the basis of what he had found in media reporting and on the internet. Please click here to read this report.

Hegazy is controversial for statements through which he has been accused of inciting violence. On August 21 he was arrested in Siwa Oasis. He is demanded by the prosecution. The Cairo Appellate Court has scheduled a session on the 7th of September to start his trial. He has been recorded on the stage at Rāba’ah protests on July 28 saying, “if a person throws on Morsi water (figuratively: if someone approaches Morsi), we shall throw on him blood (figuratively: kill him).”

We met with Dr. Safwat Hegazy on Thursday, July 25, one day before the military initiated efforts to end the Rāba’ah protests. He made a very pleasant appearance and seemed secure.

Dr. Safwat Hegazy explained when, in his view, violence can be used: anyone can kill President Bashar al-Assad (Bashār al-Asad) because of his crimes against humanity. Also Israeli soldiers can be targeted since they are at war with Palestinians. By the same token, one can imagine what he could have said after the army used force to end the sit-ins—we are attacked and thus have the right to defend ourselves by force. He did not say this in this interview, but we have heard people expressing the opinion that violence is allowed to be used if attacked.

Several of his statements were different from what we had expected from the reporting about him. “Anyone has the right to insult Islam, oppose it or criticize it,” he says, but not the Prophet Muhammad. Safwat Hegazy has no problems with Coptic Christians in leading positions. He would not object to a Coptic governor or a Coptic president. He also stated that he helped to find an end of tensions in areas where churches had been attacked. But he also stated publicly that he believed that 60% of those who demonstrated against Mursi are Christians: “and this is the truth that we know and the Churches were calling for people to march and participate in these demonstrations, and the Churches and the priests and the chaplains, announced in many videos that they are against an Islamic president and against an Islamic parliament and that they refuse this system and that this system must change.”  That sentiment explains, but does NOT justify, the massive violence we have witnessed against churches and Christian institutions on August 15 and 16.

Dr. Safwat Hegazy also explained the Islamist point of view on what they call the coup d’état on July 3. He agreed with us that there should have been parliamentary elections, but blames the Egyptian judiciary and liberals for creating obstacles to holding elections. He demanded President Muhammad Morsi’s (Mursī) return—a view that we have also heard from many others we have met at Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah. One notices from Safwat Hegazy and many others a strong feeling that they were wronged.

Dr. Safwat Hegazy did not object to any question being asked. As a basis for our questions we used Jayson Casper’s previous article that was based on a media research since at that time he was not accessible for an interview.

There are noted differences between what we knew from Safwat Hegazy through media reporting and this interview with him. He is a conservative Muslim scholar, a man with strong beliefs and ideals who appears not to have been very strong in documenting his own work (references to videos, but texts are much weaker. He gave one statement to the military but did not keep a copy).

Safwat Hegazy was presented as the firebrand who wanted the Coptic governor of Qena to be removed, but from Hegazy’s story one learns that he was asked by the SCAF to go to Qena and quell the unrest by telling the people that the governor would be removed.

On the church burning in Sūl (2011), he said he was opposed to the burning and asked for rebuilding the church. Church building “should be solved by law and that the law should be enforced on who is wrong and who is right, and investigate the issue and judge the guilty. If a Muslim is wrong he should be judged according to the law, and if a Christian is wrong he should be judged according to the law. That was our recommendation to the Prime Minister and to the Military Council and they didn’t take it into consideration.”

From Safwat Hegazy story one can ask about the relations between Islamists, security, and the military. It appears that the security and military have been using Hegazy to end unrest in the streets, but neglected several of his recommendations that, from hearing his side of the story, do not seem to be unreasonable.

Dr. Wafaa Hefny, granddaughter of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, was also at the Rāba’ah al-‘Adawīyyah and told us after the interview (that she did not attend) that Safwat Hegazy is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hegazy also did not claim this. He is an independent Islamist with sympathies for both Salafīs and Muslim Brothers.

Dr. Safwat Hegazy was arrested on August 21 for his fiery preaching against the sacking of Morsi and it seems he will not be accessible for some time to come for interviews. It is sad that obvious political differences could not be addressed in dialogue.

The interview took place in Arabic. Questions were asked by Cornelis Hulsman. It was recorded and later, in our office, translated by Daniela De Maria and Ahmed Deiab.

Cornelis Hulsman: I would like to know about your background. You are a member of the Association of Sunnah Scholars. What organization is this?

Safwat Hegazy (Safwāt Hijāzī): The members of this association are only ulamāʾ (scholars), and must be Sunnī ulamāʾ, from the Four Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence: Hanafite, Malikite, Shafi’ite, and Hanbalite. This is what the association is in brief.

CH: You are the Secretary-General of the Revolution’s Board of Trustees. What organization is this? You said that you are focused on preaching but this is politics.

SH: No, it’s revolutionary. I have no relation with politics. I am not a member of any party or any group, but I was elected as a member of the Revolution’s Board of Trustees because I participated in the January 25, 2011 Revolution as one of the leaders and main figures. The Revolution’s Board of Trustees in Mīdān al-Tahrīr (Tahrir Square) was responsible for organization at the square; responsible for its safety, food, night-camping, cleaning, and for everything that is related to Mīdān al-Tahrīr and it’s made of a big group of revolutionaries and they chose me to be their general secretary. It is not a political entity, but a revolutionary entity to protect…

CH: But isn’t revolution politics?

SH: Maybe.

CH: A revolution is a part of politics.

SH: A revolution is a political action, but [the board] only deals with the revolutionary operations and actions, so the Revolution’s Board of Trustees was the one that organized most of the actions going on in Mīdān al- Tahrīr before the 2012 parliamentary elections. The Revolution’s Board of Trustees was the one to make counter-propaganda to the members of the old regime’s National Democratic Party in the parliamentary elections or any election. The Revolution’s Board of Trustees is the one is the first revolutionary entities to announce its support to the candidacy of Dr. Muhammad Morsi [for the presidential elections] and it was the first revolutionary entity to reject the current coup d’état and to call for this sit-in and to participate to it.

CH: You were the first to reject the July 3 coup [explanation: Hulsman was not at all intending to go in a debate here on whether this was coup d’état or revolution. For Safwat Hegazy there was no question about this, this was a coup d’état.

SH: Yes.

CH: Ok. So, what about the Islamic Legitimate Body of Rights and Reformation that you are a member off?

SH: It is an Egyptian association, legitimate, also made by ulamāʾ [Muslim religious scholars], but it is only Egyptian, and it is local, inside Egypt. There is an Association of Sunnah Scholars, but the Islamic Legitimate Body of Rights and Reformation is only in Egypt. It is made of ulamāʾ and established during the Egyptian Revolution. In the January 25 Egyptian Revolution there were ulamāʾ who refused the Revolution and refused to take part in it and ulamāʾ who supported the Revolution and took part in it. This association is made by the ulamāʾ who supported the Revolution and took part in it. The association cares about the Islamic [sharī’ah] side and the scientific side of political rights and rights in general. And I am a founding member of it.

CH: About your membership of the last association, well-known in the West… you are a member of the National Council for Human Rights.

SH: The National Council for Human Rights is a council present in Egypt and founded by Hosni Mubarak (Husnī Mubārak), who set its rules and system, and at the time of Hosni Mubarak it had a basic task which was to make Hosni Mubarak regime look better in front of the world in the context of human rights. And its members were selected, and the rules and regulations were set for this purpose.

After the election of President Muhammad Morsi, there was a reforming of this council, and I was elected as a member. In this phase it had a main objective, which was changing the old laws of the old National Council for Human Rights and to make the council an effective entity that controls and monitors human rights in Egypt. And indeed it became effective, but then this coup came and everything stopped.

CH: What is exactly your role in the National Council for Human Rights?

SH: I did mainly three things. The first one is participating in creating the new law and the new organization for the council. Secondly, I presented to the council a project for an Egyptian Charter for Human Rights. The council has the project in which I mainly addressed the laws for Egyptian human rights. The third point is developing of the project for an Egyptian Court for Human Rights. The laws for its organization are complete, but the decision was being studied, until then came the coup. These are the three main things that I did. There was a fourth thing for which I was responsible, which is the Council for the Rights of Palestinian Refugees. Thank God we were able to do many things for the rights of the Palestinian Refugees in Egypt.

CH: Thank you. Are all your activities documented and would you be willing to share this with us?

SH: Yes, of course, everything is documented, but I don’t have it with me right now.

CH: No, I don’t mean now, but I am looking for documentation because we make a lot of studies.

SH: Yes, the laws of the council are documented, and hopefully we will be able to e-mail them to you. The project for the Egyptian charter is documented, as well as the project for the Egyptian Court for Human Rights.

CH: So maybe can you send them to me?

SH: Yes, I will.

CH: Thank you.

About Syria: Western journalists wrote about the fatwá that you pronounced on President Bashar al-Assad (Bashār al-Asad), saying that anybody can kill him. What do you mean exactly by this? Because people keep on mentioning this about you.

SH: Yes, I pronounced this fatwá. Bashar al-Assad, according to human rights laws, is a war criminal. According to the Hague Court…

CH: In the Netherlands.

SH: Yes. According to their classification, Bashar is a war criminal. In Islam war criminals must be executed.

CH: But who decides he can be executed?

SH: It is not Safwat Hegazy who says that. I’m not the only person to make this fatwá, many Islamic associations made it.

CH: Who?

SH: Like the International Union for Muslim Scholars, the Association of Sunnī Scholars, Islamic Legitimate Body of Rights and Reformation, the Syrian Association of Sunnī Scholars… many.

CH: Did they make the same fatwá or this is only from you?

SH: The same fatwá.

CH: In the news was also written that any Muslim could kill any Israeli walking in the street.

SH: No, this is not true. This dates back to 2007… they refer to the war of 2007, the war between Hezbollah (Hizb’allah) and Israel…

CH: Yes, in Gaza.

SH: Yes, Operation Cast Lead. And it was after the war of Hezbollah in Lebanon against Israel. And I said it about the Israeli army.

CH: The army. So, not civilians?

SH: Not any Jews (civilians), I said “the Israeli army”, because they are militants and kill our brothers and our sons and they have no right to take our land.

CH: But, we all know that most Israelis served in their army, so what about civilians who are in the reserve?

SH: As long as he is still a soldier in the Israeli army and can carry weapons at any moment and kill an Arab civilian, he is an enemy. And it’s the same in Israel: Meir Kahane, and other Rabbis in Israel, they made a religious decree saying that any Arab should be killed.

CH: And anyone who talks against Islam should be killed? The American film against Islam, “Innocence of Muslims”. There were protests in front of the American embassy in Cairo last year because of this movie. Your idea is that anyone involved in producing such a film should be killed?

SH: No, no, no. Anyone has the right to insult Islam, oppose it or criticize it. I can never say that he should be killed for it, never. It is anyone’s right: your right, this girl’s right [pointing to one of our interns], to say that Islam is bad, that it is terrorism, that it is an extremist religion, that you don’t like Islam, it is your right. I will not judge you, or punish you, or beat you, or kill you—it is not my right.

CH: Because this was in the news and also a Coptic youth in Asyūt was sentenced for blasphemy, he wrote something on Facebook and it attracted  a lot of media attention.

SH: No, no, no, I refuse these talks about killing a Copt or a Christian because he wrote something about Islam that I don’t like. No way, I refuse this. But there is a very crucial point and it is if a person says that [Prophet] Muhammad (peace be upon him) is crazy.

You have to respect me and my belief. This is the problem. But one who doesn’t like Islam, I could never kill him and if a Muslim kills a Copt because he doesn’t like Islam, he should be prosecuted.

CH: The thing is that the Copts in Egypt are scared.

SH: I’m not talking about the Copts in Egypt only, I’m talking about anybody in the world. Let alone the Copts in Egypt. They live with us and we live with them, they work with us and we work with them. Me, in my company, I have Coptic workers.

CH: You have Copts? Where?

SH: At work, I have Copts.

CH: Who?

SH: There is Jirjis Fawzi, who is the carpenter. We have a big contracting company, and the head of carpenters is Jirjis Fawzi. And he is an expert in carpentry, and he is the one who built my house, my villa, he is the one who made it. I have… the engineer (who made the aluminum windows)—he is Christian and his name is Tamir, Tamir Mikhael in my company, and he’s Christian. So there is no problem between the Copts and us, at all, not even daily life troubles. But as there are extremist Muslims, in the same way there are extremist Copts.

CH: But also about the Copts, you said that 60% of the….

SH: That 60% of the protesters in Ittihādīya were Copts.

Yes, I said that. And I say that 60% of those who joined the demonstrations on the 30th of June were Copts. Why do I say this? Because the Egyptian Church took this way. The Egyptian Church participated in the coup with the presence of Pope Tawadros, as well as al-Azhar took part in it with the presence of the Shaykh of al-Azhar. I object to the position of the al-Azhar Shaykh and Pope Tawadros in supporting the coup, and I request that the Shaykh and Pope Tawadros are dismissed. There is no difference for me between Muslims or Christians who took part in this coup. I said that 60% of who took part in the Ittihādīya demonstrations and the July 3 coup are Christians, and this is the truth that we know and the Churches were calling for people to march and participate in these demonstrations, and the Churches and the priests and the chaplains, announced in many videos that they are against an Islamic president and against an Islamic parliament and that they refuse this system and that this system must change.

CH: But do you understand why Copts are against an Islamic president and an Islamic parliament? Because they are scared. The problem is here in Egypt. I’ve been in this country for 35 years, but for the fear, there must be a dialogue. We must cooperate with each other. There is a great fear here, and fear is not good for anybody.

SH: What can we do to remove this fear? Shall we decide that Egypt will not have an Islamic president? Or shall we sit and talk and discuss and understand who has fear and what they have a fear of? Did we experience an Islamic president who oppressed the Copts? It did not happen. Did Muhammad Morsi, during the year of his ruling, oppress the Copts? Did he attack the rights of the Copts? Absolutely not. I am one of the people who suggested that we put in the Egyptian Constitution an article that says that when non-Muslims have a controversy it will be judged according to their religious law, in their beliefs and practices and in the individual personal status matters. I am the one who asked for it, I am the one who insisted for the presence of this article to guarantee the right for Copts in Egypt to worship according to their religion and deal with the civil matters, such as marriage and heritage, according to what their religion says.

CH: Is there a dialogue between you and any important Coptic figure, such as Bishop Moussa, for example? He has dialogues with many Muslims; he is very well known for it. I also know people who don’t want such dialogue, but he has a lot of dialogues with the Muslims. Do you know Bishop Moussa personally?

SH: Yes, I know him.

CH: What’s your opinion on Bishop Moussa and people like him?

SH: I absolutely have no problem in dialoguing or cooperating or living with the Copts. I strongly believe that we will solve any problem with the Copts from its bases, if there is any problem. However, we do have two or three main problems. The first problem is the media, the Egyptian media.

CH: Yes, I know [I know of several examples where Egyptian media have not given a fair picture of Islamists or Islamist views]

SH: The second problem is the old cultural heritage of the West. They act according to this heritage. The third problem is the fear, the fear from others, from any other person that is different. And it is human nature to walk away from things that scare me. I don’t see any problem. But there is a fourth problem, which is the Coptic emigrants, who want to create a big problem in Egypt. This is a very important problem.

CH: This is important but it comes from media. They don’t live here in Egypt, so it’s because they are influenced by the information on Egypt that comes from the media.

SH: Yes exactly, it’s the media.

CH: But Jirjis, who works with you, he knows you, so there is no problem.

SH: Yes Jirjis… After the Revolution, for a whole year the company didn’t have work, but the employees still receive their salaries. Jirjis, he got another job offer with a higher salary, so he came to me and said, “I received a job offer for a higher salary but I would like to stay with you, so paying for me a salary without me working, will it cause a problem?” I said, “No there is no problem”. He said, “Would you like me to stay here?” I said, “Yes, I want you to stay here”. So he refused the other job and continued with me. After one month he refused to take more than half of his salary and has been working with me for 8 years, and we’re getting along.

CH: Jayson mentioned in his article Shaykh Umar ‘Abd al-Kāfī. Who is he exactly and what is the relationship between the two of you?

SH: Umar ‘Abd al-Kāfī is one of the ulamāʾ who was living in Egypt in the eighties, and was giving weekly lectures in a mosque called Asad Ibn al-Furāt mosque. He had a huge audience, thousands of people, which caused a problem with the police. They accused him of incitement against Christians. I was a young boy and he was one of my teachers among the other Shaykhs, that’s it, that’s all the relationship between me and Umar ‘Abd al-Kāfī. After that he moved to the Emirates, where he lives until now.

CH: Until now?

SH: Until now.

CH: But he doesn’t talk about Egypt or the Revolution?

SH: No, absolutely. He has nothing to do with the Revolution or with the Christians in Egypt, nor with the leadership of Egypt, at all. He lives in the Emirates, in Dubai, and he is very close to the governors of the Emirates and to Muhammad Bin Rashīd, ruler of Dubai.

CH: I was befriended with Shaykh ‘Abd al-Mūatī al-Bayūmī. Do you know him?

SH: Yes.

CH: He was a great thinker.

[no response]

CH: Anyway, about Qena. In Qena there was a Christian governor, but it has been written that you opposed the presence of a Christian governor in Qena.

SH: It is absolutely not true.

CH: What exactly happened with the last Christian governor in Qena?

SH: In Qena, after the Revolution, Prime Minister ‘Issām Sharaf appointed a Christian governor. The people of Qena refused this decision and revolted against it in Qena, so the Military Council, which was governing the country at that time, represented by Colonel Hassan al-Rūīnī, called me and asked me to go to Qena to dismiss the revolt and solve the problem, because of my good relationship with Christians and Muslims, as there had been a previous problem between Muslims and Christian in a Church in ‘Atfīh, in the village of Sūl, and I was the one who solved it.

CH: I know the issue of Sūl. Let’s continue first on Qena and then we can talk about Sūl.

SH: So Hassan al-Rūīnī asked me and Shaykh Muhammad Hassan to go to Qena to solve the problem. So we went there and met the Muslims and we persuaded them that revolting and using violence is not a solution to the problem. Dr. ‘Issām Sharaf and Hassan al-Rūīnī called us and said that we could change the governor, but the people had to go back to their houses. So I told the people that we could change the governor on the bases of what the Prime Minister and the Military Council said. So people left and went back home and the governor was changed. That’s my whole story regarding Qena. But I never refuse that a Christian governor takes charge of any governorate in Egypt. That’s the story about Qena. I didn’t support the people’s revolt; I didn’t refuse the Christian governor, that didn’t happen. But it was according to the words of the Prime Minister and the Military Council.

Concerning the village of Sūl, what happened—without going into details—is that a church was destroyed and the Muslims revolted and clashed. I was also asked by the Prime Minister and the Military Council to go to Sūl, me and Shaykh Muhammad Hassan, to solve the problem. We convinced the people to dismiss and to rebuild the church and the army will rebuild the church. It’s not the right of Muslims to destroy a church owned by Christians. The youths listened to us, and left and the church was rebuilt. If Sawfat Hegazy opposed, hated or didn’t want the Copts in Egypt, would he have solved these problems?

CH: But on Sūl… I wrote about Sūl, I know people from Sūl—a Christian lawyer who is from Sūl, but lives in Cairo. There were mistakes there—that there was Christian man [in a relationship] with a Muslim girl that initiated tensions with Muslims

SH: That was our recommendation that we presented to the Military Council. The first problem was to get people [Christians] back to their houses and to leave the matter to the law, and this is the main point: that we got people back to their houses and that the church was rebuilt. And we wrote to the Prime Minister and to the Military Council that the problem should be solved by law and that the law should be enforced on who is wrong and who is right, and investigate the issue and judge the guilty. If a Muslim is wrong he should be judged according to the law, and if a Christian is wrong he should be judged according to the law. That was our recommendation to the Prime Minister and to the Military Council and they didn’t take it into consideration.

CH: Is that documented?

SH: Yes, it is documented, they have it.

CH: How? Our work needs documentation…

SH: That is documented in videos, we said that in videos. When I went to Hassan al-Ruiny, at the Military Council, he told me to write what I wanted to do, so I wrote what I wanted to do and I gave him the paper and this is why I don’t have a copy of it.

CH: Hopefully you will be able to give us the link to the video.

SH: Yes, if you go on YouTube and if you search the Sūl case, you will find my speeches in the village of Sūl.

CH: Now, Imbābah.  What do you think about the burning of the church in Imbābah?

SH: On the burning of the Imbābah church—in Egypt they call me “The Firefighter”, who extinguished the fire. In Imbābah there was a problem in the church, we went there as the Revolution’s Board of Trustees because this happened immediately after the Revolution. We had nothing to do with the issue and we found out that the Ministry of Interior was responsible for the problem.

CH: What did the Ministry of Interior do?

SH: The information that I have, I’m not sure if it’s right or wrong. As a habit, if the information that I have is right, I say it, while if the information that I have is not verified, I say I don’t know. The information that we got is that what happened there is that a police officer opened fire on the church and he had a group of thugs with him. They threw Molotovs at the church. So the Muslims and Christians inhabitants stood against this and the problem happened. At that time the Ministry of Interior was causing many of these problems to hinder the Revolution; it was playing the role of what was known as “the third party” [when there is two parts against each other and a third one comes up and pushes both sides to fight], and my role was… Imbābah has many churches, nearly four churches, and what I did is that we took some Muslims youths from the revolutionaries to protect the other churches. They protected the rest of the churches so no one would attack any other church. That’s my entire role in Imbābah. After that, one of the main tasks of the Revolution’s Board of Trustees was to stand in front of the gates of the churches and ceremonies of the Copts, so that they can prevent any extremist Muslim from getting near the church.

CH: In Egypt journalists and TV representatives are talking about civil war in Egypt. There are Islamists and non-Islamists, Muslims and non-Muslims. My opinion is that Egypt is a country for all Egyptians, not the Islamists only, not the Christians only, not the Liberals only; everybody.

SH: Let me tell you something about my political view, which you can find shown in some TV programs. Can a Christian run for the presidency of Egypt? I say “yes”. If the Egyptian people chose a Christian to govern Egypt, that’s it, this is the people’s will. This is my principle. The person who the people want to be the ruler, should rule. If the people chose an Islamist to govern, he should govern. We should all support that president. If the people chose a Liberal, if the people chose a Christian, a Copt, then he governs, that’s it; that’s the people’s will and we should respect it. This…

CH: Yes, that’s right.

SH: This is my opinion. Therefore, when an article was proposed for the Constitution–I had a strong relationship with the Constitutional Committee—that the President of the Republic must be Muslim, I said, “No”. The President of the Republic must be Egyptian. Muslim, Christian, Liberal, Communist…

CH: … Jewish

SH: Jewish, if there were any Jews living in Egypt. In Egypt there are no more than 50 Jews.

All of them older than 70.

CH: I know, I know.

SH: That’s why I didn’t mention the word Jews. But he must be Egyptian. This is my principle and my political view. Can the Prime Minister be Christian? Yes, the Prime Minister can be Christian. In front of the civil law, Christians are exactly like Muslims. This is my opinion. And on this basis, the issue is not about Morsi being an Islamic President…

CH: Is he an Islamic president or an Egyptian president?

SH: No, I’m clarifying this to you. The issue is not about Morsi being an Islamic [president]. Instead, it is about being a president—Egyptian, civilian, elected through fair, free elections. And I said on this stage [of Rāba’a al-‘Adawīyah] that if Hamdīn Sabāhī was the President of the Republic and the army staged a coup against him, I would refuse that coup and take this same position and fill the squares in support of Hamdīn Sabāhī. This is the issue.

CH: Now, the people of the coup are not with the Islamists…

SH: Excuse me, before you continue. The Military Council, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi (’Abd al-Fattāh al-Sīsī), wanted to make the matter a religious matter. The coup and al-Sisi wanted to make Morsi’s matter a religious one. How? He brought Church’s Pope and from the Azhar Shaykh.

CH:  I am sorry. That’s wrong.

SH: Isn’t it?

CH: That’s a mistake.

SH: Yes. So he changed the issue from a coup to a religious issue between Muslims and Christians. The Muslims were hurt by the fact that the Church’s Pope took part in deposing an Islamic President. Ahmad al-Tayyīb, Shaykh of al-Azhar, as a person, not as an authority, he is a man from the remnants of the old regime and sits in political committees and was supporting Ahmad Shafiq (Shafīq) in the presidential elections. And the presence of Ahmad al-Tayyīb gave a religious dimension to the issue and related it to the old regime. And this was the first step of al-Sisi leading to a civil war in Egypt. His second step, it’s yesterday’s speech, in which he invited his supporters to demonstrate in the streets. How do you invite your supporters to protest while your opposition is in the street? We are absolutely not considering going to Midān al-Tahrīr. Midān al-Tahrīr is our property from January 25. But we refused to go to Midān al-Tahrīr because there are some mercenaries. Concerning the possibility of a civil war in Egypt, we, as supporters of the President [Morsi], would never use a weapon against an Egyptian. Never.

CH: Yesterday al-Sisi made his statement. What is the situation now in Egypt? President Morsi obtained 51% of votes in the elections, while Shafiq got 49. Egypt now is divided. Some are with Morsi, some are against Morsi, but where is the dialogue in Egypt? For Egypt’s economy this is not good. All the people here… I see here, everyone wants to live, everyone wants to eat, this is the human being—that is the people.

SH: You are from the Netherlands, right?

CH: I have been living in Egypt for several years.

SH: But you are from Holland. And they are from Holland as well? [Referring to the interns.]

CH: No, no, they are from Italy and he’s from England.

SH: In Italy, in England, in Holland, do you accept that the army stages a military coup against democracy and takes over and oust the elected Prime Minister? Does anyone accept that?

CH: No, but in Europe, in England, in Italy, in Holland, there are democratic institutions and if anything happens the Parliament decides if the Prime Minister or the President will continue or not. Here, where is the parliament?

SH: This is what we are asking for and this is what the president, Muhammad Morsi, is asking for. President Muhammad Morsi says that we have been trying to run parliamentary elections and to constitute a parliament for a year now, but the Constitutional Court is hindering these elections, as are the Liberals. We want to continue the democratic experiment in Egypt. We elected a president and he became the elected president. With 51% or 50.5%, anyway what matters is he got the majority of votes and he became an elected president for Egypt. He must continue his term. The parliament is the only faction that can judge the president and depose the president and decide whether there should be early presidential elections or not. We told them to make elections and constitute a parliament and you as opposition to Morsi, since you claim to have 30 million people who went in the streets, you will surely win the elections. Depose Morsi according to the law. Am I wrong? This is what we asked for and what we are asking for. We will not go back again to the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser (Jamāl ‘Abd al- Nāsser) or Mubarak where the army rules. It’s impossible. You know that there is a temporary president for the country. Is he a real president? Does he do the tasks of the president? Does he have power? Does he get to make decisions? Who is ruling Egypt? Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. He is the one who is ruling. So this is what we are asking for.

We are asking for the following points: first, the return of the elected president to perform his tasks, without conditions or restrictions. Secondly, running parliamentary elections as soon as possible. Thirdly, the parliament gets to decide on the judgment or the deposal of the president. Whatever the parliament does, we will accept it. Fourth, forming a commission to amend the Egyptian Constitution. Fifth, forming a commission for national reconciliation. The return of the Egyptian Constitution; the return of the temporary Shūrá Council—this is what we ask for. Simple as that. We will go back to our houses and run elections and if they have the majority in the streets they will reach the majority in the parliament. If they have the majority in parliament they have the right to govern and to depose the president, and at that time we will support the deposal of the president, if it’s the parliament who deposes the president. But, if we go to the streets and claim to be 30 million or 20 million and we want to depose the president… I also can make the claim that we are 20 million, can you tell if I am honest or lying?

CH: But if there are parliamentary elections…

SH: This is what we are saying, me and the Revolution’s Board of Trustees, it’s what we are asking and this is what all the Islamic parties are saying.

CH: Thank you. About tomorrow: will something happen? [There were fears that on Friday July 26 there could be tensions and fights]

SH: Hopefully tomorrow nothing will happen. We don’t have weapons, we won’t carry weapons. We don’t know how to kill, we don’t kill anyone. This will continue being a peaceful revolution. I suggest that you take a walk in the square at night with Hussein from the Media Center or Walīd Haddād or anyone. You will see with your own eyes that there is no terrorism or weapons. Tomorrow I don’t expect anything to happen. I only think that there will be some thugs and those thugs are moved by the State Security. We are quite sure of this. They can cause some problems, as it happens every day. Some people from us might die and they could go to Tahrīr, the thugs, and kill some people so we are accused of it. If we wanted to take over Midān al-Tahrīr we would have done it long ago, but we don’t want that. And hopefully tomorrow everything will go fine.

CH: Hopefully. Our interns have questions.

Daniela De Maria: I read that you have been banned from entering France. Why?

SH: No, I’m not banned from entering France. In the time of Sarkozy there was an Islamic conference that me and a group of Shaykhs were invited to attend and to give a speech in. But the Ministry of Interior took the decision. The French Ministry of Interior or the French government was heading toward elections, so they wanted to win the votes of Jews and some French extremists in France…

CH: Did this happen during the time a Jewish school in France was attacked and children were killed?

SH: Yes.

So they wanted to prevent the Borjè conference from being held, but they failed because if they had done it they would have lost the votes of the Muslims in France so instead they decided to prevent from entering all the scholars that were supposed to participate in the conference that year, such as Shaykh al-Qaradāwī, Safwat Hegazy, ‘A’īd al-Qarnī, and a huge group, who don’t have any relationship with politics… Shaykhs like A’ed al-Qarnī or Mahmūd al-Masrī have nothing to do with politics, revolution, or anything else, but they were banned anyway for this trip only, but afterwards I went to France.

Rob Bental: What is your opinion on the role of foreign countries in Egypt right now and what do you think their role should be?

SH: In the current crisis?

RB: Yes.

SH: If this military coup was in any other country, would Europe or the European countries accept or recognize this coup or they would reject it? They would reject it, definitely. This is what we want from the European countries. We want the European countries to reject this coup and this government, and get back the elected president. I requested the European Union to come to supervise the next parliamentary elections. Europe must help and protect the Egyptian democratic experiment.

CH: Thank you very much.

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Current Events Jayson

Safwat Hegazi: Bellweather of Egyptian Islamism?

Safwat Hegazi
Safwat Hegazi

Safwat Hegazi has long been an interest of mine due to his inflammatory rhetoric in favor of Islamism. This article was written for Arab West Report before the removal of President Morsi from his office, in preparation for a hopeful interview. Cornelis Hulsman was able to secure this interview during the sit-in protest, and this will be published here in a subsequent post. Since then, Hegazi has been arrested for inciting violence.  Unfortunately, the database of AWR remains inaccessible due to hacking.

………….

The Islamist landscape in Egypt is often seen through the lens of two dominant groupings: The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, the latter of which have splintered into several smaller political parties. But Sunni Islam, lacking an organizational hierarchy, facilitates the emergence of independent scholars on the basis of their knowledge and charisma. Though the Brotherhood and Salafi Nour Party are rightly understood as the prime movers in Islamist politics, the influence of individual actors must not be discounted. Among the most prominent is Safwat Hegazi.

Despite his general independence, Hegazi is often identified – rightly or wrongly – as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Regardless, his strident pro-revolutionary and pro-Islamist positions frequently place him in support of President Muhammad Morsi in general, and in support of an even larger Islamist project in particular, as will be seen. These positions are not just his own, but reflect his position as the secretary-general of the Revolution’s Board of Trustees, one of many revolutionary groupings, and from membership in two Islamist/Salafi organizations, the Legitimate Association for Rights and Reform, and the Association of Sunnah Scholars, which he heads.

Most controversial, however, is Hegazi’s membership in the National Council for Human Rights. This semi-governmental watchdog was reconstituted by Morsi to replace the Mubarak and NDP dominated council with twenty-five new members. Liberals and leftists received a share of the seats, but critics complained of Islamist domination and the appointment of figures with no experience or demonstrated commitment to international human rights norms. Hegazi was singled out as an example.

Among the complaints is Hegazi’s willingness to shed blood.

He issued a fatwa not only licensing the assassination of Syrian President Bashār al-Asad, but also declaring ‘a sinner’ anyone who did not do so. ‘Killing Asad is a duty of the Islamic nation,’ he declared, taking legitimacy from other organizations who issued similar statements.

While Syria can be considered a domain of war, Hegazi’s pronouncement of death extends further. lAnother fatwa urges Muslims to kill any Israeli found walking in the streets, saying the day will come when Muslims rule the world. He also announced he would personally kill someone who insults Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, though he was careful to emphasize he was not asking the public to assume this responsibility.

Finally, in the context of demonstrations at the presidential palace over Morsi’s controversial constitutional declaration placing his decisions beyond judicial oversight, Hegazi warned demonstrating Copts. Repeating Islamist claims that over sixty percent of protesters were Christians, he saw a conspiracy to overthrow the president. Copts share this country with us, he admitted, but declared there were red lines. ‘Whoever threatens it [presidential legitimacy] with water,’ he said, ‘we will threaten him with blood.’

An anti-Christian sentiment can be detected as well in earlier incidents. Upon return of the fiery and polemical Islamist preacher ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Kāfī to Egypt after thirteen years in exile, Hegazi was there to meet him at the airport. But it was his conduct in Qena which speaks more fully to the issue.

After the revolution the ruling military council replaced Mubarak-era governors and appointed new ones in their stead. Qena, with a large Christian minority, had been the one governorate with a Coptic head, and his replacement with another Copt sparked huge protests and cutting of the railway line. Some rejected him for his role in suppressing protests as a member of the police force during the revolution, but much of the protest centered on his religious identity.

Hegazi was part of a team dispatched by the military council to help calm the situation, but instead took the side of the demonstrators. ‘Your demands are our responsibility,’ he declared. ‘No one can impose on us something we do not want.’ In a later, unrelated incident, Hegazi also condemned Shia Muslims, declaring their faith to be blasphemy.

In the accessed media, the motivation for Hegazi’s stances is unclear, but there is space to see it primarily as revolutionary, rather than as sectarian. His is an Islamist activism, but it is revolutionary all the same. Sometimes, these come into conflict.

This was apparent during a summer demonstration in Tahrir Square in 2011 against military rule. Hegazi had earlier withdrawn from a national consensus conference due to the presence of old regime figures, and in this his action was similar to liberal response. But in the square it was non-Islamists who felt the need to withdraw as Salafi protestors used the occasion to chant decidedly Islamist slogans. Hegazi rejected claims there was an agreement among all revolutionaries to use only consensus slogans and demands. Other Islamists admitted there was, however, though they interpreted it differently. In any case, Hegazi became a part of the deteriorating unity of the revolution and the decent into political polarization.

In an earlier example, following the burning of a church in Imbaba in May 2011, representing the first major sectarian attack after the revolution, Hegazi appeared at a massive joint Brotherhood-Salafi rally. He interpreted the attack as part of the counter-revolution, saying it was carried out by thugs, rather than by Islamists. He also took the opportunity to declare the soon coming of the United Islamic States, with one caliph to rule all Muslims.

This theme appeared again during the presidential election campaign, which Hegazi declined to participate in – possibly on behalf of al-Jamā’ah al-Islāmiyyah – due to the large number of worthy candidates, mentioning specifically the liberal Ayman Nūr along with other Islamist candidates. But eventually he threw his support behind Muhammad Morsi, declaring him the only candidate who promised to implement sharī‘ah law.

But Hegazi’s rhetoric went much further. He declared Morsi to be a new Salāh al-Dīn who would unite the Muslims and liberate Jerusalem. A few days later at a huge rally in the Delta, in front of Morsi and Brotherhood leadership Hegazi called for ‘millions of martyrs’ to go to Jerusalem, establishing it as the capital of a new caliphate. The green flag bearing the Islamic shahādah, he defended, belongs to Islam and not to Saudi Arabia.

Part of Hegazi’s motivation is revolutionary. Prior to the first round of elections he called for people to reject the former regime candidates, labeling especially ‘Umar Sulimān, Ahmad Shafīq, and ‘Amr Mūsa. But it is also fully Islamist; a few weeks later he said it was ‘against religion’ to elect a candidate with a vision for liberal, secular, communist, or socialist state. As for the Salafi political parties which endorsed ‘Abd al-Mun’im Abū al-Futūh for president, Hegazi called their leaders agents of state security.

Hegazi’s support for Morsi has continued after his election. He defended the sacking of military council leadership, saying it was not to monopolize power but to secure the demands of the revolution. He supported the constitutional declaration, as described above, and has even approved the practice of kissing the hands of religious leaders, placing Morsi among their number. His partisan positions have earned Hegazi a good deal of opposition – and possible maligning – in the press. An admitted NDP thug has accused him and Brotherhood leadership of orchestrating the revolutionary Battle of the Camel. He was also quoted as seeking to turn the political struggle in Egypt into a civil war, as the opposition was against God and his caliph, a statement he subsequently denied.

As a controversial Islamist in Egypt, Hegazi is not alone. Many have made comments even more outrageous, but none have received such official government endorsement. Appointment to the National Council of Human Rights is a major statement of presidential approval, in which President Morsi implicitly signals toleration of Hegazi’s rhetoric, if not appreciation and approval. France, meanwhile, has barred him from entering the country.

More than likely, Hegazi’s appointment is a political reward for necessary support, keeping secure the president’s right flank. Policy makers in the West appear content to allow Morsi to nurture sectarian discourse as long as practical international obligations are kept sacrosanct. These obligations, however, include a measure of respect for human rights; how far Islamists can transform domestic religious realities is yet to be delimited.

But President Morsi is accountable for the views of Hegazi. Having chosen the politically expedient road of endorsing him domestically, he must endure the politically difficult road of explaining him internationally. Egypt is free to create the society it wishes, but the global community is free to criticize accordingly, and determine the level it welcomes and aids Egypt’s ongoing transition.

These matters are not easy, either for the president or the international community. Safwat Hegazi, however, symbolically stands in the nexus. By all appearances he enjoys his position.

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Current Events Jayson

This is What it Looks Like Just Before the Muslim Brotherhood Jumps You

From the publication Animal, a very interesting photo-journal documenting an attack on an individual in the days before the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-in protest:

I spot a dozen men on the sidewalk, walking parallel to us, writing graffiti — “Morsi is my president,” “No CC,” and “CC is a murderer,” phonetically referring to the current leader and coup-mastermind General al-Sisi. They’re hitting everything — walls, awnings, buses — bombing in broad daylight.

I jump down, run over and ask permission to shoot, in Arabic. “Yeah, we’re not afraid,” they say. Then, this burly man runs up to the door of the Saint Fatima Church which the nearby square is named after. He spray-paints “Islameya.”

Islameya means “Islamic” and is short for masr Islameya. In this context, on that door, it’s “Egypt is Islamic.” An older protester runs right up, pleading with him to stop: That’s against Islam, because Lakum deenukum Waliya Deen — “For you is your religion, and for me is mine.”

The vandal clocks him. Several others run up, drag him away and egg the vandal on: “Write it! Write it!”

I’m snapping away. I’m stepping closer. The photos are getting better. I have permission. I’m cool… Until he turns around.

“Why are you taking pictures of me?!” he yells. Before I have time to think, he lunges at me, spray-can aimed.

MB Spray Paint

The above paragraphs are interspersed with pictures, and then the account continues as the individual describes being attacked by the mob of protestors. Eventually they seize his camera and demand he go with them to the sit-in site to get it back.

What follows is very interesting, as it provides a street-level verification of Brotherhood complicity in the defacing of churches, something they have vehemently denied, especially after the numerous attacks on churches after the sit-in was dispersed. But the marking of ‘Islameya’ was meant to signal which buildings were to be attacked, according to Ramez Atallah of the Egyptian Bible Society.

Three more hours of this. Miles. We’re definitely not in my neighborhood anymore. Everyone’s screaming at everyone else. Chaos. Nothing happens, so I have to call my cousin who is in the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t want to bother him on his brother’s wedding day, but I don’t want this story to end in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square. I want my camera back.

“Well, why didn’t you say you were his cousin from the start, man?” Five minutes later, the camera’s in my hand, and the memory card too.

Please click here to read the full article and see the many photos at Animal.

 

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Current Events Jayson

The People Chose Us: Inside the Mind of the Muslim Brotherhood

Ahmed Kamal
Ahmed Kamal

From my recent article at Egypt Source:

It is a simple matter, really. No matter how many people poured into the streets on June 30 to demand early presidential elections, Mohamed Morsi had a mandate to govern for four years. “We cannot accept the loss of legitimacy because this is not our demand to compromise,” said Ahmed Kamal, youth secretary for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Helwan. “It is the will of Egyptians who chose Morsi in the democratic process.”

Fair enough. But in the mind of his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, he had a mandate for far more. “The people chose us,” he continued. “The Islamic ideology is to apply to the whole of life, and this is the view of our party.” Kamal’s words are punctuated by one of the key issues Morsi’s supporters grasp at: legitimacy. “When Egyptians chose it – and we do not wish to impose it – we cannot accept the idea of jumping over its legitimacy.”

Many commentators over the past year have criticized the Brotherhood for a majoritarian view of democracy. Kamal’s comments appear to bear this out. Morsi’s narrow win in the presidential elections, perhaps coupled with the sizeable Islamist win in parliamentary elections, was enough to confirm and empower the triumph of Islam. In their view, opposing their political project, therefore, is opposing Islam itself.

The interview continues to include Kamal’s views on Christians, martyrdom, and the Brotherhood conception of peaceful protest. Please click here to read the rest of the article at Egypt Source.

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Current Events Jayson

Despite 600 Deaths, Egypt’s Christians Support Military’s Eviction of pro-Morsi Protestors

Sit-In Dispersal

From my recent article in Christianity Today:

Despite the deaths of more than 500 Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the resulting retaliation against Christian targets nationwide, Egypt’s Christian community stands with yesterday’s decision by the military-backed transitional government to break-up the pro-Morsi sit-ins.

“If a peaceful sit-in took place in Times Square and locked down the city, how long would it take American authorities to disperse it?” said Ramez Atallah, head of the Egyptian Bible Society. “The government spent six weeks trying to solve this crisis, and finally used force. What were the alternatives?”

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Coptic newspaper Watani, explained why one alternative—to simply allow the protests to continue indefinitely—was not a better choice.

“If it had been a peaceful protest, we should leave it there. Have the army encircle it to prevent more weapons from entering, and wait for their morale to falter,” he said. “But the sit-in surrounded 20 to 30 high-rise apartment buildings, and the people had to submit to daily checks by the Muslim Brotherhood simply to go in and out of their neighborhood.

“They were terrorists, holding hostage thousands of residents.”

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

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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Violence Spreads

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Many prayers have been offered for a winnowing of Egyptian politics. Are you now beginning this process? If so, will the wheat be yet known from the chaff?

Hundreds are dead, God, spawning both outrage and apathy. Churches are burned, spawning both outrage and condescension. Many prayers have been offered for unity and consensus. Have you now turned a deaf ear to this request?

The Muslim Brotherhood is now deemed a terrorist organization; are you pleased? They say the security forces have shown their true face as bloody putchists; do you agree? How many past sins must Egypt recompense in new blood, before her slate can be wiped clean? What will the new sins require of future suffering?

Or, if the Brotherhood is to be purged, have their sins fallen on themselves, giving now a new slate? Is this your answer to prayers past?

The response of pro-Morsi protestors to the dispersal of their sit-in was to attack churches throughout the nation. But, as security prepared to clear the grounds, they failed to prepare to guard religious institutions. God, is their sin of omission, or commission?

So, if the Brotherhood is to be purged, are they offered as a scapegoat to give now a new slate? Are they – with Christians – paying the price to undo the revolution?

Was the revolution wrong in the first place? If not, was it done the wrong way?

Was the mass movement to remove Morsi wrong in the first place? If not, was it done the wrong way?

God, there are too many questions. There are too many people who hold too strongly to their answers. Perhaps they are right there are too many failing to take sides in a moment of crisis.

Oh, God, give discernment for what is right. It is wrong to stand idly by and equivocate when truth contrasts with error. But give Egyptians wisdom to see clearly through the fog of misinformation and propaganda which seeks to obscure truth and highlight error.

This is a moment of crisis, God. Lift the fog. Help the people to stand firmly with the right, and not those who claim the right – either from truth or manipulation. Those men are necessarily a mix of sincerity and slime, as are all humanity.

But how can that be done, God? A principle cannot govern; only men can. If it must be that the most sincere must prosper, then make it so. Have mercy when their failings emerge.

Have mercy on the Muslim Brotherhood. If they must pay for their sins then spare those most innocent. Even of the guilty, may their punishment redeem and not torment. But if they are enduring the sins of others to any degree, may justice prevail.

Have mercy on the government. If they are enacting justice then may their hand be only as strong as necessary. But if they are cheating to any degree, expose them to the people and may justice come.

But God, oh God, have mercy on the people. Spare Egypt more violence. And do not turn your ear forever from the request: Help them find unity and consensus for their nation.

God, from this moment forward, spread peace.

Amen.

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Anglican Bishop Mouneer on the Break-Up of pro-Morsi Sit-Ins

Bishop Mouneer Anis
Bishop Mouneer Anis

As violence continues in Cairo and cities throughout Egypt today, the Anglican Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis has issued a statement urging people to pray. Here is his description of events:

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As I write these words, our St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi.  They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church.  I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt (see attached photo), as well as a Catholic church in Suez.  Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt.  Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt.

Orthodox Church in Suhag

Early this morning, the police supported by the army, encouraged protestors in two different locations in Cairo, to leave safely and go home.  It is worth mentioning that these protestors have been protesting for 6 weeks, blocking the roads.  The people in these neighborhoods have been suffering a great deal—not only these people, but those commuting through, especially those who are going to the airport.  The police created very safe passages for everyone to leave.  Many protestors left and went home, however, others resisted to leave and started to attack the police.  The police and army were very professional in responding to the attacks, and they used tear gas only when it was necessary.  The police then discovered caches of weapons and ammunition in these sites.  One area near Giza is now calm, but there is still some resistance at other sites.  There are even some snipers trying to attack the police and the army.  There are even some rumors that Muslim Brotherhood leaders asked the protestors in different cities to attack police stations, take weapons, and attack shops and churches.

A few hours later, violent demonstrations from Mursi supporters broke out in different cities and towns throughout Egypt.  The police and army are trying to maintain safety for all people and to disperse the protestors peacefully.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi have threatened that if they are dispersed from the current sites, they will move to other sites and continue to protest.   They also threatened to use violence.  There have been a number of fatalities and casualties from among the police as well as the protestors, but it seems that the numbers are not as high as expected for such violence.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi claim that there are very high numbers of casualties.  The real numbers will be known later on.

Please pray that the situation will calm down, for wisdom and tact for the police and the army, for the safety of all churches and congregations, and that all in Egypt would be safe.

May the Lord bless you!

+Mouneer

In my quick reading of events, it seems clear that live gunfire is being exchanged on both sides. Either infiltrators were very quick to penetrate the protests and fire on police, or the lie is given that these demonstrations were completely peaceful. Reports the past few weeks indicated the protest organizers were keen to check the IDs and pat down everyone who entered the sit-in. Many, probably the great majority, of those present were unarmed. But apparently, reports which indicated weapons were present were also true.

As Bishop Mouneer stated, churches across the country are also being targeted. Interesting to note is this report:

The al-Gamaa al-Islamiya ultra-conservative movement called on supporters of toppled president Morsi to take to the streets to condemn what it termed “coup crimes.”

The statement by the hardline Islamist group – a close ally of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – also urged its loyalists “enraged by police attacks on the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins,” not to assault “Christians or their religious buildings.”

So at this point they read these attacks as actions of the pro-Morsi crowds, rather than a black flag of the security forces, which they warned about weeks earlier. The speculation would be if this is their public face covering over their own private rage and instruction. Anti-Christian rhetoric has been employed by several Islamist figures ever since the original protest movement against Morsi in December 2012 when he issued a constitutional declaration granting himself absolute power (later rescinded, but protecting of actions taken during that time).

But in this current climate, it is difficult to make sense of the situation. Patience is needed, for there will soon be a flood of propaganda.

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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Foreign Complications

Flag Cross Quran 

God,

Egypt’s problems are so big, other nations are getting involved. May their help be helpful.

Early indications, however, are mostly complicating. A number of foreign envoys met with government and Islamist leaders, supposedly to work out a compromise solution to the political crisis. None was reached and the sit-ins in support of Morsi continue, but each had differing perceptions of blame. The US, in particular, had mixed messages. The administration accepted Morsi’s removal as a protection of democracy and prevention of civil war, while a prominent senator visited and labeled it an out-and-out coup.

Good arguments can support either conclusion, but who makes the call? Encouraged by foreign intervention, the Brotherhood hardens its positions and continues the impasse. Understandably distrustful of government assurances of a safe exit if they disband and go home, local media and security sources reinforce the message of a zero sum game. Did foreign envoys buy time for credible negotiations, or stall a necessary resolution? Bless them, though, for trying.

Blessing is trickier to offer on the other front of foreign complications. An explosion occurred in the Sinai killing several militants, and all speculation immediately posited an Israeli drone. The Egyptian military denied foreign involvement, but a Sinai based terrorist group says they were hit in a joint Egypt-Israel action while planning a rocket launch across borders.

God, Egypt has enough problems. Give wisdom to her friends to know if they are helping or hurting.

But in the end, God, find Egyptian solutions to Egyptian problems. Even if others can come alongside, may this political crisis conclude in greater consensus for all.

Give Egypt peace on her borders, God. Israel is so complicating to Egyptian politics the propaganda will ramp up a hundredfold. Propaganda never helps consensus. Protect Israeli security, help the police and military clamp down on lawlessness, but save Egypt from both the horror and manipulation of terror.

God, give wisdom to the Brotherhood. Help them to hold on to what is right while discovering their wrongs. Grant them the ability to extricate themselves from this crisis, and mold them into that which is good for all of Egypt.

God, give wisdom to the government. Help them to pursue justice transparently and use this historical moment to find a grand solution for Egyptian ideological diversity. Grant them the ability to deftly respond to pressure with necessary political acumen.

God, make both humble. Purge all groups of their power-hungry manipulators, so that those who remain will serve Egypt with a pure heart. Reveal this to the people, and place sovereignty in their hands.

And for all outsiders who wish to help, God, make them honest as well. Allow Egypt to be a domestic mess for as long as necessary while as short as possible. But prevent foreigners from adding complications, God. Stability is greatly needed.

Amen.

 

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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Murky Standoff

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God,

Among the proposed solutions, none are pleasing to all. What then is the greatest common denominator?

An Islamist backed idea is to restore Morsi to the presidency, only to have him delegate all his powers to the cabinet, as possible under the now suspended constitution. The cabinet – presumably his original cabinet – would then call for parliamentary elections followed by presidential.

The current governmental idea is to begin dialogue officially with the Muslim Brotherhood, to invite them to participate in the new roadmap and contest elections. Morsi and other Islamist leaders could be offered a ‘safe exit’ for alleged crimes in exchange for ending the ongoing sit-ins.

Maximalists on both sides have other ideas. One calls for the arrest of ‘coup’ leaders and full restoration of the Morsi government. The other calls for full legal pursuit of Islamist ringleaders and a forced dispersal of the sit-ins. Perhaps both have softer messages behind the scenes, or, perhaps both have an itchy trigger finger.

Is it your will to cause one side to blink first?

God, teach Egyptians how to navigate in murky waters. Surely on one side there is more ‘right’ than on the other, but all seem mired in ‘wrong’.

May good principles prevail, God. Promote dialogue, justice, and consensus. Marginalize propaganda, deception, and manipulation.

But this is the same prayer as last week, God, and very similar to all offered recently. Perhaps in murky waters the people must persevere and never give up.

Do what is right in Egypt, God. Open the eyes of the people to weigh each person and movement. Give them humility to see what is good in their opponent, and what is evil in themselves. Then help them to act accordingly.

God, resolve Egypt’s standoff soon, but teach every lesson necessary in the process. May these two years in murkiness not be a failed education.

Amen.

 

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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Syria Shades

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Egypt is taking a critical turn. The army has requested protests in its support, to combat ‘terrorism’. The Brotherhood and pro-Morsi demonstrators remain defiant, populating sit-ins and resisting calls to dialog with plotters of a ‘coup’. And the judiciary has opened investigations against Morsi and other Islamists for ‘crimes’ stretching back to the original revolution.

Some say, God, that these are all measures to pressure behind the scenes negotiations and secure maximum gains. If so, ordinary people are paying the price, though disputes exist as to how many have been killed.

This is how Syria got started, God. Keep Egypt from the same fate.

It is far too early for such a comparison, or even to know if it is fair in the first place. But while the Brotherhood accuses police of a ‘massacre’, the police respond they are ‘inventing crises’.

Credible reporting from trustworthy sources is needed from the ground, God. This was absent in Syria, but surely it is present in Egypt. Give courage to those doing this hard work. Give them integrity and space to publish their findings, in Egypt and abroad.

But God, find a better path to resolution, and cool heads who will pay the political price necessary to achieve it. Do not allow blood to be a bargaining chip, but for those offering it – honor their dedication, even if greater wisdom is needed. If this is a massacre, God, help them to stand strong and stay alive.

But if they are simply cannon fodder, pawns in pursuit of an objective, hold accountable those on both sides who are manipulating to place them there. For the people, God, help them to have discernment and stay alive.

In the crucial days to follow, God, give absolute impartiality to the judiciary. May transparent evidence decide the fate of those involved.

Place power in the hands of the good. Find them, God, and show them to the people. May they pursue the dual path of justice and reconciliation. Egypt needs consensus, and soon. Honor her, God, and bring her peace.

Amen.

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Uncategorized

Friday Prayers for Egypt: New Government, Again

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Amid continuing demonstrations by Islamists and supporters of President Morsi, the new Egyptian government is trying to get down to business. What that business should be is another matter.

They must rerun the election process. The country needs a constitution, parliament, and president, laws to set them in motion, and a campaign to convince the public it is worth their while to vote. Many are understandably skeptical.

They must solve the quandary of the economy. Newly received monies from the Gulf will buy some time, but the challenges Morsi could not solve will not go away. Maintain mountains of inefficient subsidies and the nation will go broke; eliminate them and the nation will buckle under.

They must achieve national reconciliation with a divided population. Most obvious are Islamists horrified by the turn of events, but in the background are old regime supporters demonized the past two years, and revolutionaries horrified by the reentry of the military. How can all these find common cause?

And within these three, God, they must prioritize. Perhaps it can also be said they must truly pursue each one – many doubt the rhetoric.

God, Egypt has been spinning its wheels, and a new set of men – some recycled – get at chance of getting things right. Help them, even as many argue over their legitimacy to be there in the first place.

Help them to amend the constitution to the approval of all, setting the rules of the game with fairness and equity. Encourage the people; help them to grasp the reins of government and not cede it idly through frustration.

Help them to make the hard decisions to put Egypt’s economy on solid footing. Give them wisdom for how that can be done, and wisdom on how to communicate it to the people. If sacrifices must be made, may they result in the betterment of the poor, the industrious, and the average man.

Help them to be humble with critics from all angles. What is reconciliation, God? Why should the Muslim Brotherhood engage again, except perhaps to win again and govern even more exclusively? Surely reconciliation is not this, nor is it their exclusion from the process. Help the Brotherhood, also, to be humble and recognize their mistakes and ambition. But whatever reconciliation is, it cannot be without all parties involved. For two years, God, they failed to come together; help them all to do so now.

Otherwise, God, we may soon see another government attempt all the above, again.

Whether them, this one, or any to come, God, give Egypt success.

Amen.

 

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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Deja vu, Reversed

Flag Cross Quran

God,

The scenario in Egypt has flipped. The opposition previously accused Islamists of making a deal with the military to come to power, democratically. Now Islamists see a secular/liberal alliance with the army, with President Morsi pushed out, undemocratically.

The opposition debated whether or not to participate in politics after Morsi’s extra-legal efforts to pass a constitution. Now Islamists appear ready to refuse participation in politics after the extra-legal deposing of the president.

Islamists accused the opposition of giving political cover to violence during ongoing street protests during Morsi’s presidency. Now Islamists insist their protest to restore Morsi is peaceful, but they say violence throughout Egypt will continue until he is reinstated.

God, is it fair to laugh in prayer? If crying has run its course, does laughter suggest a surrender to irony, or worse, a gloating over just desserts? But Islamists only stand accused of cheating on their way to power; clearly, in losing Morsi, they were cheated, however revolutionary the claim may be.

God, perhaps for some you are finally in the process of exposing the sins of Islamists. For others, you are just beginning to expose the sins of the current victors. But none can honestly say you have put things right. With deep divisions between Egyptians, with vitriol exchanged instead of conversation or discourse, Egypt is not in a healthy place.

How is it to be fixed, God? Bring the nation to a place of consensus. A zero sum game is being waged and the possible consequences are dire. Keep Egypt from civil war; keep her from terrorism and sabotage.

But keep her also far from injustice. God, give wisdom to Islamist leadership. May their advocacy of nonviolence be a true and precious principle. Perhaps you are testing them, God, may they emerge from their trial pure and refined.

Give wisdom also to the interim president and those who benefit from his presence. Help them to bring the country together and reconcile with the aggrieved. Put together a good government who will rule well.

God, outcomes pleasing to all seem like an impossibility, and every week the chance appears more and more remote. But will your salvation come? Or will you let this war of attrition eventually purge one of the opponents? If the latter, God, may it be the least righteous who see their support fade from the Egyptian people.

But the former is better, so may it be. Let poor ideas morph, change, and dissipate, but let poor men be redeemed. May differing men find ways to embrace despite differing ideas.

Else, God, Egypt may see this déjà vu all over again, and again, and again – for years to come. Spare her; have mercy, and may she prosper.

Amen.

 

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Current Events Jayson

Making Sense of Egypt’s Popular ‘Coup’

June 30 Demonstrations

From my recent article at Christian Century. It walks through the transition which brought Morsi to power and thereafter deposed him. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion, focusing on the position of Christians:

As for the nation’s Christians, they view the military intervention as salvation. Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros, who had pledged upon his ascension to the papacy to stay out of politics, appeared side by side with Egypt’s chief Muslim leader to back the move. Protestants appreciated this as a public signal of Christian equality, while the Anglican bishop rejoiced Egypt was now free of the ‘repressive rule’ of the Brotherhood.

But are such public celebrations wisdom? In the fluid chaos of Egypt’s transition, who is to say the situation will not flip again? Copts are very careful to align with the nation’s moderate Muslims; dare they align with an extra-constitutional putsch against a large swath of religiously conservative neighbors? As citizens they are free, but as an ever-vulnerable religious minority will they find sufficient protection in the army and a hopeful emerging civil democratic order?

Perhaps they have no choice. Perhaps they see more clearly than anyone the issues at stake under Islamist rule. Only a year and a half earlier they suffered their greatest massacre at the hands of the army, when a Coptic protest was crushed under military tanks. Still, they took refuge.

This is the same question now faced by Egyptians as a whole, and as such the transition becomes more of a revolution proper. Islamist or civil; religious or secular – inasmuch as these are false dichotomies they also represent the current struggle. All that is lacking for a true revolution is violence; for the sake of Muslims and Christians together, may this development not come to pass.

Please click here to read the whole article at Christian Century.

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Current Events Jayson Religion

Who Should Christians Support in Egypt?

Obama Egypt

From my recent article in Relevant Magazine:

When push comes to shove, as it has in Egypt, who should American Christians support? The recent military move to oust an elected president was almost universally backed by Egyptian Coptic Christians, which make up roughly ten percent of the population. But the move, called by many a military coup, also violates our profound democratic sensibilities. With forty-two dead today at the hands of the army – which claims it was attacked first by armed terrorists – basic issues of humanity are also in play.

‘Our citizenship is in heaven,’ writes the apostle Paul, seemingly elevating our Christian brotherhood above national ties or ideological convictions. But, he writes elsewhere, ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.’

President Muhammad Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was removed from office on July 3 following massive protests against his rule. The proximity to America’s Independence Day only heightens the tension of this question, demanding an introspection we are often loathe to consider. Before we sit in judgment on Egypt, was our own revolution contrary to God’s teaching?

But does not the Bible also demand a commitment to justice and solidarity with the rights of the oppressed? Certainly, and Egyptian Christians would be quick to assert the necessity of the putsch, not just for their own cause, but for millions of Egyptian Muslims beside.

The article then summarizes the situation in Egypt, and concludes:

Perhaps the most important question is this: No matter their fears, would aggrieved non-Islamists have done better to work within the system, no matter how flawed?

This last question is of political strategy, and Egypt’s Christians have clearly answered ‘no’. What now of American Christians?

It is important to note that American democracy – though also flawed for much of our history – has peacefully rotated power for over two centuries. Egypt is still trying to find its feet after a revolution. The American constitution, after all, followed thirteen years after independence.

Egypt currently is a political mess; within chaos, minorities are vulnerable. Christians have been used by all sides as a talking point. Liberals highlight their difficulties, the Muslim Brotherhood pays lip service to their equality, Islamist allies scapegoat them in conspiracies, and the old regime propaganda – ever present – erects the extremist boogeyman to maintain order.

Within this picture, American Christians have little to identify with. Our two options mirror our dual identity: As Americans, esteem the democracy; as Christians, condemn the persecution. Unfortunately, neither option correctly describes Egypt. Either one is a false choice.

What then, is the Biblical choice? Consider these words of Paul, perhaps to balance his advice given above: ‘But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”’

The American Christian responsibility is not to take sides, nor to assert abstract principles. It is to find out what is happening, and support the light.

Whether through influence in Washington, or through influence in prayer, American Christian hope must be that Egypt will rise from the dead.

Does this latest episode help or hinder? Make Egypt visible, and then judge accordingly.

Please click here to read the whole article at Relevant Magazine.

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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Victory and Defeat

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Must a prayer take sides? How can supporters and opponents of the president pray together now? Perhaps this is what must be asked: At the very least, let them seek you at the same time, if not for the same thing.

But if only platitudes, what can they agree upon? Establish democracy and sovereignty of the people, God; both sides claim they want this. Keep Egypt from the manipulation of foreign powers; both sides accuse the other of this. Prevent violence from spreading; all insist on being peaceful.

So then why have tens been killed and hundreds injured? God, perhaps thanks are given that these numbers are so low, given the stakes involved. May they go no higher.

But there appears no room left for consensus, God. The president is out; can he come back? These are the prayers of some while others see his removal as an answer to prayer.

But maybe each side can pray for the other. Where injustice has been done to Islamists, God, right their wrongs. Keep them from unlawful arrests and political marginalization. Restore their path to participation, even leadership if the people wish, and save them from the poison of bitter grudges. May they forgive and find mercy, both from and for themselves.

In their victory, God, give humility to the president’s opponents. Whatever mandate they have, help them realize great swaths of the people stand against this development. If there is justice to pursue against Islamists, may it be transparent. If there has been manipulation, expose them. With any democracy to come, may it be inclusive.

God, may this be only a severe hiccup on the way to consensus. Egypt must find a way to unite all its divergent peoples. Make this possible, and bring together honest men on all sides to create it.

Hold Egypt closely these days, God. Much can go very wrong. Give wisdom to the new president, especially in his interim status. May he be a man of peace and reconciliation, impossible though his task be to bear.

All politics may be dirty, God, but make Egypt clean. Heal her; as each side prays for what they find to be righteous, convict them to discover the sins of their own. Set all things right, God, set all things right.

Amen.

 

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Current Events Jayson

Egyptian Christians Brace for (and Debate) New Round of Protests

From my June 28 article published on Christianity Today:

Frustrated Egyptians will take to the streets June 30, on the one year anniversary of President Morsi’s inauguration. Dubbed the ‘Rebellion Campaign’, the grassroots movement announced the collection of fifteen million signatures to depose the president and demand early elections.

“The situation in Egypt is very serious,” wrote Bishop Mouneer Hanna of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt. “I do not know where this situation will take us. I feel that Egypt is at the verge of violent demonstrations, another revolution, or civil war.”

‘Rebellion’ organizers pledged their demonstrations will be non-violent, but Muslim Brotherhood leaders warn a violent turn – perhaps organized by supporters of the former regime – will undue the successes of the Egyptian revolution. Yet they insist on holding counter-demonstrations in advance of June 30, setting the stage for clashes between the two sides.

Please click here to read the full (brief) article on Christianity Today.