It is certain that President Trump is something different. Having campaigned as an anti-establishment figure, he behaves as neither a Democrat or a Republican, but independent of all.
Perhaps that is not a bad thing. He wanted to drain the swamp.
But this last week, having watched from afar the character of figures he draws to his team, I wonder: Where are the evangelicals?
(Note: the main individual in this saga has just resigned. Some say his sole purpose was to force out another figure. In any case, I hope the following thoughts are still pertinent and helpful.)
Polls show that white evangelical Christians are the constituency with his highest approval ratings. That’s fine, it is a holdover from the traditional support they have given the Republican Party.
Many evangelical leaders rallied around him before and after the inauguration. That’s fine, it is a privilege and responsibility to advise the president.
Some have questioned the wisdom and Biblical fidelity in wedding the religious identity to the political, and I am sympathetic.
Others posit that a political alliance does not mean all allies share conviction and morality, and I agree.
But for all the energy evangelical Christians have poured into right-wing politics, where are their political operatives, from which Trump might draw?
He has drawn some, certainly. Vice-President Mike Pence. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Evangelical-friendly Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. Perhaps there are others whose faith is not a key part of public profile, who quietly do their jobs.
But others, who are not quiet, seem far from evangelical propriety. Are there no better candidates?
Republicans complain that Trump is not accessing the institutional personnel of the party, of any stripe. And the president has a penchant for reality TV style engagement, something traditional evangelicals may be quite wary of joining, and ill-suited in aptitude.
Maybe evangelicals do populate the rolls of grassroots and upper level Republican party politics in proportionate numbers to their role in the tent.
But politics is hard work. Could it be that in the eight years of Obama many abandoned the effort and criticized only from outside the system?
It used to be that the Republican Party stood for a conservative social morality, limited government, an open economy, and a robust foreign policy. Evangelicals could easily identify with many aspects of this agenda, with respect for the religious left.
What does the Republican Party stand for now? Again, Trump is different.
So I do not wish to lay too much blame on evangelicals, and from Egypt I don’t know the lay of the land.
But while I advise no evangelical toward the Republican Party necessarily, nor even toward politics in general, I ask those inclined to redouble their efforts.
God has given believers much freedom in shaping their engagement with society. The number of God-honoring careers, political orientations, and policy options is nearly as diverse as his church worldwide.
But what he states as reality, which evangelicals must take as maxim, is that they are salt and light in a fallen world.
Better than draining the swamp, is to wade into it. Once there, sweeten.
Engage with the president, and pray for him. Join the alliances most suited to the common good. Be patient with the behavior of those made in God’s image, but not yet reflecting it.
Identify sin, wherever it is found. Take a stand on the issues with humble conviction. Cooperate as much as possible, compromising where appropriate.
In other words, be political.
Despite the common perception, perhaps American evangelicals are not political enough.
I am happy to hear from evangelical Republicans about the state of the faith within their party.
(But also: Consider this article on the Bible Study in the White House.)
Few words are needed to describe events of the week, God. As many return to a business-as-usual approach to politics, a crisis emerges in the currency of business.
So in short, give wisdom to the new central bank manager. He must manage depreciation to the dollar, prevent debilitating inflation, hold on to foreign reserves, stimulate international investment, and facilitate domestic imports.
Different sectors want different policies. Give him discernment for what is right, what will serve his nation.
And help voters do the same. After selecting candidates among dozens of names, most must return for a streamlined choice.
Inspire at least the same turnout, God. Perhaps more. Revive a sense of civic engagement. Renew a reality in its importance.
May the parliament to come build a sound foundation to represent the people. May the exchange rate to come settle at a level that provides stability and fairness.
To secure a stable society, institutions matter more than people. But the people in the institutions matter greatly.
Preserve the institutions of Egypt, God, and populate them with good men. Assist whatever reform is needed; create the political will to see it through.
But the squabbling and innuendo, God; have things done right.
Egypt has an institution of prosecution, but everyone wants their man in it. Some want the Mubarak-era figure, finding him wrongly evicted by the president. Some want the president’s man, finding him approved by a clause in the constitution. And some want the judiciary to pick anew, finding in them a way forward and a guard on separation of powers.
The stakes could be high, if only we knew, God. Few crimes since the revolution have been prosecuted successfully. Old regime, businessmen, military, police, Brotherhood, activists – all have accusations swirling around them. Who is protecting who?
Bring Egypt to a place, God, where institutions can rise above politics. But it takes the right man. If only for as long as he lasts – and the court says he must go – equip him as man of integrity and principle. As pressure, scrutiny, and perhaps political instruction weigh down upon him, make justice his only goal. So much in Egypt’s transition depends upon his post.
But behind the scenes is another institution, brought out into the light in further squabbling. The nation’s intelligence apparatus is accused of undermining the president and destabilizing the country. Some say the president wants his men in charge.
Perhaps they should be, God. But ‘his men’ is the talk of individuals, not of institutions. All were quick to deny the comments in the media, praising intelligence for its loyalty and patriotism. At times one must speak as the occasion requires, God, but increase the sincerity of Egypt’s political discourse.
Many Islamists find the institutions of the state conspiring against them. Liberals, meanwhile, see Islamists seeking takeover of the institutions to use them at the behest of their own agenda. Who knows there isn’t validity in each charge?
But even the question flows from intelligence, as intelligence governs the flow of information. Is the president advised correctly? Is the opposition led to believe their stridency will be rewarded? Do ‘sources’ speak the truth or only inject useful speculation? Is intelligence a puppeteer pulling the strings of all? Or are they a boogeyman summoned to distract from real issues?
God, when so much is confusing, protect the mind from conspiracy. Give Egyptians discernment and conviction to tell right from wrong, which usually need not be so muddled a process. Conscience and common sense are strong weapons against obfuscation; distribute these gifts widely, God.
Unfortunately, neither human nor institutional behavior is simple. But if complexity is a given, single-mindedness is a possibility. Purity of heart is a necessity.
These are not common to politics, God, and perhaps they are not common to humanity in general. But you are good, and you can transform. Bless Egypt with your redemptive touch.
So where an institution can corrupt what is good in the Egyptian nature, strengthen their moral integrity. And where an institution can bind what is corrupt in the Egyptian nature, strengthen its framework to keep them in line.
But only men can create institutions, God. And only men can corrupt them. Within the struggle ongoing since the revolution, your men are needed to guard this difference. Supply them sufficiently. Be they found in few or many, through them may your will be done.
May they bless Egypt, and shape her anew for the good of all.
Thank you for a successful first round of voting. Preserve Egypt these next three weeks and through the final run-off.
Thank you for the voice of the people being expressed, being free, and being diverse. May it still be heard, and may it still be decisive. May it stay free and diverse – though united – in the years and elections to come.
Yet as the election is worthy of celebration, the results – still preliminary – give pause to many. The top two candidates represent the Muslim Brotherhood and the old regime. This is the standard dichotomy, the voice of the people did not move away from it. Will a win for either be decisive, or simply prolong the struggle?
God, honor the partisans of both these sides. Recognize and honor their dedication, in many cases, to oppose their opposite. Each bears flaws, and each hosts virtue. May their struggle refine and not destroy.
But God, give wisdom to those of neither side. What would you have them do? If the see the choice as between two evils, which is the less? Must they choose? Does such a choice exercise the necessary wisdom and responsibility you give each person? Or does it make them complicit in the flaws of either?
Should love push them to embrace one or the other, clinging to the virtues they find? Is there any way to embrace both? Or is a boycott their best and most honorable option?
Egypt has succeeded today, God, but not completed its task. It is likely to remain unfinished even after the run-off. If the struggle continues, in either direction, may it not be lengthy, debilitating, or violent. May Egyptians honorably rebuild their state.
May they find you a help and support, and not a source of division. May all dichotomy end on the side of right.
Perhaps it can be no other way. But it does not seem right.
Parliament has chosen the 100 members necessary to draft Egypt’s constitution, but before any progress is made, near 20% have resigned. These are liberals and leftists together, complaining the assembly is dominated by Islamists.
Others have put in their protest as well, including the Azhar, the Coptic Church, and Nubians. Certain professional associations have done so also.
Is this right of them, God? Should they quit before discussions even begin? Must they play such politics – seeking de-legitimization of the body – to curb an Islamist hijacking of the chief fruit of the revolution? Or are they seeking simply to enshrine their goals over and against the majority will of the people? Are they fighting for principles, or for interests? The same question is due of the Islamists.
Consensus, God. Bring honest men together to find the necessary balance. May they create a constitution that causes the nation to rejoice.
Of course, many argue the foundation is all wrong to begin with. But if so, must the process start over? What are the alternatives?
Lost in details, accusations, and propaganda, God, grant the basics. Give Egypt a good government, and a good president. Give her good laws to rule by, and good men to enforce them. Give her freedom, security, and prosperity.
Perhaps, God, very little of this is politics. After a revolution in a depoliticized nation, all is a struggle for the right of control. The old scrambles, the new grasps, and among the new there is infighting.
God, settle accounts. Is military guardianship, even if in the background, best for Egypt? If so then give them their due. Is Islamist rule fitting for a religious people? If so then may their long struggle end in success. Will the honored principles of Western experience bless Egypt? If so, then move liberals to the forefront.
But God, end soon the bickering, the backbiting, the threats, bluffs, and demonization. Men are devils, God, yet they maintain your goodness. Give discernment to the Egyptian people to choose between them, honoring those closest to your nature.
May they remember also to thank you, God, that this struggle has largely avoided violence. Yes, many have died – redeem them. But it could be so much worse. With low security and many weapons abounding, God, keep it from becoming so. Stay the plague of the Nile turning into blood.
Give hope. Give peace. Give love for country and love for political enemy. Perhaps what is happening now is natural. God, bring forth the impossible. Make Egypt whole, make its disputants embrace.
Generally speaking, the customary rules of politics issue and evolve from hard earned consensus historically and informally negotiated among public figures and society. Eventually these are crafted into constitutions and laws to formalize the political system along grounds to which all agree. The success of the political system rests in the degree to which all political forces submit to the system and recognize its equity.
Under the nearly thirty year presidential administration of Mubarak customary rules of politics did exist, and political forces largely submitted to the system. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, though outside the formal structure of politics, acceded informally to the relationship between society and state. Few, however, either inside the system or outside it – and the vast majority of the Egyptian population was outside – recognized its equity. Eventually this disquiet, among many other factors, led to the Egyptian revolution.
Now eight months into the transition to democracy, the rupture caused to customary politics has not yet been repaired. Egypt does have a liberal democratic tradition to recall, but its benefit is largely in legacy, as the experience was lost through successive autocratic presidencies. Meanwhile, there is great debate over the nature of the constitution to come, let alone the specific formal rules of the political system. Depending on the rhetoric, civil and Islamic political forces either agree in substance on nearly all but nomenclature, or else have vastly different visions for the future polity of Egypt. This is natural, for building anew a political system forces even the most fundamental questions to be reconsidered. Who are we, and how will we get along to balance our interests?
During this interim period one of the old rules of the system was recalled, though perhaps customarily adjusted to new realities. It has long been forbidden in Egypt for a political party to be based on religion. This was one of the difficulties facing the Muslim Brotherhood, and caused their candidates for parliament to formally run as independents. There was no deception, for everyone knew the nature of the arrangement, which also signaled essential Brotherhood submission to customary politics, even as they railed against it.
Post-revolution, then, though it was clear the Muslim Brotherhood would no longer be an outlawed political force, what structure would emerge to legalize them, and others like them? Guarding the fabric of religious life and protecting national unity, the ruling military council maintained the law forbidding religious political parties. The nuance which emerged, however, allowed for political parties with a religious reference. The difference is not at all clear, but a practical result has been an effort to enroll at least some Christians into the new Islamic-reference parties. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, for example, includes a Christian vice-president, and boasts 100+ Copts among their 10,000 members. Though I am unaware if other Islamic-reference parties also have Christian members, the precedent set for the Freedom and Justice Party of the Brotherhood has led also to a party for al-Jama’a al-Islamiya and various Salafi trends. No semblance of a Coptic party has yet emerged, but the Free Egyptian Party, financed by wealthy Coptic businessman Naguib Siwaris, is composed 30% of Copts, far above their percentage in population.
Like their Muslim counterparts, Egyptian Copts have been long depoliticized. Many are fearful of the Islamist developments in politics, at least partially explaining their membership in the Free Egyptian Party, representing liberal trends. Yet the effort to draw Copts further into the emerging political system has been slow going, and leads also to an anecdote illustrating the in-flux nature of customary and legal politics.
My family and I attend St. Mark’s Orthodox Church in Maadi, Cairo. My wife regularly attends a mostly women’s Sunday School meeting, and on this particular day it advertised the speaker would address the topic of ‘Raising Political Consciousness’. Eager to hear how the topic would be presented, I also joined in the meeting.
The speaker was a member of the church, though not of the meeting, and delivered an engaging lecture on the basics of civics. There are different types of political systems, he explained, and went through the basics of American democracy, various European examples, as well as the Egyptian system under President Mubarak. He explained the technical aspects of the new election laws, in which half of the representatives would be selected in a winner-take-all election, and the other half in a list-based party arrangement. As an American, I recognized our standard winner-take-all individual candidacy approach, but I took closer interest in the unfamiliar list-based system, used more frequently in Europe.
Under this arrangement, political parties submit a list of candidates for election, which may be done in coalition with other parties. Voters then select one entire list among the different choices offered, and the percentage of votes received determine the percentage of candidates elected. If the list contained ten names and this party received 30% of the total vote, for example, the top three candidates named on the list would be victorious.
It is still unclear how the combination of winner-take-all and list-based elections will exist side-by-side, and most political parties are unsatisfied with the system issued by the military council and interim government. Yet the speaker tried to educate the group about a possible deception which might occur as parties lobby for Coptic votes, especially on the part of Islamic-reference trends. For example, the Freedom and Justice Party (not specifically named by the speaker) might place a few of its hundred Coptic members on their official list, and proclaim how they are not just a Muslim party but also seeking election of Coptic representatives. Yet if these Coptic names appear near the bottom of the list, it will be extremely unlikely they will reach the percentage threshold necessary to be elected. If a party placed a Coptic candidate near the top of a list, or in the winner-take-all election, that would be a different gesture entirely.
In conclusion, the speaker recommended that his listeners do indeed take part in shaping the emerging political system, especially as many are fearful their rights could be trampled upon if the next government is Islamic. Up until now the lecture was basic, educational, and a very valid plea to overcome lingering de-politicization. When he stated clearly they should enroll in liberal political parties, however, my American ears began perking up. When he further mentioned the political party of his participation, and invited anyone to come and take literature about it, my eyes began to bulge.
In American politics it is both customary and illegal for churches to endorse particular parties or candidates. There is customary leniency on issues, but the non-profit and tax-exempt church is forbidden from using its religious leverage to serve a political cause. As stated earlier, the laws in Egypt are still emerging, and customary procedures are under debate.
To be certain, the literature made available was rather innocuous. It stated very little about the particular party, and instead was a general call to recognize politics as an essential part of life – the best means to defend your rights. In fact, it specifically states,
It is not important that you become a member in a party, it is important that you work for the benefit of your neighborhood.
If there is any respectable man you would be honored to have him represent you, encourage him to nominate himself. If the ideas of any party impress you, join it.
By no means was this partisan literature, yet the name, logo, and contact information for the party were clearly and prominently visible. The speaker was careful not to be forceful in his invitation; rather, he was almost sheepish. He stated later, however, that he did not take permission before making the party literature available. No one in the audience seemed to be offended; some approached for literature while others left and went their way. One person I asked later did state that the action was a bit controversial, and may have been uncustomary, but that it was not a big deal.
St. Mark’s Orthodox Church in Maadi is in an upscale neighborhood, and many of its members have lived or studied in foreign countries, and are familiar with (and envious of) their political cultures. To a degree this may help explain the hesitation experienced in the meeting. Yet according to many media reports, such decorum is completely missing in many of Egypt’s mosques. This is not surprising, given that Western, Christian influenced societies have largely accepted the notion of separation of church and state. Many Muslims, however, and especially Islamists, believe that politics is an essential component of religion, as Islam encompasses all of life.
The upshot was most visible during the constitutional referendum of March 19, in which the population was asked to either validate or reject the military council roadmap to amend the current constitution, paving the way for legislative elections, which would select the council to draft a new constitution, followed by presidential elections.
Though it is true the referendum was somewhat hastily organized, and the consequences of either choice were not clear, many Islamist leaders urged Muslims to vote ‘yes’, with a few even declaring it to be a religious duty. Not a few liberals also voted yes, finding the rapid return of the military to its barracks to be the best outcome of the transitional process. Still, the religious influence was unquestionable (though probably not decisive), and 77% of voters approved the referendum.
Following the approval of this roadmap, liberals realized the gain made by Islamist parties. Weak liberal penetration into the countryside and among the poor was well known, and likely Islamist success in elections was admitted. Yet the roadmap dictated the current uncertain rules of politics during the transition would be formalized by the coming parliament. If the legislature would be dominated by Islamists, perhaps they would craft laws to their advantage, and in establishment of an Egyptian Islamic identity. Or, maybe they would not, and would respect the will of the revolution and promises made to liberal parties to establish a civil democratic state through cooperation. Egyptian politics has since been dominated by the elusiveness of this answer, with most liberals leaning toward distrust.
America endured thirteen years from its declaration of independence to the ratification of its constitution. This period was full of sharp rhetoric between federalist and anti-federalist political camps, each with a radically divergent belief on the best shape of governance. America inherited a customary political process from England, but its formalization was much more difficult, negotiated in light of her particular history. In the end the federalist position triumphed, and political forces fell in line. Significant evolution in American democracy has continued to the present day.
It is hoped this history may be of encouragement to Egypt. Yes, issues being discussed now are of vital and foundational importance. After seven months, however, the renegotiation of customary politics into formalized structures has only just begun. It is contentious, and it should be. It requires, however, all parties to play the game, and eventually to fall in line. If not there will be either a reemergence of autocracy or a descent into anarchy. Politics being the art of compromise, though it may take significant time, all things being equal, Egypt will find its way.