Christians and Political Manipulation

Graham and Boula

Many Egyptians these days shed no tears over the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing in them an unhealthy and manipulative merging of religion and politics. But religion, politics, and manipulation are known the world over. First take a look at this excerpt from Christianity Today, describing two evangelical leaders during the Jimmy Carter presidency:

Balmer also describes Jerry Falwell’s mendacity and Billy Graham’s duplicity as they worked to bring Carter’s presidency to an end. Falwell brazenly lied in his report that Carter had told a group of evangelical leaders he supported gay rights. Eleven days after telling the Reagan campaign that he wanted to “help short of [a] public endorsement,” Graham reassured a Carter liaison that he was “staying out of it.”

I hate to think these descriptions are true, but perhaps this only shows we are quick to believe the worst of the other while doubting it for our own kind. The anecdotes are from a new biography of Carter, so I can only assume, perhaps wrongly, it was well researched.

But no research is needed to see the all-but manipulations of Bishop Boula of the Orthodox Church. Even here my ‘all-but’ exposes my will to disbelieve, but how can you doubt when his efforts are admitted? Here is a translation of his recent comments on Egyptian television, translated by Middle East Monitor (video included):

Bishop Paula (Boula): How do I estimate it? Let me tell you what I would do for instance in Tanta. I come to each one of the churches. Let’s assume that in this particular church there are six priests. We divide it into six squares and each priest is put in charge of one square and that would be the region he is responsible for. We tell the priest: father, you are in charge of this region. How many homes are there within it? I want to appoint one young man for each group of thirty homes to prompt them and make sure to bring out those who have not yet come out. The young man who is in charge of the thirty houses would submit a report about each of these houses, one by one. In this way, we would know who went out and who did not. We call the father in charge by phone and he goes and knocks on the door. So, we have extremely accurate information about the ratio of those who went out and those who did not.

Presenter: I am saying this to you but it might be possible that those who hear us might take to mean something else. Was the Church playing politics?

Bishop Paula: No, no. Look. The Church is playing patriotism.

Presenter: It plays patriotism?

Bishop Paula: It has a patriotic role. The Church has always been a patriotic church. And in this particular time it should have a strong patriotic role. The patriotic role is the prompting role. And to be telling the truth, it includes, if possible, unifying opinions through persuasion as to who is the best (candidate).

If not for that last statement, the ‘all-but’ could remain. It is, perhaps, patriotic to stimulate and even ensure the voting of the flock. Christians should be good citizens; the church should help them know how to engage their civic responsibility.

But could he not help himself? Did the Christian in him demand he reveal the full truth? Did his pro-Sisi/anti-Muslim Brotherhood giddiness expose it? Is he just proud of himself and the monumental task he organized? Bishop Boula invited me into a meeting once during parliamentary elections in 2011. I saw his efforts then, but did not notice any ‘persuasion’. Of course, that was just one session.

But, oh, this is fuel for the Egyptian political fire, and it is well deserved. Pope Tawadros, do you have a comment given your insistence of church neutrality? I wrote you an ‘all-but’ interpretation in that article. Has Bishop Boula made me a liar?

A worthy question also for the Muslim Brotherhood, for Jerry Falwell, and for Billy Graham. May God honor you all for the good you sought within your best interpretations. May he hold you all accountable for the means by which you pursued it.

And may be be merciful to us all for our many manipulations, both great and small. We self-justify far too easily.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Church and Politics Under Pope Tawadros

Sisi, flanked by Bishop Bishoy (L) and Pope Tawadros (R)
Sisi, flanked by Bishop Bishoy (L) and Pope Tawadros (R)

Yesterday I linked to my article on Christianity Today about the role of Copts in the current presidential elections season. It is a true article, but space limits the ability to probe the full issue of how they have been involved, particularly through leadership in the Coptic Orthodox Church. Here is a longer treatment, excerpted from my article at Arab West Report:

By appearances, the Coptic Orthodox Church is doing everything wrong. But appearances can be deceiving; officially, they are doing everything right.

But there is a messy in-between which casts doubt on it all. As convoluted as Egypt’s post-June 30 transition has been following the popular deposing of President Muhammad Mursī, the church has matched it step-by-step.

The appearances are obvious. Posters are seen throughout Cairo bearing pictures of Pope Tawadros alongside the front running military candidate. Some call out to the faithful: “The Lord Jesus calls you to support Field Marshal ‘Abd al-Fattāh al-Sīsī to preserve national unity.” Others give the reason “to stamp out terrorism,” and a third, “to stamp out the Brotherhood.”

Text messages have also been sent bearing similar slogans, calling on Christians to give their vote to Sīsī. This is confirmed by Ihāb al-Kharrāt, a Coptic founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, who in an interview with the author on May 15, 2014 called it “an abuse.”

The question is, by whom? The identity of sponsors is unknown, and the church has publicly denied any relation to the campaign on its Facebook page. Instead, as early as January 28, 2014 Pope Tawadros was rebutting rumors he was supporting a presidential candidate, and on May 4, 2014 he reiterated the church’s stance of neutrality. The church has no political role, he said on May 13, 2014 and his presence in Mursī’s removal on stage with al-Sīsī and Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyib of the Azhar reflected national institutional backing for the pulse of the street. Thereafter, priests are instructed not to directly support any candidates.

If this official position is clear and correct enough, there is a convoluted undercurrent. On March 23, 2014 Pope Tawadros was quoted by Kuwait’s al-Watan TV channel saying al-Sīsī had a national duty to run for president. Tawadros praised him as having the discipline necessary to run the country, though everyone was free to choose the one deemed most suitable. During the interview he also disparaged the Arab Spring, describing it as a conspiracy to break up the region into smaller states.

The next day the pope backtracked, telling al-Shurūq newspaper that he had not made any official statements or given any interviews over the past 10-14 days. Notably, he did not deny the content of the interview, though this was implied. But the video of his interview was later released stating the opinions in question, though the footage is not of great quality and appears edited, possibly doctored. Even so, it appears the church made a misstep in revealing its private convictions.

But even its public stance is open to interpretation. The Facebook page which denied relation to the posters called on Egyptians to participate in the presidential elections. This itself is a political step, though perhaps legitimate in terms of fulfilling national obligations. But to what end is this participation designed?

It is these national obligations Pope Tawadros once again emphasized on May 27, 2014 the last day of voting before polls were unexpectedly extended to a third day. In the face of a Muslim Brotherhood-backed boycott campaign joined at least passively by many youth, he declared this to be unacceptable negativity and urged people to vote.

But the government campaign begs interpretation that this election is less a contest between candidates than a quest for the legitimacy of turnout. 51 percent of the eligible electorate participated in the 2012 second round vote that installed Mursī over Ahmad Shafīq as president. Mursī received roughly 13 million votes. In his presumed victory al-Sīsī would want to at least match these numbers to validate officially his popular support beyond the many substantial street rallies which buttressed the popular overthrow.

Having given many signals of favor toward al-Sīsī, official or otherwise, is church neutrality now only a superficial position? In calling for participation, is it simply echoing the state call to support, in effect, a referendum on al-Sīsī? If his opponent Hamdīn Sabbāhī stands little chance of winning, should the church position be interpreted otherwise?

It is useful to look back at Pope Tawadros’ papacy to judge the fine line he has walked between involvement in and abstention from politics.

The article continues by examining the pope’s statements about and within the political arena, since his selection in November 2012. Judging from this history, the conclusion tries to examine the current situation:

The pattern that emerges gives an indication of what it means. Despite earlier stated intention to remove the church from politics and allow civil society to speak on behalf of Copts, Pope Tawadros was quickly drawn in. His remarks largely, though not exclusively, pertained to issues that affect the Coptic community. The 2012 constitution opened space for a threatening Islamism, and the attack on the cathedral in April 2013 was unprecedented and largely ignored by Mursī, despite initial condemnation. Statements of allowance for Coptic citizens to protest suggested an effort to stay within church matters, in the spirit of the January 25 revolution in which Copts acted without church direction, even if he earlier discouraged demonstrations.

But in endorsing the protest against Mursī a day before military action against him, Pope Tawadros took a political stand. It was not necessary, and it compromises his interpretation of appearing with al-Sīsī a day later. Yes, his appearance was a national statement of unity, but he appears an eager participant. It was a full endorsement of the order to come, and a condemnation of what came before.

But fair enough, it was a national action. Subsequent reception of al-Sīsī can be seen as honoring a national hero. And endorsement of the constitution can be seen as in line with support for the national roadmap and overall stability. They can also be seen otherwise, but this is the fine line he is walking.

Therefore, urging participation in presidential elections can be seen as more of the same. It is a national measure to rebuild the state, and it can be imagined he will do similarly with coming parliamentary elections. What will be tested then will be his opinion of candidates, as there is likely to be significant Islamist participation through the Salafi Nour Party. They are currently allies against Mursī; will the church be similarly neutral between candidates then, officially?

But this narrative is complicated by the controversial statements to al-Watan, along with the semi-denial. Having tightrope-walked for so long on the borders of political-religious legitimacy, it is not surprising to see such a mistake. But it is not enough to undue his official rhetoric. The church is neutral toward all political candidates; it simply plays its role as a national institution to support the state and encourage popular participation in governance.

To say otherwise requires descending into a conspiracy that may well be present but must be proven. But even without the conspiracy, it is possible to criticize the church for playing this national political role. This can be on the basis of principle – that religion should stay out of politics altogether. It can be on the basis of wisdom – that if there is a reversal in favor of the Islamists the church now has an entrenched enemy. Or it can be on the basis of the common good – that Egypt and her Christians are served better by active Coptic citizenry, not clergy.

But this calls for a vocal Coptic lay leadership that is emerging, but not yet mature. This is unsurprising given the decades of church paternalism under Pope Shenouda, encouraged by the long authoritarianism of Mubārak. Perhaps Pope Tawadros is being pushed back into the old paradigm; perhaps he is willing and eager. Perhaps there is little alternative yet and he acts against his better principles. Noteworthy also is that Pope Shenouda began his papacy as a vocal critic of Islamist policies, under President Sādāt. Banished for 40 months in a desert monastery, he returned much more subdued and cooperative under President Mubārak. It can be estimated that contrary to his predecessor, Pope Tawadros was victorious in his criticism; how will he now conduct himself under President al-Sīsī?

Like the meaning of the church’s call to vote in presidential elections, these questions are matters of his intentions, which cannot be known fully. Appearances are not good, but official stances are reasonable. It is the in-between that rightly confuses observers.

Within a still messy revolution, anything other would be surprising. The church and its pope are fully Egyptian, and Egypt is still convoluted.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

As Egypt Picks Next President, Christians Play Biggest Political Role in Decades


From my article at Christianity Today, published May 27, 2014:

For Egyptian Christians, today’s presidential election is not much of a contest.

Most support General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in appreciation for his role in deposing previous president Mohamed Morsi and ending the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. A smaller, younger contingent leans toward leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi out of appreciation for the revolution and skepticism of another military leader. But most on both sides expect Sisi will win handily, and most welcome the new era to come.

“This election [brings] great expectations to welcome a new Egypt with Muslims and Christians as equal citizens,” said Fawzi Khalil, a pastor at Cairo’s Kasr el-Dobara Church, the largest evangelical congregation in the Middle East.

But while most Christians are solidly in the camp of Sisi, many are taking advantage of the opening of political space after the January 2011 revolution to win leadership positions in a variety of political parties.

The article highlights one Christian woman who has become the first to head a political party in Egypt, supporting Sabbahi, and a man who is a founding member of another, supporting Sisi. A third figure is a human rights advocate seeking fair treatment for the Muslim Brotherhood, standing against the tide.

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

Diocese of Egypt (Anglican) Middle East Published Articles

Pope Tawadros Opens Art Exhibition at Anglican Cathedral

Tawadros and Fadel

In a historic visit, Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church inaugurated ‘The Way of Salvation: Exhibition of Christian Art,’ organized by the Anglican Church of Egypt as part of the celebrations of 75th anniversary of All Saints Cathedral. Eleven artists submitted 28 works of painting, sculpture, and relief to express the Christian message of salvation culminating in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

‘I truly appreciate the role played by art in spiritual meditation and inspiration of acts of good will,’ wrote Tawadros in the official program. ‘For this reason the church through the ages has encouraged all fields of art as an important tool to illustrate the stories of the Bible and the life of the saints.’

In his opening remarks, Bishop Mouneer Hanna of the Anglican Church honored the Orthodox as the ‘mother church’ of Egypt, and expressed his appreciation for the pope’s visit.

‘The pope believes in the unity of the churches, which Jesus prayed for,’ he said. ‘With his presence he emphasizes the spiritual work and the love between the churches.’

Since his consecration as pope in November 2012, Tawadros has sought to lessen tensions between Egyptian Christian denominations and publicly esteem their common faith. This was his first visit to the Anglican cathedral, and in March 2013 he attended the inauguration of Bishop Ibrahim Isaac as the new Coptic Catholic patriarch.

Rarely in history has the Coptic Orthodox pope visited other churches in Egypt, confirmed Fr. Bishouy Helmy, secretary-general of the Egypt Council of Churches.

‘This visit carries the values of an open mind and faith in ecumenical work with other churches,’ he said. ‘It also expresses appreciation and honor for the arts.’

Pope Tawadros spent over an hour in the exhibition, studying each piece and communicating with the artists.

‘Selecting the ten participating artists was done through a lot of prayer,’ wrote Dr. Farid Fadel, the exhibition’s curator and eleventh participant. Care was taken to ensure each artist would submit works that expressed the message of salvation, he said, as some artists belong to schools which desecrate holy subjects.

‘What you see today is the collective outcome of their labor of love.’

All Saint’s Cathedral in Zamalek will display the exhibition until 8 May 2014, 10:30am to 8pm


This article was originally published at the Anglican website. The opening photo is credited to the diocese.


These were my favorite pieces from the show:

'The Fall of Adam and Eve', by Salah Botros
‘The Fall of Adam and Eve’, by Salah Botros
'Sinai, Holy Land', by Gamal Lamie
‘Sinai, Holy Land’, by Gamal Lamie
'Born to be Crucified', by Wagdy Habashy
‘Born to be Crucified’, by Wagdy Habashy
'Cross of Shame', by Nathan Doss
‘Cross of Shame’, by Nathan Doss

An Alternate History for Pope Tawadros

From Salama Moussa, writing with deep respect for the Coptic pope and the impossible leadership position thrust upon him during divisive political times. Still, he wonders if things could have been different:

Three months after the July 3 events it is still impossible to criticize Pope Tawadros II presence on the stage with General Sisi and Sheikh Al Azhar. It is, however, possible to think of an alternative history. In that history the Pope would have indicated his support privately but refrained from the public display to lessen his political burden, one that he insisted he did not want in the first place.

He could have also indicated privately that while disapproving of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, and not wishing them an exclusive role in running Egypt, he could not sanction the killing of either the innocent or the guilty. In doing so he would have assumed the role of a father to the Muslim Brothers, of whose behavior he surely disapproves, but whom he must love as children of God. It is a tough task, fit only for a Patriarch.

Would such a stance have lessened the attacks against the Copts?  Probably not. Would it have made the state serve them less? Possibly. The current feeble efforts can still be weaker. It would have placed the Pope among the ranks of the most exceptional men of the new century, and possibly given a template for reconciliation to the hardened hearts of the Egyptian political class. There is no doubt of the risk of such actions toward the Copts of Egypt, but maybe it is time for the Coptic Church to aim wider than just Egypt, and higher than just its needs.

It would also have been Christian in the literal sense; the sense that Christ’s ministry aimed for the fallen and deluded.

Moussa is cautious about issuing his opinions from afar, not being in Egypt. But perhaps this vision can still be considered, and not just viewed as a missed opportunity.

Christian Century Middle East Published Articles

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.


Tawadros Celebrates New Coptic Catholic Pope


From MCN (behind paywall):

Pope Tawadros II noted the word patriarch has three meanings; the first is fatherhood, as the patriarch is a father who carries the feelings of fatherhood which stem from the work of the Holy Spirit towards each one, adding humans need this feeling of fatherhood every day.

“The second meaning is love, which is the main need of humans,” Pope Tawadros II continued. He acknowledged the world is currently hungry for the true love God planted in their lives to present to everyone.

The third meaning, Pope Tawadros II remarked, is service, adding the priority for the patriarch is to be a servant but that service means humans should serve everyone.

The Coptic patriarch added that washing the feet is one of the traditions established in the monasteries to express humility. He said their service comes from a heart of love and fatherhood to meet the needs of everyone, including marginalized people, tired people, the old and young. Service, he stressed, is the work of the patriarch.

These are good words. The new Coptic Catholic Pope is named Ibrahim Isaac. He replaces Antonious Naguib, who retired for health reasons, but is currently in the Vatican enclave due to his status as a cardinal.

The article is not clear about all that took place during the ceremony, but Pope Tawadros’ words could have been even more powerful if accompanied by the symbol he mentioned.

Imagine if he had stooped to wash the feet of the new Coptic Catholic Pope.

The Coptic Orthodox Church represents the overwhelming majority of Egyptian Christians. Interdenominational relations have ebbed and flowed over the years with Catholic and Protestants, but Pope Tawadros appears intent on fostering unity. As mentioned previously, he has helped facilitate the Egyptian Council of Churches. Each denomination will have equal weight and rotational leadership. It is a humble concession on the part of the Orthodox.

Pope Ibrahim Isaac also spoke of the connection between leadership and service, according to MCN:

During his speech at the inauguration, Pope Isaac remarked that the Holy Bible teaches us authority is there to serve, taking after Christ and his teachings.

It is a common practice in the Coptic Orthodox Church for the leadership to wash the feet of the people, in a special ceremony once (perhaps more?) a year. Perhaps the Coptic Catholics do similarly, I don’t know.

But on this occasion, if only Pope Tawadros had washed the feet of his counterpart – equal in ecclesiastic authority but so much less influential in Egypt. This is no criticism, only imagination. But to demonstrate this teaching on such an occasion would have been noteworthy. In Christianity, the greater serves the less.

Even just in writing that sentence the protest issues: Shouldn’t Christianity make all people equal?

Yes, and it does. But the world does not. Therefore, those who are invested with authority and privilege of position must do all they can to demonstrate their humility. They must overturn the way of the world, however rife with hypocrisy the statement may be, if they are not careful. Washing the feet can easily become the new pride. It is proved otherwise away from the cameras, in demonstrated service away from the eyes of the world.

If only to continue imagining, might also the Grand Sheikh of the Azhar wash the feet of Pope Tawadros? Here, we are crossing religions which maintain their own traditions. It is not a proper comparison.

But the Sheikh of the Azhar has consented to a similar humble concession. He has helped facilitate the Family House, in which he and the heads of all Christian denominations meet regularly to maintain good relations and solve sectarian conflicts.

Muslims represent the overwhelming majority of Egyptians, yet the Grand Sheikh is outnumbered.

In the world, everyone knows where power lies. This reality will not change because of humble participation in councils, nor in symbolic gestures like foot washing. People in power also have it in their interest to appear humble, which actually increases their effectiveness.

But to lift up the lesser, to honor, and to give more power even at your own expense – this is of God. “He must become greater, I must become less,” said John the Baptist of Jesus. Jesus, meanwhile, said of those who follow him, “They will do greater works than these.”

Egypt’s spiritual leadership, Muslim and Orthodox, appear to heed this pattern. God only knows, but may he similarly equip Pope Ibrahim Isaac, and make him a shepherd to his people.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt’s Five Largest Denominations Unite for the First Time

Egypt Council of Churches
Egypt Council of Churches

From my recent article in Christianity Today, published February 22:

February 18, 2013 may prove a monumental day in the modern history of Egyptian Christianity. Heads of the five largest denominations – Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican – created the Egyptian Council of Churches. Since the dawn of Catholic and Protestant missions in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Egypt’s Christians stand united.

“I believe history will record this day as we celebrate the establishment of a council for all churches of Egypt,” said Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which boasts approximately 90 percent of all Egyptian Christians. “I think such a step was delayed for years.”

The rest is a brief summary, in which participants actively deny any political role for the council, closing instead with these words of faith:

“The Lord has answered prayers which have been offered for thirty years,” said Baiady. “Our diversity must become a source of richness rather than a struggle.

“Unity is built on fruitful, humble love which favors the other over the self.”

Please click here to read the whole article, containing quotes also from the Catholic and Anglican representatives. It is a good step, a formal admission to the unity asserted by most Christians I know here.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Libya Offers the First Coptic Martyrs Outside Egypt in the Modern Era

Coptic Orthodox Church - Misrata, Libya
Coptic Orthodox Church – Misrata, Libya

On December 29, 2012, an unknown assailant killed two Egyptians praying in a service building attached to a Coptic Orthodox Church in Misrata, Libya. Located to the west of Tripoli, the attacker threw a homemade bomb into a midnight prayer service of 150 people, injuring two others.

According to Fr. Marcos, the Coptic priest in Misrata, the assailant appeared to have targeted the service, attacking the home rather than the more heavily secured formal church building. He did not have any prior warning of an attack, however, nor any knowledge if his church was targeted because it was a Coptic Orthodox Church in particular.

Fr. Marcos wondered if the attacker may have been confused thinking this prayer service was in celebration of the New Year. Two years earlier in Alexandria a Coptic Orthodox Church was bombed on December 31, 2011, killing 21. This prayer service had been ongoing for a month, however, so the priest offered the possibility of no connection at all.

The churches of Libya, however, are included in the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Beheira in western Egypt. This is the diocese from which the current patriarch, Pope Tawadros II, was elected.

The bombing represents an unfortunate continuation of the sufferings of the Coptic Orthodox Church since the Alexandria bombing. Fr. Marcos noted the two who died were the first Coptic martyrs outside of Egypt in the modern era.

Whoever did this, he assured, represented a very small percentage of people. Libyans, he declared, are good people who do not know religious fanaticism as they have only one religion, Islam. The church had lived in peace in Misrata for a long time.

During the Libyan Revolution at one point the church was hit by a bomb. On other occasions it was strafed by gunfire. None of these events targeted the church, and Fr. Marcos related that no injuries were suffered. The Coptic community gathered together as a community and managed as best they could.

Their management included offering service and grace to others. Soldiers connected to Col. Gaddafi at times demanded shelter in the church. This was freely offered, but with the request that all weapons be left outside. Sometimes this was followed, sometimes not.

Fr. Marcos remarked the Copts of Misrata are praying for their own salvation, the salvation of Libya, and the salvation of the world. They ask God to bring peace and love to their city, even to their enemies who committed this crime.

He remarked his church was a praying church, united in seeking blessing for all people, of which God heard their prayers. He wondered if the attack was orchestrated by the devil in an effort to stop them from praying. If so, he assured, this plan would fail.

May God bless their community, the people of Libya, Copts in Egypt and around the world, and the nations of the Arab Spring. May the upheavals they suffer result in peace, prosperity, and good governance in the near future.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egyptian Churches Give Up on Helping Create New Constitution

From my new article on Christianity Today:

In another blow to Egypt’s democratic transition, representatives of the Muslim nation’s three main Christian bodies jointly decided to end their participation in writing a new constitution.

“The constitution … in its current form does not meet the desired national consensus and does not reflect the pluralistic identity of Egypt,” said Bishop Pachomious, acting patriarch for the Coptic Orthodox Church. The announcement was made one day before Pope Tawadros II assumed the papal throne of St. Mark, the gospel writer.

A primary complaint is over the role of shari’ah. Article Two of Egypt’s 1971 constitution, as well as the current draft of the new constitution, enshrines the “principles” of shari’ah to be the primary source of legislation. Pope Tawadros does not dispute the article as currently defined—including its designation of Islam as the religion of the state. But all churches reject its expansion.

“They left Article Two as is, but then added another article defining the principles of shari’ah.”

Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.

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Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Solemn Ceremony and Contentious Politics Surround the Papal Throne

Pope Tawadros

From my new article on EgyptSource:

In a solemn, emotional ceremony, Pope Tawadros II was enthroned as the 118th Coptic Orthodox patriarch on Sunday, November 18.  Only one day earlier, a different atmosphere prevailed. Acting Patriarch Bishop Pachomious announced the withdrawal of church representation from the constituent assembly writing Egypt’s new constitution.

As Pope Tawadros took his seat on the papal chair of St. Mark, he was the picture of spiritual reflection. His demeanor was subdued, almost resigned to his new responsibilities. On a few occasions he shed a tear.

Two days prior, the church – behind closed doors – was the picture of enflamed political discussion.

Tawadros is the disciple of Pachomious, who spoke of his protégé:

Following the reading of the gospel, Pachomious introduced the new pope. Tawadros’ gravity was matched by Pachomious’ triumphal proclamation. “I tell him I will be his son and his servant,” stated Pachomious, “for we know the meaning of spiritual fatherhood.” He then exclaimed, driving home an intended contrast, “There is no struggle for authority in the Coptic Orthodox Church!”

The contrast, of course, is with the Egyptian political system, which the church strove hard to rise above.

But why would Pachomious make such a critical decision a day before the new pope, presumably, should start guiding these matters?

According to Bishop Yohanna Golta, Deputy Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church and its representative in the constituent assembly, the pope’s distance was deliberate. “The goal of Bishop Pachomious’s announcement … was to avoid entangling the new pope in this matter,” he said.

Politics entered the papal ceremony through another route – the decision of President Morsy not to attend. Many saw this as a failure to assuage the Copts amid an Islamist presidency, but others were relieved.

Perhaps Morsi, like Pachomious, also spared Tawadros the difficulty of political complications. The pope may prefer a non-politicized papacy, but this luxury may not be afforded until Egypt’s government stabilizes, if then.

And finally, here was the lead-up to the conclusion which needed to be edited out to fit with EgyptSources political focus:

Regardless of the explanation, during the ceremony Bishop Pachomious publically thanked President Morsy for sending a deputy, but focused on the spiritual definition of leadership.

‘We are the children of St. Mark,’ he said, ‘who taught us to wash each other’s feet.’ In this he referred to the example of Jesus, who took the place of a servant to wash the feet of his disciples.

Perhaps Pachomious and the church did so for Pope Tawadros, leaving him enough room to change the decision positively should circumstances warrant.

Though only speculation, perhaps it was these wranglings which produced Tawadros’ tears.

Please click here to read the whole article on EgyptSource.

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