Friday Prayers for Egypt: Declaring Reform

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The public statements coming out of Egypt are positive. Help the public reform to follow.

You know what is needed, God, but officials surely have an idea as well. The housing minister announced efforts to eliminate slums within a year. The interior minister called on citizens to report police abuse. And following visits by the National Council of Human Rights, the prison system will be subject to random and ongoing investigations.

Words are good, though deeds are better. Similar words have been spoken before. That they are spoken again puts confidence on hold.

So let confidence be earned, God. Place Egyptians in solid dwellings. Hold police to the highest standard. Respect criminals despite their crimes. And honor officials who honor your will.

Apply this will to the nation at large, God. In Upper Egypt the law is weak. In Alexandria the buildings collapse. Everywhere the poor exist.

And as Egypt follows up on its economic conference, create a context to facilitate investment, curb corruption, and distribute wealth.

Hope is high, God, and words are many. But reform is always difficult. Humans flee accountability and hide their faults.

Be gentle, but shine your light. Be merciful, but root out the wrong.

Stand with those who have declared reform, God. Strengthen their hand and firm their resolve. May they work with integrity to fight the status quo.

Make the benefit public, for all to enjoy. Bless Egypt and help her prosper.



Block 1, Cell 8: A Letter from Damanhour Women’s Prison


From Mada Masr, publishing a letter by Mahienour al-Massry, an activist from Alexandria imprisoned for illegal protest:

Ever since I set foot in Damanhour women’s prison and was placed with my inmates in ‘Block One’ — The cluster of cells assigned to those accused or convicted of embezzlement — only one thing has been on my mind and I repeat it like a daily mantra: “Down with this classist system.”

Most of my inmates have been imprisoned for defaulting on the payment of instalments or small loans. They are loans taken out by a mother buying some direly needed items for her bride-to-be daughter, or by a wife who needed money to afford treatment for her sick husband, or a woman failing to pay back a LE 2,000 ($280 US) loan on time, only to find herself slammed with a LE 3 million ($420,000 US) fine in return.

She recalls a similar, but more high profile recent case:

At this point, news reaches us of Hosni Mubarak’s three-year sentence for charges of widespread corruption, embezzlement of funds, and financial fraud in the ‘Presidential Palaces Case.’ Cracking up, I ask them, “What kind of future do you expect me to have in an unjust society, in which the regime thinks that Umm Ahmed (‘Ahmed’s mother’), who has been incarcerated for the past eight years and still has six more to go for signing a bad check worth no more than LE 50,000 ($7,000 US), is more of a dangerous criminal than Mubarak?”

Let us imagine that these women are indeed guilty, have broken the law, and are justly imprisoned, however unjust their sentence and the system behind it may be.

Mahienour and other January 25 activists forged their revolution at least in part to overturn this system. I imagine other activists are laboring with those like Umm Ahmed, to provide legal counsel and advocacy for those perhaps guilty but entrapped in this system.

This post is not for evaluation of Mahienour’s option; this choice is three years ongoing with mixed but still inconclusive results, even if she has found herself on the wrong side of the bars.

But even so she counsels:

Freedom for Umm Ahmed, who hasn’t seen her children for eight years. Freedom for Umm Dina, who is the sole provider of her family. Freedom for Niamah, who agreed to go to prison instead of someone else in return for money to feed her children. Freedom for Farhah, Wafaa, Kawthar, Sanaa, Dawlat, Samia, Iman, Amal and Mervat.

Our pains compared to theirs are nothing, as we know that there are those who will remember us, say our names from time to time, proudly mentioning how they know us. Instead, these women, who deserve to be proudly remembered, will only be mentioned at most in family gatherings.

Do they deserve freedom? Allow lawyers and judges to argue over this. But they deserve remembering. They deserve advocacy.

Lord, when did we see you in prison and go to visit you? … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Surely there are a number of activists who intercede already for the likes of Umm Ahmed, but is this not a challenge to lay before the Egyptian church?

Lawyers and judges can argue over Umm Ahmed, but does she even have a lawyer? What if Umm Ahmed and all in similar circumstances knew they could go to their local church and find advocacy?

This challenge would not be Mahienour’s. It is not to overturn the system, not even to reform it. Let other activists labor in these struggles, as warranted.

But that someone might stand with Umm Ahmed in the courtroom, plead her case and seek at least the minimum sentence, would this not be a service worthy of the church?

Some might be bold and say the church should stand with Mahienour also. Perhaps they are right; I do not know the details of her case. If she is jailed unjustly, if the law imprisoning her is unjust, should not the church speak?

Let Christians debate this; some might find it an improper interference in politics. Perhaps it is.

But there are no politics with Umm Ahmed. There is no statement against the system. There is no public protest, there is no agitation.

There is only solidarity with the occupant of Block 1, Cell 9. And 10, and 11. Maybe 12 deserves her fate. But Cell 13, and 14, and …

The Anglican Church of Egypt already has a program to visit foreigners imprisoned in local jails. Some have committed crimes, others are detained on visa irregularities. But the church regularly visits to encourage and furnish needed supplies. It is a good application of the above verse, and donations are welcome.

But could the churches of Egypt do more? If not the churches, could the Christians? Could they do so in close partnership with like-minded Muslims?

If so, I imagine they would please Mahienour immensely. But more importantly, they would please the women of Damanhour prison, their families, and even, it could be imagined, the state.

Here, Mahienour will likely disagree. But which would the state prefer? An activist calling “Down with this classist system,” or citizens working quietly on behalf of individual cases of justice? The guilty would still be sentenced, but the women and their families would know they were treated right. The church would ensure it was not otherwise.

And with accumulated evidence, the church could possibly ensure that all are treated right. Once a critical mass of accountability is reached, the system might naturally reset. A large segment of popular discontent with the regime might be quieted. A revolution might not be necessary.

Surely Mahienour would have been happier if she had the last three years of her life back, and with it a more just society. Let activists and citizens argue the type of activism needed, but surely there is some.

What kind can the church provide?


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Prison Conditions

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Reports have been ample from Egyptian prisons with accounts of mistreatment, even torture. And this week smuggled video purported a look inside, picturing squalid conditions and cramped quarters. The government denies the veracity of these sources, insisting that after the revolution a commitment to human rights has reformed the system. A visit from the National Council for Human Rights yielded conflicting testimony.

Meanwhile the broader issues of respect for human rights and the detention of thousands has taken the attention of several at the United Nations. Twenty-seven countries issued a statement against the government, and had their ambassadors summoned in return, warning them against meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs.

God, these are trying times in Egypt, with conspiracies swirling and legitimacies contested. But a nation is known by how it treats the least of its citizens. Bless those in prison. Comfort them in their troubles. Convict them of their sins. Visit them with your presence.

Give them their rights, God, and do so through the government. Do so through their lawyers. Do so through journalists and human rights activists. Egypt has a long and sordid history to overcome, and if the revolution has changed the discourse, reform will face many challenges. Empower those in the Interior Ministry who will abide by the right.

But where there is ill-treatment, and where there is fabrication, rid Egypt of both. Establish transparent systems that can hold all accountable. Remove the fog of uncertainty that clouds so many issues, that citizens of the nation would discern all truth.

And inasmuch as foreign nations claim to see clearly, may they find the log in their own eyes first. But use them, God, to pressure Egypt appropriately. It feels too much to ask the whole world system to reflect your will, but thank you that human rights are an international concern. Where there is hypocrisy, expose it. Where there is opportunism, void it. But let the light shining on Egypt reveal both its virtue and vice, that all may be clean.

May it be, God, that Egypt’s prisons are free of abuse – both now and in the future. Bless those there on both sides of the bars. No prison is wholesome, but may all emerge so. Let coming testimonies reflect this reality.