Friday Prayers for Egypt: Competition, Good and Evil

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There is pleasure in struggle, but spite is so easy. Egypt found a long-lost joy, an international opportunity, and a rare but familiar reminder.

For the first time since 1990, the national soccer team qualified for the World Cup. Frequently the African champion, the streets filled and horns honked after the stoppage time winning goal.

God, thank you for the popular release. Times have been tough, and sport matters little. But you have been pleased to give us diversions. Let the unity created last.

For the first time ever, an Arab nation could have led UNESCO. Egypt and Qatar vied with France to head the UN cultural body, but both fell short. Still at odds with the wealthy peninsula, Egypt threw her support behind Europe, in the end.

God, bless the work of international cooperation. There are rifts in the Gulf, rifts with America, and controversy over Palestine. But place culture above it all. Let it, in unity, craft.

For the first time in a long while, a Coptic priest has been murdered. Visiting an area in lower-class Cairo, an assailant stabbed him to death. Details are unclear, extremism is suspected.

God, comfort his family, his church, and his country. Rid Egypt’s specter of sectarianism, protect her streets from violence. Some see religion as contest, while others are offended. Let not her unity pass.

The fight is worthwhile, God. We prove ourselves against others. Let the winners be humble, the vanquished esteemed.

But not all is competition. Good or evil, there is always better.

Bring Egypt together, and the world with her. For our greater pleasure, and in us, for yours.




Friday Prayers for Egypt: Qatar Continues

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Since last week there has been much written but little resolved. Qatar and the Gulf allies have traded accusations and attempted mediation. But now a line in the sand has been drawn.

A list of demands has been issued.

Egypt, joining Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and others, have given Qatar ten days to close al-Jazeera, reduce Iran ties, shutter a Turkey base, and end support for terrorist groups.

God, with many details behind closed doors, only you can sort out fully the right and the wrong. But amid charges of meddling over several years of frustration, this crisis may be approaching a critical moment.

Keep the peace. Promote consensus. Honor sovereignty. Reveal the truth.

The region needs good journalism, God. Provide for transparency and accountability in an independent media.

The region needs a spirit of unity, God. Help Arab brothers recognize joint challenges and cultivate wise policies.

The region needs respect for diversity, God. Allow conflicting interests and disparate peoples to find welcome.

The region needs less violence, God. End outside support for terrorist groups and reform poisonous ideology.

A line is in the sand, and you count every grain. Let wise heads prevail, and you know every hair.

The stars are in the sky, and you call them by name. Call also the faithful lights of regional politics, and bid them to peace.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Qatar

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The Gulf has had enough. So has Egypt. So have others. Some hedge their bets. Some play both sides.

But it is a crisis, God. The tiny nation has been called out for supporting terrorism, within a region that is full of it, but usually sticks to innuendo. It also happens to host the largest US military base in the Middle East.

And the damage is far beyond diplomacy. A blockade is established on all entry and exit. The only airspace is through Iran.

Qatar is rich, and can ride out the damage. But for how long, and at what cost? What can bring resolution, in a culture bound by honor? In the eyes of many, Qatar has forfeited it.

But you know, God. Dangerous and deadly games are played in the region, by someone. Even the public rivalries are contentious, in media.

You value unity, God. At some level it is right for the region to maintain it.

You value diversity, God. At some level each nation must find its own way.

But you deplore duplicity, God. Many accuse in mutual recrimination.

And you deplore savagery, God. Many suffer in targeted destabilization.

Settle the region and every nation. Preserve sovereignty and good will. Promote peace and economic balance.

Hold accountable. If some are guilty let your judgment be true.

But all are guilty. Let your justice redeem.

God, the people have had enough. Have you? Do we witness your retribution, or more manipulation?

Put things right, God, on all sides. Honor Qatar. Honor all.



Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Why Christianity is Surging in the Heart of Islam

Public baptism service in the Gulf, in front of Dubai's Burj al-Arab. Photo courtesy of Fellowship of the Emirates.
Public baptism service in the Gulf, in front of Dubai’s Burj al-Arab. Photo courtesy of Fellowship of the Emirates.

My article for Christianity Today was published September 11, 2015. Here is an excerpt:

Espada, an architect, is one of the millions of foreign workers transforming the former desert oasis into a global center for business and travel. The UAE’s Dubai is the fifth-fastest-growing city in the world; its population is now more than 80 percent migrant.

The great majority of migrant workers in the region come from India and Southeast Asia, sometimes suffering exploitation in labor camps to send a collective $100 billion back home. As an American, Espada is unusual.

But as a Christian, he is not. Today the Pew Research Center numbers Christians in the Arabian Peninsula at 2.3 million—more Christians than nearly 100 countries can claim. The Gulf Christian Fellowship, an umbrella group, estimates 3.5 million.

These migrants bring the UAE’s Christian population to 13 percent, according to Pew. Among other Gulf states, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar are each about 14 percent Christian, while Oman is about 6 percent. Even Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest cities (Mecca and Medina), is 4 percent Christian when migrants are counted.

Together, they represent the largest Christian community in the Middle East outside of Egypt. But their experiences vary considerably.

In Bahrain and Kuwait, Muslims can enter church compounds. In Qatar, guards allow only foreigners. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti (the nation’s highest official of religious law) has called for all churches in the peninsula to be destroyed.

Surprising to many observers is how many of these churches there are.

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today. Next post I’ll share some photos of church buildings.


Debate: Genocide for Syria’s Alawites?

Alawite Genocide al-JazeeraIf you think American news is polarized, check out al-Jazeera. If you think American news pushes boundaries and aims to shape a narrative, check out al-Jazeera.

If you think news in general reflects the attitudes of its audience, then God have mercy, check out al-Jazeera.

I remember many years ago, when the channel was first becoming known to American audiences, I defended its professionalism and boldness to give voice to opposition figures often excluded by government and traditional media.

Since then the accusations have piled on that al-Jazeera is little more than a tool for Qatari foreign policy. Even journalists jailed in Egypt rail against the unprofessionalism and bias of the station.

But this video reaches a new low. The transcription is not complete, but it is fair. It is a heated debate on whether or not a minority religious segment in Syria should be wiped out entirely.

To be noted: al-Jazeera selects a Christian to defend the Alawites, further aiding the sectarian nature of discussion. Also to be noted, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad comes from the Alawite community, which stands strongly behind his continued rule.

Thank God the debates in America are about gun control or marriage equality. But there is also a worrying fringe debate, creeping into the mainstream, against Muslims in general. God spare America this development. Look at al-Jazeera, and Syria, for the alternative.

Video via the Clarion Project. Click here if there is any difficulty in accessing the clip.

Europe Lapido Media Published Articles

The Muslim Brotherhood in England and Egypt

MB England EgyptLondon and Istanbul have become the new base of operations for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Following the ouster of Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2011 and their subsequent banning in Egypt in December last year, the organization is recalibrating abroad.

An early base of operations was Qatar, where the al-Jazeera network was widely perceived, even by its own staff, as being biased toward the Brotherhood.

But the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia joined Egypt in labelling the MB a terrorist organization, and their pressure on Qatar resulted in the expulsion of some leaders.

Now several office blocks on London’s A406 North Circular Road comprise one of the two main centres of operation, the other being Turkey.

An investigation into MB links to terrorism was completed by former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins in July 2014, but its results have not yet been made public.

And bar a few lone journalists keeping tabs on the story, there is little public accountability about the presence and growth of such a controversial movement in Britain.

The MB is accused of burning up to 50 churches and Coptic businesses following the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins on August 14, 2013. In December, in an Asyut court 40 Morsi supporters were found guilty, while 61 others were acquitted.

Ian Black of the Guardian has followed the story, implying the inquiry is being leaned on by Gulf nations who have banned the MB.

Delay in its publication is attributed to their displeasure that the report clears the MB of terrorism.

Black quotes MB apologist Anas al-Tikriti, founder Director of the Cordoba Institute, who says Islamists like the MB must be seen as a middle ground in the fight against extremism. If allowed to govern, he says, they would liberalize and sideline their hardliners.

Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute debunks this theory, saying Islamists only ever moderate their behaviour under duress. Once enjoying democratic freedoms, they tend to revert to their original illiberal religious conservatism.

Tikriti, whose father was in the Iraqi Brotherhood, recently denied on Twitter being a member or lobbyist of the MB.

Al-Jazeera however describe the Cordoba Foundation as a Brotherhood front. And the Hudson Institute, in a study of UK-based Islamism, calls him one of their shrewdest activists.

But Ibrahim Mouneer, an MB senior leader in London, told the Times that if the group were banned it would result in increased terrorism at home, with moderate Muslims concluding that an irenic approach didn’t work.

Lapido Media has argued this purported dichotomy between Islamism and jihadism is a false choice, and the government should not be gulled.

According to Andrew Gilligan of the Telegraph, the UK inquiry will confirm that the MB is not a terrorist group and should not therefore be banned.

And a British security source told Lapido they prefer to turn a more or less blind eye within the law, believing this offers opportunities for ‘influence’.

But Gilligan provides extensive evidence the group is linked – directly and indirectly – with terrorist groups, in particular with Hamas, and is at least potentially outside the law.

Cordoba Foundation is named by Gilligan as one of 25 groups with Muslim Brotherhood links. The Muslim Charities Forum is mentioned also.

A June report by the UAE based The National linked Takriti, his family, and associates also to the Middle East Eye and Middle East Monitor.

The Egyptian foreign ministry has asked in vain that London shut down UK based pro-MB satellite channels and newspapers like Alarabi, al-Hewar, and al-Araby al-Jadeed, saying they incite terrorist activity in Egypt.

The BBC has examined this growing media outreach that fails to promote impartial journalism, and is said to be funded by Qatar.

According to the Washington Post, this incitement is clear in the MB’s other haven abroad, Turkey. It says the Masr al-An channel, funded and managed by the MB, warned that the families of Egyptian police officers would be ‘widowed and orphaned’.

Other Turkey-based pro-MB channels like al-Sharq, Mukammilin and Rabaa employ similar rhetoric, and even allowed one MB supporter to issue a fatwa during a live interview to assassinate Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Others advocate the killing of media figures and warn foreigners to leave Egypt lest they become legitimate targets.

The fatwa caused uproar, leading the Brotherhood on its English language Twitter feed @IkhwanWeb to condemn it and deny endorsing the channel.

The call to kill Sisi was made to audible applause by grinning Egyptian cleric Salama Abd Al-Qawi who said: ‘Doing this would be a good deed that would bring (the killer) closer to Allah.’

Although Al-Qawi was official spokesman for the Endowments Ministry during the presidency of Morsi, it is hard to pin down his ‘membership’ in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The MB is a hierarchical organization with strict guidelines for who is in and who simply is like-minded. Those who are members follow policy. Others aid and cooperate. The MB does not publish its membership list.

Many MB self-identify. And the period in power gave the opportunity to see new faces emerge. But without an admissions policy, it is very difficult to identify ‘members’.

MB-watchers have not seen the sheikh identified either way. But clearly he is at least a supporter and often featured in their broadcasts.

On January 25 this year a delegation of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council and the so-called Parliament in Exile, including leading MB figures, visited Washington and met State Department and White House officials.

They asserted that the revolution was non-violent and the only way to undo the coup. The State Department had previously said Egypt had given it no evidence of MB links to terrorism.

Just two days later the MB released a statement urging its supporters to prepare for a long and uncompromising jihad, stopping just short of an outright call for violence.

Charl Fouad El-Masri, editor-in-chief of Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm said: ‘Egypt’s Copts suffered during the Muslim Brotherhood rule greatly.’

Anglican Bishop of Egypt Rt Revd Mouneer Hanna Anis had his Suez church attacked by pro-Morsi supporters following the dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins in August 2013. He strongly suspects the MB to be behind Egyptian violence and terrorism.

‘They may not be directly involved in terrorist attacks,’ he told Lapido Media, ‘but they encouraged the flourishing of terrorist groups in Egypt.’

This article was originally published at Lapido Media, as a press briefing service.


Economic Aid to Egypt

Egypt Economic Aid

Curious about who is funding Egypt these days? American military aid gets all the press, but many have contributed to support Egypt’s economy. Daily News Egypt recently provided a detailed breakdown. Except for deposits made to the central bank, I have not listed loan agreements. In some cases it is not clear if the money has been received already or only pledged. For ease of access, here is a simplified list:

United Arab Emirates

  • $10.125 billion in grants, deposits, fuel shipments, and water and micro-enterprise projects

Saudi Arabia

  • $6.3 billion in grants, deposits, fuel shipments, and petroleum and electricity projects


  • $4 billion in grants, deposits, and fuel shipments

World Bank

  • $934.4 million in electricity, economic, and transportation projects

Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development

  • $412 million in energy projects

Joint European Aid

  • $260.7 million in clean water projects

European Union

  • $236.2 million in educational, economic, and various regional projects


  • $137.2 million in micro-enterprise projects


  • $78.5 million in agricultural projects


  • $24.4 million in economic projects

African Development Bank

  • $2 million in waste management and micro-enterprise projects

and finally…


  • $7.5 billion demanded to be returned from assistance given under the Morsi administration


I suppose there is a fair question: How can anyone in Egypt still be poor?


The Case against Qatar


A recent Foreign Policy investigative report details Qatari foreign policy. It describes a strategy of intervention-by-proxy, which keeps its hands clean officially while funneling money to groups it deems ideologically similar, that is, those they can trust.

Primarily, this has been the Muslim Brotherhood and various activist Salafi factions.

The article is long but worthy, and one interesting section describes how Qatar has helped the US disengage from the region. This was evident in Libya, when Qatar not only provided crucial Arab support for the operation, but also took the lead in sponsoring militia groups against Gaddafi.

But now that the US is reengaging the region, this time against the Islamic State (ISIS), officials are examining anew the sponsorship by Qatari individuals and charities which have gone to the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front. Following three years or more of looking the other way, the dispute has become public:

In Syria, meanwhile, it wasn’t until the Islamic State gained prominence that Washington sat up and took notice. In March, David S. Cohen, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, took the unprecedented step of calling out the Qataris in public for a “permissive terrorist financing environment.” Such stark criticism, counterterrorism experts say, is usually left for closed-door conversations. A public airing likely indicated Doha wasn’t responsive to Washington’s private requests.

But if initial requests were private, that means the US – for a long while, at least – tolerated and possibly approved of the general strokes of Qatari foreign policy. Two key aspects of Qatar’s leverage over the United States include its hosting of the US Central Command air base, as well as the usefulness of its network to liaison with otherwise disreputable characters. Discussions with the Taliban in particular have often flowed through Qatar. Without them, back-door channels would not be possible; hostages released might still be held.

Has the US, therefore, been a partner in the wanton destruction of Syria? President Obama has forcefully spoken against Assad, but has never decisively moved against him. The article deems the chaos there less to be a result of coordinated conspiracy, than uncoordinated incompetence:

In other words, there was no one winner. Qatar and other international powers haphazardly backed dozens of different brigades and let them fight it out for who could secure a greater share of the funding. They had few incentives to cooperate on operations, let alone strategy. Nor did their various backers have any incentive to push them together, since this might erode their own influence over the rebels.

Says one analyst:

“One of the things about Qatar’s foreign policy is the extent to which it has been a complete and total failure, almost an uninterrupted series of disasters,” says Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. “Except it’s all by proxy, so nothing bad ever happens to Qatar.”

Except its reputation in much of the Arab world. Egyptians in particular have been furious at Qatar over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have signaled displeasure in manners unusual among Gulf monarchies.

Long ago Qatar made a bet on the Islamist factions becoming the prominent power players in the region. For a while they seemed vindicated; now they appear in retreat. Qatar has been publicly acquiescing to the criticism, sending away top Brotherhood figures it has long hosted, for example, but it is unclear if its long term strategies have changed.

Were Qatar and its allies-by-proxy simply outmaneuvered? How much of the Arab Spring was manipulated by the regional and international power struggles? What role did America have is a key question. Most Arabs view Washington as the chief puppet master, allowing its public allies – the Saudis, Turks, UAE, Qatar, and Israel, of course – to mess around with local sovereignty.

Or, did the US just pull back, and allow others to run the show? Either way, the result is a disaster, however many parties share in the blame.

One other controversial point converges with this article. Many Egyptians see the Muslim Brotherhood as one aspect of an Islamist agenda that includes and coordinates with groups like ISIS, on the far end of the spectrum. The point is not necessarily that the MB keeps its hands clean while sending out clandestine orders to others to ferment chaos – though this is certainly believed locally.

But if the Brotherhood is one part, and a key part, of Qatar’s proxy network, a linkage does seem to exist. This article does not make the accusation, and I do not wish to lend it weight in the mentioning. But it bears consideration.

Of course, Brotherhood sympathizers simply turn the equation on its head. They see Qatar as the good guy, standing with the people and the forces of democracy, against fearful Gulf monarchies, their own proxies, and the US.

God bless this part of the world. Maybe one day the oil will run out and they can all be left alone again.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Rabaa and the Gulf

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Old events and new repercussions affected Egypt this week. The semi-independent National Council for Human Rights spoke publically about its fact-finding mission on the August 14 dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda Squares, in which several hundred died.

Unrelated but poignant in timing, a row erupted in the Persian Gulf as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. Largely at issue is Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia, following Egypt’s lead.

God, a gulf is an apt description of perceived reality in the region. The report by the NCHR was not only rejected by Morsi supporters, it was criticized by some of its own members. They found the protestors had fired first at security, which then responded in ‘excess force’. Its criticism of the state is noteworthy, but little of its focus was on police abuses. The report has no power of law, but will those responsible for excesses be held accountable?

And God, none of the Gulf countries have strong reputations for promotion of freedom, democracy, or human rights. By contrast, most stand accused of being behind much of the terrorism in the world, at least via their citizens. There appears little principle in their spat, but much division. Its consequences, however, may be serious if there is escalation.

Help Egypt to choose her friends wisely, God. Or rather, to balance her interests. Many nations take interest in her stability/disruption, so give Egypt ability to put her own house in order.

And in this house, God, may August 14 not be swept under the rug. Much dirt has already been hid there, leading back to January 25, and beyond. Whether to protect power, interest, or principle, too many have treated cheaply the blood of Egyptians. May this accumulated stench rise to your nostrils, God, but be merciful in your judgment.

Do you not hold the kings of this world in the palm of your hand? Do the actions of bureaucrats escape your notice? What of those who plot chaos and violence? Bring justice to Egypt, God, and make your righteousness clear for all to see.

But if not, God, give eyes of discernment in the movement of events. Give faith to the people that your will shall prevail. Hold accountable all guilty; convict all who see themselves innocent. Lead the nation to repentance for all her ills these past three years, and many beyond.

There is a great gulf between self-perception and your divine standard. For the sake of Egypt and Egyptians, bridge it peacefully.


Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

Move Over al-Jazeera: Arabic Christian TV Also Comes to America

SAT-7 North America

From my recent article at Christianity Today, published August 25, 2013, posted today to coincide with the launch of SAT-7 North America:

Al Jazeera America received a major boost this week in its controversial attempt to build a U.S. audience. But the Qatar-based news station, whose channel will now be carried by Time Warner Cable, is not the only Middle East satellite giant coming to penetrate the market.

Soon the Arab world’s top Christian broadcaster, SAT-7, will also start reaching into American homes.

Unlike Al Jazeera, which aims to reach 48 million U.S. homes, 17-year-veteran SAT-7 is aiming for only four million. This is the estimated number of Arabs in the United States and Canada.

“Since the start of the Arab uprisings in 2011, there has been an acceleration in the number of Arabs—especially Christian Arabs—leaving their homelands for North America,” Terry Ascott, SAT-7’s founder and CEO, told CT. “Launching now is a response to the growing number of people who are leaving and want to stay in touch with home.”

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.