Surveying Foreign Christian Residents in Egypt on the Interpretation of Political Events

St. John's Church Maadi

In Egypt’s current political struggle both sides are using the media to highlight their interpretation of events. State media is accused of turning the nation against the democratically elected president and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, anti-Islamists target Western media in particular of having a bias toward the Brotherhood, against the military, and neglect the popular role in Morsi’s overthrow.

This survey was designed to test one overlapping segment within this struggle to establish a media narrative: foreign Christian residents.

Two assumptions were made of this community. First, they would be sympathetic to local Coptic opinion, which is strongly anti-Islamist. Second, they would be consumers of Western media and generally trust their journalistic professionalism.

Thirty-three individuals were surveyed, including both leaders and laity of the Catholic and Protestant foreign communities of Egypt. They were asked fifteen questions concerning recent political events beginning with the election of Mohamed Morsi as president. Each question was provided various options, reflecting the opinions and conspiracies of both camps.

Participants were allowed to choose more than one answer, if multiple interpretations were possible. They were asked only to choose according to their leanings and perceptions, not according to an elusive certainty or proof. Not all participants answered each question. In the results which follow, this explains why some percentages are provided with the qualifier ‘among those responding’.

Here are the questions as they were posed to participants:

1.      Did Mohamed Morsi legitimately win the presidential election?
2.      Were Egypt’s political problems caused by:
The desire of the Muslim Brotherhood to dominate
The deliberate non-cooperation of opposition parties
Normal competition after a revolution
3.      Were Egypt’s economic problems caused by:
Morsi’s mismanagement
State sabotage of gas and supplies
Continuing deterioration since the revolution
4.      Did Western powers support Morsi because:
He was the legitimately elected president
They desired the Muslim Brotherhood to replace Mubarak
They desired Islamist rule to weaken Egypt
They desired to discredit Islamism by letting it rule temporarily
5.      Did Morsi and the Brotherhood desire:
To turn Egypt into an Islamic state
To recreate the Mubarak regime
To shepherd in a civil democracy
6.      Was the Rebellion (tamarrud) Campaign:
A grass-roots movement expressing popular rejection
Aided by the military/state/businessmen
A conspiracy to end the Morsi presidency early
7.      Should the military have:
Intervened to depose Morsi as actually happened
Waited longer to see how things would develop
Not intervened at all
8.      Was the military action a coup d’etat?
9.      Was the removal of Morsi:
Mostly positive for Egypt
Mostly negative for Egypt
Both positive and negative in different ways
Necessary for Egypt
10. Should the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest site:
Have been dispersed
Have been relocated to another area
Have been left to protest indefinitely
11. Why did so many people die:
Because of deliberate excess force used by the security services
Because of poor training in crowd control
Because of pro-Morsi armed resistance
12. Were the widespread attacks on Christians and their churches:
Orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood
A spontaneous reaction by pro-Morsi supporters
The action of criminals exploiting the situation
A conspiracy by the state to tarnish the Islamists
13. Should the Muslim Brotherhood:
Be labeled as a terrorist organization, banned, and prosecuted
Be invited into national reconciliation
Be allowed to participate in the new democratic roadmap
Be forbidden from politics but allowed a social role
14. Does the military desire:
To rule directly (perhaps through a retired general)
To have influence and guardianship from behind the scenes
To maintain its economic privileges
To secure a true and open democratic transition
To destroy the Muslim Brotherhood
To prevent Islamist rule in general
15. Will the coming months/years in Egypt witness:
The development of an emerging democracy
The return of an autocratic state
New economic prosperity
Continued economic deterioration
A reversal back to Islamist rule (democratic or otherwise)
Low-level, but violent Islamic insurgency
War (either civil or regional)


Each possibility was given a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice to indicate the perception of the participant.

Here are the key findings:

Did Mohamed Morsi legitimately win the presidential election?

  • 52% said yes, 48% said no, roughly mirroring his percentage of winning

Egypt’s political problems were caused by:

  • 97% of all surveyed believed it was due to the MB’s desire to dominate
  • 45% also blamed deliberate non-cooperation on the part of the opposition
  • 36% attributed it to normal competition after a revolution

Egypt’s economic problems were caused by:

  • 82% blamed Morsi’s mismanagement
  • 42% also blamed a state policy of sabotage
  • 82% believed the poor economy following the revolution played a role

Western powers supported Morsi because:

  • 73% believed it was because they recognized him as the legitimately elected leader
  • 24% believed they desired the MB to continue Mubarak’s policies, with 9% support for other conspiracy theories

The political desire of the Muslim Brotherhood was:

  • 100% to turn Egypt into an Islamic state
  • 0% to turn Egypt into a civil democracy

The Tamarud Campaign was:

  • 82% believed it to be a grass roots campaign
  • But 67% believed it also to be sponsored by the army, state, or businessmen
  • Even so, respondents divided evenly if it was a conspiracy to remove Morsi from power, though only 30% of everyone surveyed indicated this

On military intervention to depose Morsi:

  • 70% agree with their decision to do so, as opposed to waiting longer or doing nothing
  • But 47% call it a coup anyway, while 53% believe it does not deserve that label
  • 93% of those responding believe this action was mostly positive for Egypt
  • 75% find that it was also somewhat negative
  • 85% believed it was necessary

On dispersing the pro-Morsi sit-in:

  • 79% agreed with the decision to do so
  • 88% believe that many people died due to the MB’s decision to resist with arms
  • 45% also believed the security forces deliberately used excess force
  • 48% believed poor training on the part of the security forces contributed

On the subsequent attacks on churches:

  • 76% believe these were orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood
  • 58% believe it was a spontaneous action by Morsi supporters
  • 48% also thought criminal elements were involved
  • 9% believe it was at least also a state conspiracy to make Islamists look bad

The Muslim Brotherhood should be:

  • 42% believed it should be labeled a terrorist organization and banned
  • Only 27% opposed this designation
  • Responders were roughly divided between inviting them to national reconciliation and allowing them political participation in the new elections, with slightly more positive response

The military desires:

  • Of those responding, 59% did not believe the military wants to rule directly
  • But 73% believe they want to maintain significant influence behind the scenes, and 52% to maintain their economic interests (0% opposition to this idea)
  • Of responders, 60% believe the military wants to conduct an open democratic transition, but 40% do not
  • 48% believe they want to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood, and 61% believe they want to prevent Islamist rule in general

The future holds:

  • 48% of all and 73% of responders are confident a real democracy will begin to emerge
  • At the same time, of those responding, half fear the return of another autocratic system
  • 55% believe the economy will continue to deteriorate, with only 27% predicting new prosperity
  • Only 3% predict a return to Islamist rule, but 79% predict a continued low-level Islamist insurgency
  • 9% predict war in Egypt’s near-term future

In quick summary, therefore, this sample of foreign Christian residents of Egypt indicates the community largely accepts the anti-Islamist narrative concerning the Muslim Brotherhood, while at the same time displaying significant, but not universal, distrust about the role and intentions of the military and state.

Determining whether their perceptions are correct or incorrect was not the goal of this survey. Rather, results indicate the following possibilities:

  • Foreign Christian residents are disproportionately influenced by local anti-Islamist sentiment or their own anti-Islamist inclinations
  • Western media has not exhibited sufficient pro-Islamist bias to sway their interpretation of events, but has contributed to a distrust of local actors
  • As residents, these foreign Christians are well placed to interpret local events.

Other interpretations are also possible, including combinations of these three.

Western media is understood to be professional in its coverage, though subject to the ability to find suitable local spokesmen to convey perspectives. Most actors in Egypt are polarized and subject to their own biases.

Egyptian state media, however professional, is understood to be the voice of the government, and independent media has been drawn into the local dispute. Pro-Islamist media has largely been shut down.

In wading between the two, one further assumption is necessary concerning foreign Christian residents: They will represent the truth as they perceive it. The value of this survey consists therein.

Middle East Published Articles Relevant Magazine

Who Should Christians Support in Egypt?

Obama Egypt

From my recent article in Relevant Magazine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Man who Overthrew a President

From Ahram Online, perhaps the making of a hero, but the portrait of the man who designed the Rebel Campaign:

Far from being overawed, Badr was soon arguing with General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi about the military’s roadmap for a political transition, and rejecting his suggestion that Morsi should call a referendum on his continued rule.

Millions of people were demonstrating for the recall of the president, not for a referendum, the activist told Sisi.

“I tell you, sir, you may be the general commander of the Egyptian army but the Egyptian people are your supreme commander, and they are immediately ordering you to side with their will and call an early presidential election,” he said.

The general surrendered. A bunch of kids in T-shirts had changed the course of the Arab world’s most populous nation by mobilising mass protests against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, then threatening to turn on anyone who resists their demands.

“We own the streets because we stand with the people and the will of the people, and we will always do so,” Badr said.

Like many activists of the Facebook generation, he cut his political teeth in the uprising that toppled veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011. He started working as a journalist and voted for Morsi a year ago but became disillusioned.

He told the generals that if they opted for a half-way solution, they would be lost. If they stuck to the referendum idea, he and his movement would walk out.

“I don’t have a blank cheque from the people,” he told Sisi. “People signed Tamarud’s petition for an early presidential election so I can’t go out and tell them anything else.

“If you are worried about the Brotherhood’s reaction, they will also refuse a referendum, so in that case you will lose both sides. Win the Egyptian people!”

A senior military source confirmed that Sisi dropped the idea of a referendum in deference to Tamarud’s argument.

Fascinating article, which includes speculation that the Rebel Campaign was eventually infiltrated by state security and old regime supporters.

But the Rebel Campaign did what many liberal politicians would or could not – work the street. The transition now is in the hands of politicians, and they will do well to remember where their authority comes from.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Victory and Defeat

Flag Cross QuranGod,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Friday Prayers for Egypt: Confronting the Rebellion

Flag Cross Quran


In advance of ‘Rebel’ protests on June 30, Egypt’s Islamists are not simply waiting to see what will happen. On the street and in the presidency they have taken a confrontational approach to the challenge. Today, after hundreds of thousands demonstrated in favor of President Morsi, the battle lines are clearly drawn. But what will ‘winning’ entail? What will it even look like?

If those gathered have their way, it will be an increasingly Islamic Egypt. A few days earlier Morsi replaced seventeen of the nation’s governors, appointing seven from the Muslim Brotherhood and one from the hardline al-Gama’a al-Islamiya. Several of these appointments sparked violent rejection.

And while officially the protest was simply in the name of democratic legitimacy and non-violence, some saw the coming launch of a truly Islamist revolution. Must one side thoroughly defeat the other?

The ball is now in the opposition’s court. The Rebel campaign claims to have collected over fifteen million signatures demanding early presidential elections – more than voted for Morsi in the first place. But can they match or exceed the Islamist numbers on the street? Do they need to? What if they succeed?

God, beyond the immediacy of the street, bless the new governors. Give them understanding of their region and the peculiarities of its needs. May they represent the people well.

God, honor the zeal of the demonstrators. Motivated either by democracy or their victory therein, many feel under threat of losing everything. Where influenced by fear or anger, God, comfort and condition them. May they stand firm in their convictions, but nurture love and acceptance of those believed to oppose their project.

But God, the days are ticking away. Will a dramatic show of forces lead Egypt down the path of mutual good? Is the show of forces necessary to bring political players back from the brink? Bring a solution, God, that is acceptable to all. May no one yield, but may all compromise. Either before or after the dramatics, bring Egypt to a place of peace.

But at the moment, each side confronts the other. Only you know if current and coming events are beneficial, God. But in whatever happens, secure Egypt’s good. Confrontation is within human nature, and part and parcel of politics. Just ensure it proves constructive.




Friday Prayers for Egypt: Rebel Positioning

Flag Cross Quran


June 30 looms, and Egypt’s political players are getting ready. The bulk of opposition parties have signed on to a grassroots campaign to call for early presidential elections. Named ‘Rebel’, they have collected millions of signatures, seek a total of fifteen-plus, and plan a massive rally at the presidential palace on the anniversary of Morsi’s ascent to the presidency.

Islamists are dismissive, and some are defiant. The latter are calling for preemptive sit-ins at the palace two days earlier, and counter demonstrations the day of throughout the country. Some accuse the opposition of seeking violence to pin upon Islamists; others advocate any-means-necessary to protect the president’s legitimacy. The Muslim Brotherhood has not yet decided a course of action, but like all Islamists they decry the Rebel campaign as outside the law with no true bearing on constitutionally approved political practice.

The question of violence is a cloud upon the day. Each side accuses the other as the rhetoric escalates. Some warn of a civil war or a sectarian conflict, but is this a possible reality beyond the now normal rock-throwing clashes? Even if the stage is set for a major street battle, will it really escalate into war?

But violence may well occur, as it has already at an ongoing sit-in at the Ministry of Culture where liberal artists and intellectuals call for the dismissal of the newly appointed minister. In an effort to dismiss them, a party of Islamists protested, clashed, and was separated by police.

Every angle is plausible, God. The opposition could seek violence to discredit the Islamists, police, and government. The Islamists could seek violence to discredit a popular campaign. Unknown or old regime elements could seek violence to further the chaotic and unstable state of the country. And some might simply be rumoring violence to keep down the numbers.

The first hope is simple, God: Prevent the occurrence of violence. Bring Egypt’s political actors to consensus through dialogue, negotiation, shared values, and love of country. Let all in demonstrations and counter-demonstrations express their demands and pressure accordingly.

But help each to esteem their opponent as Egyptian, however different in mindset. If their lines meet on the 30th, give them fruitful exchange and winsome discussion. But God, so much worse is feared, and the hope feels like a pipe dream.

Surely there are some who desire violence, or in a lesser evil, play with the idea for political ends. God, when will the day of reckoning come for this sort? Did it already come through the revolution, and now is on its last legs? Or is it yet to come for some in power and some illegitimately seeking it? May it come soon, God, but may you spare Egypt the collateral damage.

But that perhaps is a prayer to come, God, and perhaps June 30 will begin the process. But for now, God, give wisdom to citizen and politician alike in positioning. Should they aid the campaign, resist it, or ignore it altogether? In any and all choices, may decisions be sincere and not calculating, based on principle and not manipulation.

There is a counterpart to the Rebel campaign, God. The Impartiality campaign also claims millions of signatures in support of President Morsi. Surely the vast majority of signatories on both sides are of pure motivation; may their will – however contradictory – be achieved, somehow.

God, solve the somehow. It has been two years since the revolution and the somehow remains elusive. Perhaps June 30 factors into your best will, perhaps not. But position Egypt on the path to peace, prosperity, and consensus. It is forever a path, and destination coordinates are debated. But as Egypt veers, correct her.

In this, may her people have the greatest share.



Torture: Why I Signed the ‘Rebel’ Campaign

From Ahram Online:

In order to justify removing a standing president, first an author must defend his democratic credentials. After an extended introduction, he writes:

This was last October, and up until that point I had been convinced that President Mohamed Morsi was the legitimate president of Egypt, and that even though I did not vote for him due to my conviction that neither his political experience, his mental capabilities nor his moral make-up qualifies him to rule Egypt, I still considered him not only to be a legitimate president, yet my personal president.

My respect for Mohamed Morsi stemmed from my awareness that his legitimacy emanated from the ballot box, from votes by citizens like myself, despite their different political inclinations. And I was looking forward to the day when another round of elections would come, and I would vote against him again, and hopefully bring him down, a thing which he makes easy for me by his poor administration and his deplorable record in the realms of security, economy, and politics.

So why then remove him now? In the opening the author described his chief reason for participating in the January 25 revolution was the systematic use of torture by the police force. Therefore, he is outraged because:

I expected that the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular, considering what they experienced in terms of oppression and injustice and torture at the hands of the past regime, would rush to restructure the security sector and put an end to the systemic torture still taking place in police stations, and to turn over those responsible for killing citizens to the authorities. Yet President Morsi and his Brotherhood opted to battle with the judiciary and the media, not the interior ministry, and they have turned a blind eye to daily horrors committed by the police.

Recall that January 25, the strategically chosen start date of the revolution, was the national holiday ‘Police Day‘. Many analysts suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood has played nice with the army and police and old regime in order to buy time to cement/protect their new found power. Some think they will still reform these sectors over the long term; others fear they only wish to replace the formerly ruling NDP and preserve the system.

Click here to see the Rebel Campaign petition translated into English.