Friday Prayers for Egypt: Arguing the Referendum

Flag Cross Quran


The referendum passed, decisively. Turnout was strong, comparatively. The meaning is debated, heatedly. And here the prayers are needed.

A few dispute the turnout, which was the key indicator. Supporters of Morsi have claimed only about ten percent of the electorate voted, while unofficial figures of both participation and affirmation supersede the results for the 2012 constitution.

Unless massive fraud is demonstrated, the people have ratified Morsi’s removal, the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the constitution itself, and perhaps, the presidential candidacy of General Sisi.

In this choice, God, bless Egypt. Bless her for the virtues displayed, for the wisdom exhibited, and in spite of the manipulations present. Whether this choice honors or dishonors your will, God, bless the nation moving forward.

For there was manipulation, God, and herein lies the arguing. State and media vigorously campaigned for a yes vote. The few campaigning for no were arrested. The boycotting opposition was either in jail or in the streets – and even here there is argument. Are the Brotherhood terrorists in label or in reality? Were their protests disrupted, or were they disruptive?

In these questions, God, bless Egypt. Make clear the status of those accused, that they may be tried and judged, sentenced or acquitted, justly and transparently. Make both their supporters and their condemners simultaneously resolute and compassionate. And protect the safety of the streets, for both traverse and protest. Too much traffic has been halted, far too much blood has been spilt.

But as Egyptians and analysts alike argue over the meaning of the referendum, sift the virtue from the vice like the wheat from the chaff. Do results indicate the sovereignty of the people or the authoritarianism of the state?

In this dichotomy, God, bless Egypt. If a mixed bag, then refine them both. Strengthen and encourage a necessary hard hand in difficult times. But rebuke and hold accountable that which violates the law, certainly, but also your standards of righteousness. In your time, God, unmix this bag that Egypt may move forward in full confidence of its cause.

And if it is not mixed at all, bless Egypt tenfold for the offense to which she is subjected, from whichever faction is in the wrong.

Harness the passion in these arguments, God, and marshal it for Egypt’s good. Then cool these fires, so that differing opinion might mutually benefit, educate, and reform. Give meaning to this struggle, and have the nation emerge clean.

Bless Egypt with her new constitution. May consensus come, and with it peace.



Egypt’s Referendum: Picture of the Day

Bomb and Shisha

As Egypt votes on its new constitution, this picture sums things up very well. Shortly before polls opened an unknown individual drove past a courtroom in Giza and threw a small bomb. No one died and injuries were few, and turnout in the nearby polling stations was reported afterwards as stronger than usual.

This is a testimony to Egyptian voters, but the picture captures a different image. Across the street from the courtroom is a local cafe, and customers sit stoically smoking shisha amid bomb debris scattered in the street. It is unknown if they cast a ballot.

Early reports say that nine have died in scattered protests, but that they day has generally proceeded calmly. There have been many pictures of long lines outside polling stations; there have also been many pictures of empty ones. Conventional wisdom says turnout in support of the constitution will be strongest in urban areas, while rural ones may be more inclined to boycott.

But perhaps these shisha smokers represent the nation in general, sitting idly by despite the turmoil. If the turnout is impressive, this characterization will have to be revised. If the turnout is poor, Morsi supporters will say the country rejected the ‘coup’. But throughout the past three years, waves of protests and politicians have jostled over slogans of change and promises of stability, while Egypt soldiers on.

At this moment, I have no estimate of turnout. The polling station on the way to Layla’s preschool had a long line at the beginning of the day, but was empty by her pickup in early afternoon. Whether large or small it will offer a political message, an important indicator that pundits will analyze.

The constitution will pass – that is not in question. It will provide a legal basis for continuing the transition and lead into presidential and parliamentary elections. Will the promised stability come? Or is more trouble on the horizon?

Either way, these two men will sit there, emblematic of the mass of Egyptians who want life to get back to normal. May they soon be offered that privilege, enjoyed by so many around the world.

(image via @glcarlstrom)


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Ratifying the Transition

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In a few days Egypt will be asked to vote again. The cause is the referendum on a new constitution, but the importance is far deeper. Deeper even than a constitution, the basis of a nation’s governance? Yes, for it is not is not just a document being voted on, but the process which led to it. Six months ago the democratically elected Mohamed Morsi was deposed. At the time there were massive protests against him; will they now ratify with their vote?

Which means, in part, will they ratify with their feet in potentially long lines? Egyptians have voted five times already, and now they are starting over. Will they care?

Which means, in part, will they ratify with their heart in potentially dangerous circumstances? Anti-‘coup’ demonstrations have been on the increase, as has terrorist violence. Will there be sabotage?

Which means, in part, will they ratify with their head in a potentially still unclear roadmap? The constitution has merits to evaluate on its own, and it is yet undecided if presidential or parliamentary elections will follow next. Will it be worthy?

God, each Egyptian must answer individually, but guide the nation in the collective. Above all, protect the process from violence and manipulation, that this referendum might express the will of the people.

Give clarity, also, for how to interpret this will. Most opponents are boycotting, not rallying for ‘no’. So in the near-inevitable approval, what percentage is necessary to demonstrate mandate? What percentage of turnout?

But as long as there is boycott, God, there is no full consensus. Use this referendum to communicate to all players. If there is legal ratification but less than popular mandate, do what is necessary to have the winners draw back non-participants – all whose hands have not been stained in blood. May the constitution open the playing field, fairly and justly.

And if the people respond with enthusiasm, God, do what is necessary to have non-participants recognize their failures – all which came from their own actions as opposed to alleged manipulation. May the constitution force its reality upon all, fairly and justly.

Bless Egypt, God, with reconciliation – no matter the result. But in these days to come, help her to get to the result. Help her to maintain faith, to care. Help her to maintain vigilance, to prevent sabotage. And help her to maintain discernment, to evaluate the worth of what is before her.

God, if this referendum and constitution are part of your plan, make it clear to all in the process of ratification. Set Egypt right, and do so deeply, far deeper than any document can establish.


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Protest and Prayer in Egypt

Crowd 6

Rarely has a constitution so divided a nation. Protests, both for and against and sometimes violent, have filled the street. Egypt’s Christians, meanwhile, are caught in the middle. Though united against the proposed draft, their responses have varied considerably.

“It was definitely right for Christians to protest,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani and a long time advocate of cooperation with the Islamist administration.

“But this was not a Christian move, it was a liberal Egyptian protest meant to save the civil state.”

Despite his conciliatory position toward the Muslim Brotherhood, Sidhom had warned the day might come to return to the street if Islamists tried to implement a religious agenda. When President Morsi assumed temporary dictatorial powers to push through this constitution, he believed it was time.

“There are many indirect clauses that can lead to an Islamic state, and a few direct ones as well,” he said. Chief among these is Article 219 which makes traditional Islamic jurisprudence the primary source of legislation. Article 4, furthermore, gives a role to unelected Muslim scholars who must be consulted on laws regarding their conformity with shariah.

But it was the Islamist response to these protests which makes Sidhom believe they have shown their true colors.

“They made vicious remarks stating the protests were 60-80 percent Christian,” he said. “This shows they realize the solidarity that exists between liberals, moderate Muslims, and Christians, and they are trying to break it.”

Indeed, in an effort to mobilize votes for the constitution, the official Muslim Brotherhood website featured a story alleging Christians exchanged SMS messages urging a ‘no’ vote because they wanted ‘a Coptic state’. Safwat Hegazi, appointed by Morsi to the National Council for Human Rights and a fixture during his presidential campaign, warned the church that if it threatened Morsi’s legitimacy Muslims will threaten them ‘with blood’.

Hegazi’s remarks were filmed at a Salafi Muslim sit-in protest at Media Production City, where they believe their image is being disfigured in the press.

“In the sharia, which people do not understand correctly, everyone takes their full rights – the woman, the non-Muslim, everyone,” said Ibrahim Eid, an ophthalmologist and the media coordinator of Students for Sharia, present at the protest. Salafis there were peaceful and friendly.

This message came across to Daniel Wahba, a Coptic taxi driver. Idling in the parking lot, Salafis engaged him winsomely.

“Is there anything in the constitution that will hurt us as Christians?” he said. “Won’t we still be able to go to the church and pray?”

But it was the fear associated with general Islamist domination that affected Susie Fayiz, a Coptic housewife. “I didn’t vote,” she said. “They are just going to rig the referendum in their favor anyway.”

Preliminary results show the ‘yes’ vote in the lead with 56 percent, amid accusations of fraud. Half of Egypt’s electorate is scheduled to vote next week.

Thousands of Christians took to the streets to protest, and thousands of Christians went to the polls to vote. In between, ten thousand gathered to go to their knees in prayer.

The church is led by Fr. Simaan (Simon), who serves the Christian garbage collectors among whom he built this church.
Fr. Simaan

“We are here tonight to pray for Egypt in all that it is going through, and let us pray with tears,” said Fr. Simaan, a Coptic Orthodox priest serving the city’s garbage collectors. Their expansive cathedral is built into a cave in the Muqattam Mountains east of Cairo.

One year earlier, Fr. Simaan conducted a similar prayer gathering for all of Egypt’s Christian denominations, which drew upwards of 40,000 people. Plans to repeat the expression of unity have been in the works for months, but this meeting was only announced one week earlier, scheduled for two days before the referendum.

If there was any intentionality it did not appear during the rally. From 6pm until 6am the next morning, not once was the referendum mentioned. The general state of Egypt, however, was on everyone’s mind.

“Some of us see demonstrations and conspiracies, but I see Egypt going right. I see great days ahead of us,” said Fr. Andrawus, an Orthodox priest from Damanhour in the Nile Delta.

“Some say this country is being destroyed or being stolen. I say God is coming and he will not be late. This coming year will be the best ever for the church. The heavens will open, the church will be united, and we will be freed from fear and learn to love.”

Love is Fr. Simaan’s great emphasis, and he wishes to tell the world Copts love their nation and their fellow citizens. As Egyptian flags flew everywhere, six different satellite channels carried his exhortation.

“We pray for our brothers, both Christian and Muslim.  We pray for our brothers, the Salafis and the Muslim Brothers,” he preached to great applause.

“We pray for them that God will open their hearts and keep them from harm. We are not in a war, we are in prayer.”

The church took no official position on the referendum, other than to encourage people to vote. Many participants, however, freely interpreted the point of these prayers.

“We pray for stability, safety, and a constitution we can all agree on, not one from just one slice of the country,” said Michael Magdy. Others, however, were less specific of divine providence.

“We love Egypt because it is our country, and we love God,” said Amal Samy. “We’re confident he will stand with us and lift this crisis, giving a rescue no one can expect.”

Fr. Simaan does care for a good constitution, but his focus is elsewhere.

“Perhaps the current circumstances are permitted by God as part of his plan,” he said. The Islamists have their sharia and their plans, and God will hold them accountable according to what they have received.

“But he will hold us accountable for how we live with them.”

Protests and prayer have their essential place, but amid the crises of Egypt, perhaps this is the way to peace.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Referendum, Part Two

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Perhaps this prayer is the same as before. As the rest of Egypt goes to the polls to cast their ballot in the constitutional referendum, give them wisdom. ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – what is best for their country?

If ‘yes’, help Egypt to begin the path of rebuilding its representative institutions. Heal the stridency that has developed between the parties, between the people, and may politics return to the high road. May the Shura Council lay out a good roadmap to parliamentary elections, and may this eventual body interpret the constitution well. Hammer out the people’s differences with words, God, not with rocks and tear gas.

If ‘no’, help Egypt to start over. Heal the stridency mentioned above, and may the people elect representatives worthy to write a new constitution. Protect the nation in the interim period, which will necessarily stretch even longer. But if this is right, correct whatever errors may be present in the constitution through a deep, abiding, and respectful consensus.

Either way, God, place your hand on Egypt’s judiciary. Squeeze, comfort, or pat on the back – the institution is vitally important for the nation’s future. May it act honestly and with wisdom; may it be treated honestly and with wisdom.

But for referendum results, God, for those who win, help them to avoid triumphalism and exclusion. For those who lose, help them to avoid abdication and rancor. May the struggle continue; may the struggle subside. In either victory or defeat, Egypt is not yet built; the social contract is not fully accepted. For the sake of Egypt, help unity to be found again soon.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Referendum

Flag Cross Quran


Tomorrow, Egypt will vote. Many say she should not be, as the process was rushed, non-consensual, and dictatorial in its final stages.

Others say the opposition hopes Egypt never votes, fearing the real choice of the people.

God, whatever the reality which brought Egypt to this point, the people have a choice. The problem is their choice is framed differently.

Is the choice ‘for’ a vote for stability? Is it a vote for sharia? Is it a vote for the revolution?

Is the choice ‘against’ a vote for consensus? Is it a vote against the Muslim Brotherhood? Is it a vote for the revolution?

God, you know. You know what is best. You know what Egypt needs. You know what is right and good and honorable.

In framing this choice, God, it appears many have been less than these. Each accuses the other of unrighteousness, and you know, God, if all are right.

Yet as you do the king, God, you hold the heart of these men in your hand. Forgive them, have mercy on them, and bring them to repentance. But for the referendum tomorrow, God, it is too late.

Therefore, turn the heart of the people towards you. Turn them to what is best, to what is needed, to what is right and good and honorable. Turn them to check the box of your choice.

But Egypt needs far more than several million boxes, God. She needs trust, dialogue, and commitment to a common will. Regardless of tomorrow’s outcome, may the result push people closer to each other. All political momentum is driving them apart; for the health of the nation, reverse this.

Have mercy, God. Give Egypt stability, justice, integrity, and consensus. Tomorrow, and in all that follows, give her wisdom and peace.