Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Evangelicals Ask Pope Francis to Help Save Lebanon

Pope Francis, flanked by senior leaders of the various Christian Churches and communities of Lebanon. Kassab is 2nd from right.

Pope Francis has a message to consider from Lebanon’s evangelicals.

“We are not comfortable in our sectarian system, and thank God that we are not a part of the politics that led the country to collapse,” said Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon.

“We are not benefiting, and it hurts us like the vast majority of the Lebanese people.”

Last week the Catholic pontiff invited Lebanon’s Christian denominations to the Vatican for a time of prayer and reflection. Ten patriarchs, bishops, and church leaders gathered, as Francis encouraged them to speak with one voice to the politicians of their nation.

Lebanon has been unable to form a new government since its prior one resigned 11 months ago, following the massive explosion at Beirut’s port. As its Christian, Sunni, Shiite, and Druze political parties wrangle over representation, more than half the population now falls below the poverty line.

Following a default on national debt, personal bank accounts have been largely frozen as the Lebanese lira has lost over 90 percent of its value. The World Bank estimates the economic collapse to be among the world’s three worst in the last 150 years.

“We blame and condemn our Christian and Muslim political leaders equally,” said Kassab.

“We have to say this loudly.”

The nation’s longstanding sectarian system, however, works to recycle these leaders. Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian, its prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and its speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.

The 128 parliament seats are divided evenly between Muslims and Christians, with one reserved for Protestants. But confessional distribution extends into ministerial and civil service positions, including the army, police, and intelligence services.

Each community seeks to maximize its interests, while being careful not to upset the sectarian balance.

“Positions are distributed by religious identity, not qualification,” said Kassab. “Francis called us to push our politicians toward the common good, but we are imprisoned in this system.” Closed door discussions were…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on July 8, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Does One Huge New Church in Egypt Make Up for Troubles with 24 Small Ones?

Sisi New Coptic Cathedral
(via Ahram Online)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on January 10, 2018.

Celebrating Christmas with Egyptian Christians for the fourth consecutive year, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presented the largest gift under the tree: A new cathedral.

Sisi was the first president in Egypt’s history to even attend a Christmas mass. During last year’s celebration, he promised to build Egypt’s largest church and largest mosque in a yet-to-be-developed new administrative capital.

Three weeks earlier, 27 people had been killed in a suicide bombing in a chapel adjacent the old cathedral and papal residence, St. Mark’s in Cairo.

“Evil, destruction, and killing will never defeat goodness, peace, and love,” Sisi said at this month’s cathedral inauguration. “We are one, and you are our families. No one can ever divide us.”

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II called the new church, named The Nativity of Christ, a “divine arrangement.”

But also…


One week prior to the Helwan incident, a church in Atfih, 60 miles south of Cairo, was ransacked—not by terrorists, but by dozens of local Muslims offended by the rumor that a bell would be installed in the unlicensed village church.

In a recent report by EIPR, Egypt witnessed 20 similar sectarian incidents at churches over a 13-month period. Ibrahim said the total is now up to 24.

EIPR’s reporting timeframe began with the issuance of Egypt’s new church building law, meant to eliminate such problems…

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




Friday Prayers for Egypt: Churches

Flag Cross Quran


A small group of terrorists killed worshippers at a church in southern Cairo.

A large mob of neighbors vandalized a different church further south.

A sizeable allotment of police and military guarded churches throughout the country.

A fair portion of churches remain closed for security reasons.

A tiny percentage of services suffered disruption to normal worship.

But God, any number is too high.

And any spirit that targets faith is too evil.

It is present in Egypt, God, as it is present elsewhere. It is hard to defeat.

Protect those who protect the nation. In today’s attack one died, as they killed one assailant and captured another.

But give wisdom also to those who govern. Exorcise this spirit at its source, to purge it completely.

And of those infected, heal them in your mercy.

Of the recalcitrant, marginalize. Of the ideologues, expose. Of the manipulators, arrest.

Strengthen the nation to resist, God. Give her courage to confront.

A little leaven leavens the whole bunch. May Egypt rise.



The Floating Interfaith Bridges to Sinai

Floating Bridge Sinai

Buried in an Ahram Online story about Egypt’s efforts to develop the restless northern Sinai region is a testament to the nation’s insistence on shared identity.

Terrorism in the region has killed Muslim and Christian alike. Part of the problem, analysts say, is that Sinai has been long neglected.

Isolated from the Egyptian mainland, tribal society has been penetrated by militants who draw on a sense of frustration with the state.

President Sisi has promised “utmost force” to eliminate terrorism. But he also recently inaugurated projects to address the economic conditions. These include pathways across and below the Suez Canal, to better link with the rest of Egypt.

Two of which bear special names.

El-Sisi also inaugurated two floating bridges in Ismailia and Qantara, which are named after Ahmed El-Mansi and Abanoub Gerges; two army personnel who were killed in Sinai in the line of duty in recent years.

As every Egyptian knows, Ahmed is a Muslim name, and Abanoub is Christian.

Dozens of security personnel have been killed fighting terrorism. I wrote recently of how casualties cross religious lines.

But to commemorate an bridge connecting Sinai to the mainland, Egypt connects its martyrs from each faith.

The nation has a long way to go to defeat sectarianism, and many may look cynically at a bridge when a church gets ransacked. Just this week a mob attacked in offense of a rumor that a nondescript, not-yet-licensed church would add a bell.

Do not unduly laud Egypt over the name commemoration; it is a far simpler task than civic education.

But neither underestimate its symbolism. Egypt would be much poorer without it.

Video of the opening of both bridges, issued by the Suez Canal Authority (Arabic only). The man on the right is from Bir al-Abd, the Sinai village that suffered the mosque attack, and interrupts the proceedings to say he hopes this accomplishment will help the blood to dry.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Competition, Good and Evil

Flag Cross Quran


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.



Middle East Published Articles World Watch Monitor

The Public Spectacle of a Slain Coptic Priest

Fr. Samaan Shehata
Fr. Samaan Shehata, with Pope Tawadros. From an image circulating on social media.

This article was first published at World Watch Monitor.

The images are horrific. Fr. Samaan Shehata, a 45-year-old Coptic Orthodox priest lay dead on the ground, stabbed and beaten by a young man wielding a meat cleaver.

Blood dripped down his face into his long, black beard. Dirt discolored his flowing, black robe. His cross pendant rested peacefully on his chest, eerily imitated in the cross-like stabbing etched onto his forehead.

Many details remain unknown, but early indications point to extremism. Fr. Samaan was from Beni Suef, visiting a family in Cairo 150 kilometers north in a lower-class, urban suburb of Cairo.

It may well be he was targeted only for the clothes he was wearing – in Egypt, a clear indication of his religious profession.

He was left a public spectacle. So far, no claim of responsibility, no message of intention. There are possible hints circulating of mental instability.

Perhaps. Outright murder is rare in Egypt. Despite the increased terrorism suffered by Copts in recent years, this killing is unusual. There is a chance it was random.

But few think so. Coptic social media immediately proclaimed Fr. Simaan a martyr, adding him to the growing scroll.

The image, however, may have lasting effect, reinforcing a decades-old message: The streets are not the place for priests…

Please click here to read the rest of the article at World Watch Monitor.


“Why Call for Having a Church Now?”

Muslim Opposition Village Church

From Open Democracy, a translation of local sheikhs in Upper Egypt who led a campaign against the construction of a church in their village.

In late February 2017, a major international conference hosted by Al-Azhar concluded with the issuance of an important declaration affirming Muslim and Christian religious institutions’ commitment to the principle of equal citizenship.

Yet on the ground, in the village of Kom Al Lofi, in the Upper Egyptian governorate of El Minya, the practices of two Al-Azhar sheikhsSheikh Ahmed Mohamed, an employee of the local mosque, and Sheikh Abdel Gawad, the Imam – suggest a very different take on citizenship than that espoused by Al-Azhar.

In an interview with the official mouthpiece Al-Ahram newspaper, both sheikhs categorically opposed the right of 500 Christian inhabitants to have a church in their village, suggesting that the route to social harmony is for the Christians residents to forgo the idea altogether.

Sheikh Ahmed said that as Copts comprise 7.3% of the village, “their numbers do not allow for the construction of a church.” When the journalist asked if 500 people do not have a right to their own place of worship he responded: “We are a Muslim state (Dawla muslimah) and if there was a pre-existing church we would not object to prayers taking place, but why call for having a church now when we need to unite, not cause the occurrence of strife and this is strife caused by the media!”

He suggested that groups outside the village must be inciting this call for a church because the Christian residents are too poor to contemplate constructing one themselves.

When the journalist questioned how the Muslim majority would be harmed by a church being constructed in the village, given that there are ten mosques, Sheikh Ahmed said: “It is not right and it is not conceivable because our religion is against the construction [of the church]. This is a Muslim state and it has been unacceptable from a security point of view since a long time ago.”

Christians in Kom Al Lofi used to worship in a building that they used as a church but they were prohibited from doing so by the security forces several years ago in response to opposition from local residents and members of religious movements. Since then, families have travelled for miles to worship at churches in other villages.

In recent months, religious hardliners in these other villages have also objected to visitors worshipping in their local churches. In August 2016, security forces promised to reopen the building in Kom Al Lofi to allow Christians to worship there but they have sought the approval of the inhabitants and religious hardliners in the village – which has been repeatedly denied.

Copts have not been silent spectators to the escalating sectarian situation.

On 11 April 2017 – two days after suicide bombers attacked churches in Alexandria and Tanta – local authorities allowed Christians to worship in the building in Kom Al Lofi, but they were met by other residents who threw stones at them. Security forces intervened and arrested the perpetrators, but two days later, on 13 April 2017, the houses of three Christian residents were torched by people in the village in retaliation for their worship in the local building.

(The local sheikhs told the Al Ahram newspaper that the Copts had burnt the houses themselves to attract attention).

Copts in Kom Al Lofi have not been silent spectators to the escalating sectarian situation. Rather, last week they issued a widely-publicised declaration calling on the state to protect their constitutional right to worship and rejecting any informal mediation by so-called local leaders or any deal that would treat them like second-class citizens.

While they held puritanical Salafi hardliners and the Muslim Brotherhood responsible for fomenting anti-Christian sentiment, they also rejected on this occasion the authority of local sheikhs to determine what, when, where and how they should worship.

It is a tricky and persistent problem. Before condemning too quickly please recall the concerns of some in the United States when a mosque is purposed to be built in their community.

I would like to better understand the pro- and con- concerning church building in Islamic law. Certainly the top scholars in Egypt have given fatwas of permission.

It is very important to hear the opposition of voices like these, and learn. The rule of law is necessary, but so is the engagement of neighbor.

What to do at an impasse?


Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

An Eye on Egypt after the Palm Sunday Bombings

This article was first published at Providence Magazine.

Church Bombing Above
Church of Saint George in Tanta, Egypt, after Islamic State’s Palm Sunday bombings. By Omar Elhady, via Twitter.

Episode one. “They are just following the teachings of their book, and the example of their prophet,” said a Coptic friend following the twin church bombings in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday, killing dozens. I refrained from rolling my eyes, as this was a moment for comfort amid tragedy. Such a refrain is not uncommon among some Egyptian Christians, that while not all Muslims are terrorists, Muslims who follow their religion tend in that direction.

But then he continued. “Just a little while ago my friend told me that those men are now in heaven, because they killed non-Muslims.”

If my eyes weren’t rolling, they were now bulging from their sockets, aghast. Your friend? He would say such a thing to you, to your face?

Episode two. “I am praying for the Copts,” said another Egyptian Christian friend. “When you know your enemy you can retaliate. But who are these terrorists? If the Copts explode we could become like Lebanon, and no one wants that.”

My eyes have never had so much activity, astounded again. Lebanon? Is that in play? I can’t recall ever hearing such sentiment from a Copt. Over the past several years, the polarized Egyptian narrative has warned of civil war, of forces internal and external wishing to divide the nation. But it always seemed exaggerated, and never sectarian. Islamist and non-Islamist forces might collide, but Egypt has no Christian pockets of population that might form a regional militia. The country is integrated and homogenous, Muslim and Christian living side-by-side.

Taken together these episodes illustrate a worrisome development within a longstanding reality. Muslims and Christians tend to be friends, neighbors, and quite similar in common culture. At the same time, there is a latent but tangible reservoir of mistrust. It activates occasionally, especially when community issues turn into matters of honor over houses of worship, land, or women. But for the most part among a 90 million plus population, religious distinction is managed relatively well.

Therefore, the most disturbing aspect of the bombings is that it has now happened twice. Last December the Islamic State ran a suicide bomber into a chapel adjacent the papal cathedral, killing 29 mostly women and children. They vowed it was just the beginning.

But to say “twice” is misleading. Palm Sunday was the second of two major bombings targeting Christian civilians, amid scores of previous attacks against security personnel. But other smaller acts less well reported have left the sadly repetitive “community” pattern and veered into clearly sectarian motivation.

Last February hundreds of Copts fled their homes in northern Sinai as the Islamic State went on a killing spree. But prior to this in various locations across Egypt, there were several unexplained murders of Coptic citizens. And in Alexandria a Coptic merchant had his throat slit on a crowded public street, by a Muslim offended at his sale of alcohol.

No evidence has yet emerged that the individual incidents were explicitly planned by the Islamic State. But research by Mokhtar Awad and others have revealed an emerging strategy within the group to spark an Iraq-style sectarian war in Egypt. As their project wanes in the self-proclaimed caliphate, the land of the Nile becomes a new field to mine.

Will it work? It is a more different bet than before, when the sectarian divide was between Shia and Sunni, who also inhabited distinctive majority areas. But Awad notes that a sectarian mentality has long been cultivated in Egypt by Islamists and overlooked if not abetted by the state. Copts have responded and nurtured religious distinction as well, though within their traditional Christian ethos of monasticism, martyrdom, and loving your enemy.

Perhaps the Islamic State is betting their resilience cannot hold out forever, that an explosion against somebody is coming. Perhaps they hope the Muslim keenness on national unity will erode over time, should Copts—even a Copt—lash out in retaliation or appear too “uppity” in the demand they be treated as equal citizens.

So far it is a bad bet. The church counsels patience and the eternal crown of glory. Each attack against Copts has prompted a firm re-insistence of togetherness from state and society. Similar militant attacks in the 1990s turned the Muslim street decidedly against the jihadis.

But the world now is a different place, and the tactics exceed anything witnessed previously in Egypt. A second incident suggests there will be a third, and fourth, and so on. Even if Egypt is unlikely to become Syria, Palm Sunday suggests more bloodshed is coming.

Any American policy response will be fraught with difficulty, mixed up in the morass of Middle Eastern politics. Support too closely and risk accusation of backing repressive governments. Step away and risk accusation of empowering illiberal Islamists. Either one will beg claims of interference and violation of sovereignty. God bless the diplomats who must navigate carefully.

But in lieu of policy, the eyes can be put to better use than described above. One, dart vigilantly. Scan surroundings, beware of trouble, and look for solutions. Two, tear liberally. Tragedy demands we weep with those who weep, in sympathy and solidarity.

Otherwise, amid ongoing violence they may glaze over. Otherwise, amid religious distinctiveness they may grow jaundiced. Jesus demanded that our eye be “single”, lest the whole body be full of darkness.

It may be an apt metaphor for Egypt, a nation with many troubles and contradictions. The Islamic State is trying to exploit them. Be keen not to fuel the polarization, for the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.


Egyptian Copts: Continuing Violence and Conditional Hope

Bishop-General Macarius, a Coptic Orthodox leader, walks around the burnt and damaged Evangelical Church in Minya governorate
(REUTERS/Louafi Larbi)

Egyptian Christians continue to offer overwhelming support to the current president. Following removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, Copts are inclined to overlook economic challenges and human rights infringements as they with many Egyptians appreciate Egypt’s relative regional stability. Public rhetoric esteems Christians as equal citizens as the president challenges Muslims to remove sectarianism and extremism from traditional Islamic discourse.

But this does not mean all is well. Inherited patterns continue, especially in rural and less developed areas. Middle East Concern chronicles the recent past:

On 20th May several Christian homes were attacked in al-Karam village in Minya province, as a result of a rumour about a relationship between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. During the attack the man’s mother was attacked and publicly stripped of her clothes. The woman is around 70 years old. Of the 16 people arrested for the assault, 11 were released on bail this week (three on 27th June and eight on 28th June).

On 9th June in Damshir village in Minya province four Muslims armed with knives attacked a Coptic man and his family. They alleged that construction work he was doing was intended to build a church and they threatened him and told him to leave the village. After he filed a complaint the four men were detained, but the authorities told him to stop the construction work.

On 10th June a man attacked a nun at a medical centre run by the Coptic Orthodox Church in the town of Biba in Beni Suef province. When a guard tried to help the nun he was also attacked. Later the same day the attacker returned, armed with a knife. The guard managed to lock the man out of the centre. A complaint was filed with the police, but no action has been taken so far.

On 17th June a mob of a few thousand people gathered at the house of a Copt in al-Bayda village near Alexandria, after prayers had been held at the mosque. They shouted that they would not allow a church in the village and accused him of turning the building which contains his apartment into a church. Several Coptic homes were attacked, two were seriously damaged and at least ten were looted.

On 29th June in Kom al-Loufy village in Minya province four houses belonging to Copts were set on fire after a rumour spread that two brothers were constructing a church. After the rumour started the police asked the brothers to sign a statement saying that the building they were constructing on their land was for residential purposes, however their homes and the homes of others were attacked nevertheless.

On 30th June Father Raphael Moussa was killed in Arish in Northern Sinai. Father Raphael was the parish priest of St George’s church. He was shot by several perpetrators on his way back from a church service. The Egyptian branch of the so-called “Islamic State” movement has claimed responsibility for the murder, and has threatened to carry out more killings.

But Middle East Concern also highlights possible measures that may move positive public rhetoric into written law:

In addition to these events there are currently four debates in the Egyptian parliament that could have an impact on Christian communities. These discussions include:

* possible amendments to legislation on blasphemy

* draft legislation to regulate personal status law for Christian communities

* draft legislation to regulate church construction

* two draft bills on equal citizenship for all and countering discrimination (including discrimination on the grounds of religion)

There is always work to be done. Right or wrong, Copts appreciate the trajectory of their nation but hope for better social and legal standing. This legislative term will be telling, ultimately judged over the current and coming generations.







Friday Prayers for Egypt: Naked Sectarianism

Flag Cross Quran


It is ugly, but may it make a difference. It is embarrassing, but may it spur to action. Unfortunately it is real, and may it soon disappear.

In Upper Egypt a married Christian man and a Muslim woman had an alleged romantic affair. That was bad enough, but what followed was worse. A mob pilloried seven Christian homes in the village, and dragged the man’s mother naked through the streets. Police, say the reports, did not intervene.

Arrests have been made, but in similar incidents they have been made before. The authorities call for the guilty to be held accountable, but these calls have been made before. Church figures reject the extra-judicial use of ‘reconciliation sessions’, but they have been rejected before, and held anyway.

The state has a poor record in prosecuting sectarian crime. Society has a poor record in erasing sectarian sentiments.

Religious leaders have been dispatched to address the situation. God, give the people ears to hear.

Dispatch also the hands of justice. Empower police – whether scared or sectarian – to play their God-given role in restraint. Enable judges – whether heavy in caseload or light in concern – to establish patterns of proper deterrent.

But God, fundamentally reeducate in the virtue of honor. Bless the codes that preserve worthy morality. Bless the motivation that enforces its standards.

But better integrate the virtue of mercy. Better equip the discipline of discernment. Focus responsibility on the individual; strengthen prevention in the community.

And if at heart there is religious contempt, purify the heart in personal repentance.

God, help the aggrieved to forgive; help the state to judge. In cooperation with both, may you convict and transform.

Purge Egypt of this poison, God. Honor all who honor you, and gently – but effectively – rebuke where Egypt falls short.


Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

When Sectarian Conflict Finds a Local Solution, Copts Lose

EIPR's Ishak Ibrahim; Arabic translation of press conference title: Whose Customs?
EIPR’s Ishak Ibrahim; Arabic translation of press conference title: Whose Customs?

This article was first published at Egypt Source:

What is the value of a presidential visit to the papal cathedral for a seventy-year-old Copt driven from his village? What good are warm relations between Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Pope Tawadros if relations remain tense between Youssef Tawfiq and his Muslim neighbors?

A new report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) says this problem runs far deeper than Sisi and Tawfiq. Over the past four years, twenty-three other Copts have been forcibly displaced from their homes out of forty-five cases examined by EIPR where community justice—rather than legal procedure—has mediated sectarian clashes.

In Jordan, far from the village of Kafr Darwish in Beni Suef, 70 miles south of Cairo, Tawfiq’s son Ayman was alleged to have shared insulting pictures of Muhammad on his Facebook page. Upon hearing the rumor, which Ayman denies, a mob gathered and set fire to his family’s homes and fields. An overwhelmed mayor and village officials, with police present, conducted what is known as a ‘customary reconciliation session’ (CRS). Meant to subdue tensions and restore order, village elders debated a just solution.

Ayman’s father, mother, and sixteen other relatives were ordered to leave town.

“Customary reconciliation sessions are said to stop sectarian tension, but our analysis shows that they only serve to ignore it,” said Amr Abdel Rahman, head of the civil liberties unit at EIPR. Report author Ishak Ibrahim was even more explicit. “If people reject the ruling it can result in more sectarian conflict, but it helps the aggressors escape the consequences of their actions,” he said.

As EIPR details in its forty-five cases, rarely are individuals from the mob arrested. When they are, many times the reconciliation agreement stipulates the relinquishing of judicial procedure. All of this is contrary to the law. Article 63 of the Egyptian constitution forbids the forced displacement of any citizen. Article 95 insists all judicial rulings must be personal, not collective. While Article 185 of the penal code allows a victim to waive prosecution in certain circumstances, these do not include looting, arson, or intimidation.

The EIPR report shows two primary controversies: The first is the free practice of religious ritual, including the building, expansion, and renovation of churches. At 31 percent, it is only slightly more frequent than clashes involving romantic relationships between a Muslim and a Christian, at 29 percent. Land and property disputes constitute 16 percent and expressing opinions on religious matters make up 8 percent, as in the case of Ayman.

At times sectarianism is at the heart of the problem; at times normal community problems escalate along sectarian lines. But among the most controversial aspects of CRS is the presence of police.

“Traditional sessions do not conflict with the law at all, they have to do with the prevention of bloody conflict,” former security director for Minya Sayyid Nour el-Din, told OnTV, defending police practice. “The security presence is to protect the sessions, not to come up with their solution.” But in some cases EIPR studied, the police participated in issuing decisions. In others they randomly arrested people on both sides to exert pressure to accept the CRS process.

EIPR does not condemn CRS entirely, as in non-sectarian cases it has the potential to reach a consensual opinion and avoid lengthy legal processes. For Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani which helped break the story in Kafr Darwish, reaching a fair outcome in sectarian conflict is rare. “Usually it is humiliating, as it forces the will of the stronger party upon the weaker,” he said. “When security officials let this be done under their eyes and blessing, it is a very grave mistake.”

At stake is the sovereignty of the state, he said. But perhaps it is getting better? The report said there were twenty-one cases under transitional military governance after the fall of Mubarak, at a rate of one per month. President Morsi’s year in office witnessed fifteen, at a rate of 1.25 per month. Under Mansour and Sisi, only nine cases were reported over eighteen months through the end of 2014, when the reporting concludes.

Then again, Ibrahim said there have been six cases in the first half of 2015. The problem is not going away.

After a media outcry, the governor of Beni Suef intervened and security returned Youssef Tawfiq and his family to their homes in Kafr Darwish. Sidhom believes President Sisi acted quietly behind the scenes. “I don’t consider this a happy ending as the law is still not enforced,” he said, noting that to his knowledge, none of the mob are in prison nor have any in the police force been disciplined. “You cannot live under the mercy of the president rather than the rule of the law.”

As with much else in today’s Egypt, the issue falls to Sisi. He has done much to try to change a culture—visiting the cathedral and calling for the reform of religious discourse. But will he follow through to change a reality? Will he be able?

Egyptians have respect for the strong leader. They have less respect for those who ‘talk.’ If Sisi sets the right tone—backed by holding accountable those responsible for undermining state sovereignty—others will walk in step with him and help transform the culture over the long run.

But not if he is weak. The president has shown a strong hand in asserting control over the Egyptian state—despite international criticism over violations of human rights. Similarly, if Sisi is intent on a new relationship with Egypt’s religious minority (as implied by his rhetoric and meetings with Pope Tawadros), he will have to face possible domestic and institutional criticism to assert it further by arresting aggressors and disciplining enablers.

“We put responsibility on the government,” said Ibrahim. “It is the one tasked to protect citizens and their rights.”


‘Fight Club’ and Egyptian Sectarianism

Fight Club

From the blog Tabula Sara, her conclusion:

The first rule of sectarianism: you do not talk about sectarianism.

In most of my writings I seek to counter inflammatory headlines about Coptic persecution. There is almost always an initial incident stemming from ordinary community disputes, of which a Christian can be at fault as easily as a Muslim.

There is almost always a context in which the incident is understandable, due to cultural peculiarities which outdate any current political leader.

But there is also a narrative that strings together almost every incident, which is frightening. Here, Tabula Sara outlines the sectarianism of Egypt in four easy steps:

There are typically four stages to a full-on sectarian crisis in Egypt. First, you have the long, hard, arduous work of actually spreading sectarian venom in society. Luckily, there is no shortage of people willing to take that noble task upon themselves.

Anyhow, after the successful spread of such rhetoric, the second stage of a sectarian crisis can begin. All it needs is a little spark, nothing big: a girl and a boy who happen to be from different religious background are rumored to be in love, a fight between two merchants, a facebook status update, a scribble on a wall etc.

In between her first two stages she absolves the political leadership while appropriately holding them accountable at the same time:

The majority of people who are involved in these attacks are arguably not paid to do so, nor ordered to so by some political figure. They are people whose minds are saturated enough with that venomous broth which has been slowly simmering in society for a long time. It is not Mubarak or Morsi who order these attacks, as some like to believe. Yes, they bear some responsibility for either leaving criminals unpunished or actively promoting sectarianism, but the fact of the matter is that sectarianism is well-founded in society so it doesn’t need a top-down approach.

She then continues:

So the violence happens, the third stage can commence. No sectarianism without victim-blaming. The circle is full when the incendiary rhetoric that was used in stage one is repeated again, this time to justify the violence or to claim it was the Copts themselves who are at fault (or whichever community is attacked).

Finally, the fourth and most important stage of any sectarian crisis commences. It is the part in which a lovely state representative with a wide smile tells us there is no sectarianism in Egypt. He then recounts stories from his youth in which he used to have a Muslim/Christian neighbor with whom he used to play in the street, or alternately, depending on the level of apparent tolerance needed, in whose house he used to eat during feasts and special occasions.

Unfortunately, in conversations aplenty, these stages are evident.

Fight Club is an organized conspiracy, and I don’t believe Tabula Sara is making this exact comparison. She is right at the edge, though, for ‘sectarianism’ has such a life of its own it is almost an entity itself. Like a cancer, it spreads and destroys, but has no earthly master, only pawns and victims.

Fight Club ends in redemption and victory, but only after death and resurrection, and amid much ambiguous destruction. Will Egypt follow the same path? Would that be good, or bad?

Please click here to read the whole article at Tabula Sara, including examples of her four stages.