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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Operation Sinai

Flag Cross Quran

God,

There are three weeks left. Following a terrorist attack that killed 300 worshipers at a mosque in Sinai, the president gave a three-month ultimatum to the military and police to eliminate terrorism.

Today, Operation Sinai was launched. By land, air, and sea, in the desert and the Nile valley, a massive deployment seeks to fulfill the president’s call.

Parliament, al-Azhar, and the Orthodox church have all signaled their support. Perhaps the next few days will be telling.

But proof comes in the next few weeks. Terrorism hides easily. And surely many wish to disrupt the coming presidential elections.

God, protect.

Guide security to hideouts and depots.

Shield civilians from wayward fire.

Redeem terrorists from the judgment of Hell.

In the days to come, God, death counts will rise. Comfort the families, strengthen the nation.

Let the operation be decisive. Purge Egypt from the scourge that has plagued her.

May she seek peace, and pursue it.

Amen.

 

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The Floating Interfaith Bridges to Sinai

Floating Bridge Sinai
(via http://www.suezshipyard.com.eg)

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.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Utmost Force

Flag Cross Quran

God,

After over 300 people were killed at a mosque, the state must do something. The president issued a directive to the army and police: utmost force, within three months.

Terrorism must be eradicated from the Sinai.

And may it be so. God, but with the utmost care.

There are civilian lives at stake, unmercifully meddled as militants mix in.

There are terrorist lives at stake, still creatures of a compassionate God.

There is the reputation of the state, widely accused of haphazard strategy.

There is the regard of the state, required to be strong in response to insult.

And that is what it was, God. An insult to humanity, to religion, to Egypt, to you.

They showed in their actions the utmost contempt. They deserve nothing more than the utmost chastisement.

In truth, they deserve death. They deserve hell. Equip the military and police to bring them right to its gates.

And once there, overcome.

Overcome conflict in the Sinai with prosperous development. Overcome hatred in the heart with sincere repentance.

Overcome evil with good.

God, utmost force is necessary in the face of wanton violence. But let strong resolve not extinguish compassion. Let broad mandate not diminish precision. Spare the innocent; rescue the region.

Avenge. Restore. Have mercy.

Three months, God. Let it be less.

Amen.

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Copts Ring Church Bells for Egyptian Muslims, in Christian Sympathy

My new article for Providence Magazine.

Copts Church Bells Sinai
Photo Credit: Church and mosque in Egypt. By kmf164, via Flickr.

In what is being called the largest terrorist attack in modern Egyptian history, over 235 people were killed at a village mosque. Militants detonated explosives as worshipers exited the Rawda Mosque in Bir al-Abd, 25 miles west of the North Sinai capital of Arish. Several then fired upon the fleeing masses.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion falls upon the Islamic State. The Rawda mosque is affiliated with the Gaririya Sufi order, and ISIS has previously vowed to attack what it deems to be heterodox Muslims, warning them to stop their distinctive rituals. ISIS represents an extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, and is offended by Sufi practices that seek a mystical connection with God through chants and visits to the shrines of Muslim saints.

In 2013, a Sufi shrine was bombed with no casualties. But in 2016 two prominent Sufi sheikhs were kidnapped and decapitated.

Coptic Christians, who have seen over 100 people killed under an ISIS vow, responded with condemnation and sympathy. The next day, Saturday the 25th, the Coptic Orthodox Church spokesman announced all churches in Egypt would ring their bells in solidarity at noon.

“We pray to God that Egypt is preserved from such unprecedented brutal terrorism,” the church announced in its first statement, released shortly after the bombing. “We offer our sincere condolences to the families of the martyrs, praying for the healing of all who are injured,” stated the second announcement about the bells.

Such a public display of Christianity will only further infuriate ISIS…

Please click here to read the full article at Providence Magazine.

 

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Supervision, Security

Flag Cross Quran

God,

It is too early to work out the details, but the plan is set in motion.

By 2024 Egypt will surrender full judicial supervision of elections. 

In their place will be an election commission. The change accords with the constitution, and on paper all should be fine.

But God, Egyptian paper is not a strong papyrus. 

Past elections have been manipulated. Some say these days are over. Others fear they may return, without the oversight of a generally respected judiciary. Some don’t trust the judiciary either.

So in the coming seven years, God, establish credibility. Grant sequential elections that reflect the people’s will.

The same in all institutions, God. The same in all bureaucracy. Honest conduct and honest outcome.

Establish the supervision necessary to keep wayward ambition in line. 

Prepare the hearts proper to make it all superfluous. 

It is never too early, God, but it needs a plan. May this one work.

Amen.

Addendum: 26 soldiers were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in Rafah, northern Sinai. God, have mercy on their souls, and eliminate terror. Give the nation a healthy resolve.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Judges, Tribes

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God,

Two feuds escalated this week. One reached a preliminary conclusion, the other a concerning jolt. It may not be proper to pray mend the fences, but rather in wisdom to put all things right.

After months of debate and clear judicial opposition, the president signed a parliament-ratified bill to select the chief judge of major courts from three nominations. Viewed as anti-constitutional interference and a blow to seniority, it is nonetheless law, pending further developments.

After months of tense but nonmilitant local opposition, the Islamic State struck against a major tribe in Sinai. Recriminations followed, and the fight is threatening to move beyond the licensed violence of army and police and involve the well-armed Bedouins.

God, politics is often contentious. Ensure efficiency in policy. Define limitations of power. Where there is manipulation, cause it to cease. Where there is exaggeration, cause it to settle.

In the effort to strengthen both state and society, give wisdom. Give humility.

God, violence is often compounding. Empty the Sinai of terrorism. Rebuild the region in hope. Where there is insult, curb retribution. Where there is injury, increase resolve.

In the effort to defeat the Islamic State, give wisdom. Give clarity.

All men are brothers, God, and it is not right to feud. But perhaps a fight is sometimes necessary. Settle scores quickly, and justly. Limit escalation, mend fences.

Put all things right, God. Put Egypt right.

Amen.

 

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Aya, Easter

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God,

Easter passed peacefully, but not Egypt. Though there were no troubles on the holiday, others sandwiched.

A few days earlier Copts praying in a village were pelted with stones, as police looked on. A few days later terrorism struck at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the southern Sinai, as police responded.

One officer died, a few others were injured.

God, protect the nation. Protect her churches. Protect her people. Protect her police.

The disturbing fact in the latest incident was the reach of ISIS to the south. Cells have perpetrated terrorism in various places on the mainland, but it was believed the group had no presence save northern Sinai.

So hem them in, God, and squeeze. Aid the security forces. Grant bravery, justice, and fidelity to law.

It was law also that settled justice for Aya Hegazi, a dual Egyptian-American citizen. After three brave years in pretrial detention, the court ruled against charges filed. She and her husbanded had opened a children’s center, and were accused of exploitation.

President Trump claimed intervention, and flew her home before meeting at the White House.

God, protect the judiciary. Protect its independence. Protect civil society. Protect its people.

If Aya was innocent, how many others? In a congested legal system give all their day in court, in fidelity to the constitution. As Egypt responds to the pressures against her, help her hold to the right and the true.

So steady her institutions, God, and strengthen. Aid the social entrepreneurs. Grant creativity, license, and fidelity to law.

Whether religion, state, or society, give stability and peace. Too many make trouble. Root out, vindicate.

Amen.

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ISIS Attacks Major Christian Monastery in Egypt

St. Catherine's Monastery
Saint Catherine’s Monastery (Photo: Shaul Golan)

This article was first published by Christianity Today on April 19, 2017.

Two weeks after killing 47 Egyptians in twin church bombings on Palm Sunday, the Islamic State claimed a fresh attack on the ancient monastery of St. Catherine on the southern Sinai peninsula.

One policeman was killed and four injured during an exchange of gunfire at a checkpoint about half a mile from the monastery entrance. Police were eventually able to gain control and force the militants to flee, according to the Ministry of Interior as reported by Ahram Online.

ISIS claimed responsibility in a terse statement via their official news agency, Amaq. However, local speculation suggested it may have been a result of skirmishes between disgruntled tribes and the government.

St. Catherine’s is named after the fourth-century martyr from Alexandria, and was built in the sixth century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The monastery belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003.

In the mid-19th century, the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in St. Catherine’s ancient library, at the time the oldest near-complete text of the Bible. The library boasts more than 8,000 early printed books, and is considered second only to the Vatican in collection of early biblical manuscripts.

“We admire the monastery for digitizing its collection for research,” said…

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

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Sadat, Mubarak, and Sinai

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God,

One is expelled from parliament, for alleged wrongs.

One is released from confinement, alleged wrongs dismissed.

Hundreds are displaced from home, for no alleged wrong but existence.

God, intervene.

If Sadat is a criminal may he have his day in court. If he is simply silenced direct his voice.

If Mubarak is a criminal give justice to the protestors. If he is rightly judged restore his reputation.

If Copts flee crime in Sinai preserve all left behind. If they are vilely treated vindicate their faith.

God, contest.

Defend the weak and innocent. Promote the pure in heart. Discern the truth from falsehood. Dismiss the chaff from wheat.

In politics, justice, and civility guide.

Give her good men to govern.

Give her wise counsel to rule.

Give her your peace to compose.

High and mighty, poor and lowly – humble, strengthen.

Where there is allegation, prove. Where there is wrong, right.

Where there is existence, bless. For Egypt and all Egyptians.

Amen.

 

 

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Blind Threat

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God,

As one era passes, another begins. One died, and then two others. There is no connection, save a pernicious idea.

Defeat it, God, and save the people – target and targetter alike.

Far away in America, the Blind Sheikh passed away after many years of incarceration. Linked to terrorism in the first World Trade Center bombing, the Sadat assassination, and the plundering of Copts, he was the beloved spiritual guide of the Islamic Group.

Egypt received his body and permitted a gathering at his funeral.

Far away in Sinai, two Copts were murdered by the Islamic State. A father shot, his son burned alive. A video was issued calling for many more.

Egypt continues its assault against them.

Many years ago she subdued the Blind Sheikh’s disciples; God, as the idea morphs further grant success again.

But the cost is so high. Win their hearts and dry their ground.

Perhaps the funeral helped?

Some chafed, God, that people would celebrate one deemed a criminal. Others nodded at respect for the dead.

Egypt offered dignity to his family, God. Preserve her dignity in turn.

But strengthen her also in the dignity of her citizens, especially the threatened, neglected, and disadvantaged among them.

God, may this new era be short. May the old era be remembered. Long forgotten let be the idea.

Amen.

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The Russian Airline Disaster and Islamic State in Egypt

Abu Osama al-Masry
Abu Osama al-Masry, blurred in a Wilayat Sinai propaganda video; from SITE Intel Group

Who downed Russian airline flight 9286 as it left tourist resort Sharm el-Sheikh in October, killing all 224 on board?

Russian officials have confirmed a bomb brought down the plane, while Whitehall has labelled shadowy leader of the new ISIS affiliate Wilayat Sinai – Abu Osama al-Masry – ‘a person of interest’ in on-going investigations.  Egypt has yet to release details from their investigation.

‘Foreign tourists, workers, and troops in Egypt are at greater risk than ever’, wrote Zach Gold in Egypt Source.

‘Whether [WS] was responsible or made an opportunistic claim, the group’s willingness to even rhetorically target foreign interests in Egypt is another dangerous marker in a pattern of threats’, he added.

A former Azhar student and clothing importer Abu Osama al-Masry claimed responsibility on behalf of Wilayat Sinai. ‘They were shocked by a people who sought the hereafter, loved death, and had a thirst for blood’, he said.

‘We will inherit your soil, homes, wealth, and capture your women! This is Allah’s promise’.

Jurisprudence

‘Eloquent in quoting the Qur’an’: Abu Osama al-Masry, blurred in propaganda video. Photo: SITE Intel Group

Al-Masry, a nom-de-guerre indicating he is Egyptian, is said to have been born in northern Sinai but grew up in Sharqiya in the eastern Nile Delta.

The 42-year-old former student at the Muslim world’s most prestigious seat of learning, al-Azhar in Cairo, al-Masry is said to be ‘well versed in Islamic jurisprudence’ and ‘eloquent in quoting the Quran’.

Wilayat Sinai, meaning ‘the province of Sinai’, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on 10 November, 2014.

It was previously known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (ABM), translated roughly as ‘Supporters of Jerusalem’ – implying the same apocalyptic zeal as IS.

Lapido Media nailed this affiliation a year ago – and the fact of the reluctance of the West to believe it amid the complexity of Egyptian culture and the prevalence of ‘conspiracy theories’.

On 5 November 2014, we wrote:  ‘Ali expects the “Supporters of Jerusalem” – a home-grown terrorist outfit operating out of Sinai – to soon announce their allegiance to ISIS. Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, he said, was an associate of Abu Musad al-Zarqawi in the Islamic State of Iraq and believed to be killed by US forces in 2010.

‘But some evidence suggests he is still alive and operating out of the Sinai with the Supporters of Jerusalem,’ Ali said.

Shifting

If the Russian airline attack is confirmed, it will not have been the first time Wilayat Sinai has targeted foreigners.

Strategy, however, is shifting from attacking tourism in Egypt as part of an economic war, to attacking tourists in retaliation for their nation’s policies.

In February 2014 the group killed two South Koreans and an Egyptian driver in a bus traveling from St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.

They also claimed responsibility for the hideous executions of American oil worker William Henderson in August 2014, and the Croatian Tomislav Salopek in August 2015.

Wilayat Sinai’s fighting force is estimated between a low of one to two thousand militants, and as high as five to twelve thousand.

The sparse population of North Sinai is approximately 435,000, or forty per square mile.

Unlike the Islamic State, WS’s composition is mostly local, consisting of veteran jihadists, disaffected Bedouin, and disillusioned youth. Some foreign fighters come from Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, and WS have issued a call for more.

Egypt has accused Turkey of providing support for Wilayat Sinai, posting names and pictures of alleged operatives they have captured.

Wilayat Sinai also benefits from members who previously served in the Egyptian military, before defecting or being expelled.

Walid Badr, a former major in the army, was the suicide bomber in the September 2013 assassination attempt on the interior minister. One month later former officers Emad Abdel Halim and Hisham Ashmawi led an assault on a checkpoint in Sinai killing 31 people.

History

WS, under its original guise of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was formed sometime in 2011 in response to the Egyptian revolution of 25 January.

Egyptian security says ABM breathed new life into existing bands of militants such as al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, which had conducted operations against tourism hotels in Sinai in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

After formally merging, ABM originally targeted Israel, launching a few cross-border attacks and several acts of sabotage against the Egypt-Israeli gas pipeline.

President Mohamed Morsi authorised military action against ABM after it killed 16 border guards in August 2012. But he is also understood to have preferred negotiation and tried to limit their influence through dialogue with other Sinai parties.

After Morsi’s removal from office on 3 July, 2013, ABM shifted focus and deliberately targeted Egyptian security forces.

Abu Osama al-Masry deemed Morsi an apostate and equated democracy with atheism – a typical militant Islamist trope.

But ABM sought to take advantage of the military-versus-Muslim Brotherhood conflict to paint itself as the defender of Muslims.

Al-Qa’eda

A leaked Egyptian security document from February 2015 accused the Muslim Brotherhood of working with Al-Qa’eda to send three thousand fighters to the Sinai.

Morsi, like the transitional military council before him, released jihadis from prison.

But an Egyptian researcher says that while he permitted militants a degree of operation, he did not nurture them as a ‘last resort’ to protect his office.

In addition to the acts of terrorism listed above, ABM has been a leading force in a long list of attacks in Sinai and the Egyptian mainland.

The small Christian population of roughly 650 families in the Sinai have also suffered at their hands. Many have relocated, though local Muslims have promised to protect them.

Wilayat Sinai
Logo of Wilayat Sinai

Imitating

Four hundred attacks killing seven hundred soldiers: Wilayat Sinai. Photo: SITE Intel Group

Targeting Christians is only one of the ways Wilayat Sinai is imitating the Islamic State.

Mixing terror and piety, they have beheaded opponents and moved against drug trafficking. They have appealed to the sympathy of Bedouin tribes and distributed money to those whose homes have been destroyed in the conflict.

But Wilayat Sinai has so far failed to reproduce the primary marker of the Islamic State – territorial acquisition. They hide out in the desert, mix with the people, plant roadside bombs, and adopt guerilla tactics, but have failed to claim and hold land.

It has not been for want of trying.

Wilayat Sinai has led over four hundred attacks on security forces between 2012 and 2015, killing an estimated seven hundred soldiers.

On 1 July, 2015 militants led a full-day assault on the city of Sheikh Zuweid, following multiple coordinated attacks on surrounding checkpoints. The effort failed when the military employed F-16s in the city’s defense.

Reporting on Sinai is difficult as the government has criminalised publication of information that contradicts official statements.

One month ago on 22 October, an army spokesman declared ‘full control’ over the Sinai, but terror attacks continue.

An anonymous officer said failings stemmed from unfamiliar terrain and a scorched-earth policy that alienated the population. There are also conflicting reports as to whether local tribes are joining the fight or just watching idly by.

But an anonymous militant admitted the military have severely restricted their operations, and the closing of tunnels on the Gaza border has dried up the weapon supply.

Europe

Human Rights Watch has criticised the government over the creation of a buffer zone meant to destroy the network of tunnels long exploited by traffickers and terrorists alike. Between July 2013 and August 2015 HRW reported the destruction of at least 3,255 homes and properties.

Israel claims that Hamas is aiding Wilayat Sinai, though leaders deny any connection to this ‘black extremism’.

But on Egypt’s Western border the Islamic State has been more successful in setting up a franchise. They call Libya ‘the strategic gateway’, noting its proximity to Egypt, Tunisia, African nations of the Sahel, and Europe.

In spring 2014 Libyans in Syria returned to Derna near Benghazi and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Fledgling states have been created for each of Libya’s three traditional regions: Cyrenaica, Tripoli, and the Fezzan.

This has sparked terrorist activity in Egypt’s Western Desert as well. In July 2014 ABM claimed responsibility for an attack in Farafra that killed 22 soldiers. Last month in pursuit of terrorist targets, the military accidentally killed eight Mexican tourists in the Bahariya oasis.

Splits

The terrorism network in Egypt is fluid. Abu Osama al-Masry indicated his support for the Islamic State as early as 30 June, 2014, praying for them to conquer Baghdad. By September reports of co-operation and training emerged.

But by November the eventual pledge of allegiance was disputed, with veterans said to support Al-Qa’eda, yet with the youth vote winning out.

Since then splinter groups have formed, though there is no evidence of direct conflict. Jihadi Ribat was created in December 2014, eschewing support for Islamic State claims to the caliphate. The aforementioned former military officer Ashmawi split with others in July 2015 to formal-Murabitoon.

Ajnad Misr declared its intention to focus on attacks against security personnel in Cairo, in January 2014. It has been implicated in over 25 attacks, but focuses on Egypt rather than a global cause.

There even appears to be diversity within the Islamic State network. Recent attacks on the Italian Consulate in Cairo and on a security directorate in Shubra el-Kheima were claimed by Islamic State in Egypt, not Wilayat Sinai.

The Egyptian government claims progress in the fight against terrorism, and last week killed Ashraf el-Gharably, reportedly a top commander in Wilayat Sinai. The UK has offered the support of special forces to help kill or capture Abu Osama al-Masry.

The British government declared Wilayat Sinai, then ABM, a terrorist entity in April 2014.

‘Egypt deserves support, not punishment,’ Anglican Bishop of Egypt Mouneer Hanna Anis told Lapido Media, critical of Russian and British decisions to restrict air travel to Egypt estimated to cost the nation nearly £185 million per month.

‘My prayer is to see the international community working together to fight terrorism.’

This article was first published at Lapido Media.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Probable Cause

Flag Cross QuranGod,

A week later, still not enough is known. What caused the Russian airliner to fall from the sky?

A joint Egyptian-Russian team has been studying debris and black boxes, but has yet to issue a final report.

But ISIS’s affiliate in the Sinai claimed – twice – that it brought down the plane, though it will withhold specifics until a time of its choosing.

And officials in the US and UK have stated that an onboard bomb is the most likely cause, garnished from intelligence gained in online chatter.

Since then tourists are being evacuated, airlines are changing flight paths, vacationers are being warned, and Egypt is growing angry. The damage to her tourist industry is immeasurable, already in a climate of economic stress.

God, make sense of it all soon.

May the truth be known. May precautions be taken. May all stay safe. May they vacation in peace.

But God, why are nations not cooperating? Are Egypt and Russia dragging their feet, afraid to confirm a terrorist act? Are the US and UK leaking suspicion for political pressure?

Comfort the families of those who have died. Facilitate the return of tourists who wish. Help experts share intel and information. Keep a bad situation from becoming worse.

God, responsible or not for this tragedy, root out the terrorism that claims and rejoices.

But God, settle everyone’s spirits. Let neither fear nor frustration influence sound judgment. Grant Egypt wisdom and leadership to guide through this crisis.

May all be known transparently. May all be safer in the end.

God, bless Egypt and all who visit.

Amen.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: A Bad Week

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Many are dead, with increasing sophistication. Have mercy on Egypt, and let this pass.

A remotely detonated bomb killed the public prosecutor, the first high official assassinated in two decades.

A terrorist offensive in the Sinai was ultimately driven back by the army, but not before several hours of bloody conflict.

A Muslim Brotherhood meeting was raided with nine casualties. Whether armed and plotting attacks or gunned down in cold blood, it was just one more escalation in a terrible week of death.

God, thank you that so much is calm. For millions life continues on as normal, though anxiety has increased. Restore security, restore the economy, and protect all that is working.

But God, how do you change those bent toward violence?

Comfort the families of all who have died. Give them a supernatural spirit of forgiveness. Let justice be demanded where it is required, and let it be fulfilled in accordance with law and order.

Give courage and resolve to other high officials. Protect them from threats. Guard them in the performance of their duty. May none shrink back from fear.

Defeat the non-state menace operating in the desert. Isolate them from all who supply, outfit, and train. Give wisdom to the residents caught in the middle. And develop their region, that it might soon prosper.

And God, of the Brotherhood, there is too much to pray. You know what they are; many others are convinced they also know. Maybe they are right.

Guide them or confuse them. Restore them or imprison them. Let them lead, or rid Egypt of them. In the context of this week, and the last few years, there seems little in between.

So let us pray: Deal with them in justice, in full account of the law. Sort it out as you will, in accordance with your principles, with all care for their individual souls.

Also for the state: May it justly administer the authority you have granted it. Strengthen its hand, also in self-discipline. Protect the hearts of its human agents, to act in accordance with your principles, seeking what is best for the nation.

Cleanse Egypt of the desire for revenge and retribution. Transform this natural inclination into a firm commitment toward justice and righteousness.

And may all self-reflect. It has been a bad week. Worse may come, but it is not inevitable. Have mercy on Egypt, and let this pass.

Amen.

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Egypt, Up and Down

Rule of Law IndexTwo global index reports recently released provide perspective on Egypt these days. Security is up, law is down.

According to the Global Peace Index, Egypt experienced the third largest jump among the 162 studied nations. Unfortunately, ranked at 137, it still has a long way to go. The assassination of the prosecutor general is indicative of the general trouble, as is the new offensive against Sheikh Zuweid in Sinai. But from a wider lens the security situation is improving.

Hopefully 2016 will witness a further rise, and these events do not singal the start of a downward spiral.

But according to the Rule of Law Index, Egypt fell twelve spots to number 86 among 102 studied nations. This is not an encouraging sign. After the assassination of the prosecution general, there may be worries that security will clamp down even tighter, skirting or bypassing safeguards for due process.

Law and order, both are necessary. Even, and perhaps especially, in trying times.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Tribe

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Solidarity of group is good. But there are many groups in the world. Who stands with whom?

Give wisdom to the Tarabin of Sinai, who pledge to support the government in the fight against ISIS.

Give wisdom to the government, to know if and how to accept.

Give wisdom to the other tribes, to navigate this minefield.

ISIS holds no territory in Sinai, but they appear to have some freedom of movement. The role of the tribes is key, but uncertain. Do they protect or simply tolerate, or are they themselves intimidated?

The Tarabin have suffered losses at their hands, having cooperated with the state. ISIS, meanwhile, is doing what it can to exploit tribal fault lines to win support and create division.

Their solidarity seems right, but should it be armed? Theirs is a separate group, no matter how loyal.

The loyalty of other groups is being tested. The stakes are high.

Defeat the menace, God, with the support of all. As for the solidarity of government and tribes, show Egypt the best polity. Make a state of citizenship; honor an ancient code.

But there is another ‘tribe’ that operates within the field of citizenship, within the fold of the state. The Brotherhood has suffered losses, having antagonized the state.

One leader died in prison from a stroke. They accuse of lack of timely medical intervention.

A popular soccer star has assets confiscated from a business began with their partnership. He says he is independent, but where does his loyalty lie? Should the question even be asked?

The solidarity of the Brotherhood gives them great strength; it also creates networks that can be pursued. After a year in power, and a year without, many are vulnerable.

So bless them God. Reveal the innocent, convict the guilty. But help their solidarity find right relation to the state.

In Sinai or in cities, in secret cells or prison cells, give wisdom. Honor the solidarity that serves a higher cause. But meld each solidarity with the competing others, and make the state an effective, arbitrating servant.

That each one, in solidarity with all, might serve you. Make this the largest tribe.

Amen.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Remaking, Resistance, Reflection

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Forgive the horrors of this region. Protect Egypt within them.

Some of the troubles are her own. Another attack in the Sinai killed soldiers. Villagers protested violently against the church to be built in honor of the martyrs from Libya. And a pro-Morsi demonstrator was shot in the head in our own local neighborhood, according to reports.

These troubles are familiar and sadly, press less on the psyche. But horrors abound as Yemen explodes and Kenyans are massacred. Sometimes it seems all risks falling apart, utterly.

And even good news does not fully encourage. Iran is welcomed back into the fold, potentially. The US restores Egyptian military support, mostly. Sometimes it seems all is being remade, differently.

God, be with and comfort the people of the region. Many suffer. Many others wonder. What is happening here? What has gone wrong? It is not easy on the soul.

Answers are not forthcoming. It is easy to blame the powers-that-be. It is more difficult to identify one’s own sins. But neither are fully satisfactory, God, though both are surely true.

Is good coming? Is evil resisting? Is change afoot? In whose interest? Do the people matter? Why do so many sacrifice themselves? Why do so many do nothing?

What can be done anyway?

Shall the killers be killed to stop their killing? Who can give license, when so many are guilty?

Is more war coming? Can good resist? What is worse, the change or the status quo ante? This middle, if it is, is surely hellish.

And yet in Egypt, so many still live in peace. Other places also. Let not the horrors overshadow the calm.

And let it not be before the storm. Roll back the chaos and instability. Hold back the hands of meddlers. Restore back humanity and innate hospitality.

But with introspection, God. May the people know you love them, but that you also judge. May leaders fear especially.

Fight for the humble, the simple, the poor. Honor the pure in heart. May their solutions prevail. Give them the courage to speak, and the ability to implement.

And as all others tear themselves apart, spare as many as possible. Spare Egypt, despite her sins. Spare all. Forgive. Have mercy.

Amen.

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Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Allegiances

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Two declarations were issued this week, at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. From Sinai, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis pledged to obey the caliph of the Islamic State. From the Chamber of Commerce, a business delegation pledged to recruit other American companies to invest in Egypt.

One allegiance is to you, God, the other is to mammon. Both may be confused.

Therefore, guide them both.

A few days after the pledge to ISIS, terrorists struck at the Egyptian navy. Four boats in the Mediterranean targeted a naval vessel, opening a new chapter in the insurrection.

A few days before the pledge of investment, a UN hearing blasted the Egyptian record on human rights. But sixty-six companies targeted the private sector, opening a new chapter in the transition.

God, help Egypt to rebuild. Bring investment from abroad and from within, that a creative entrepreneurship might employ many. From a stronger economy build a stronger middle class. From a stronger middle class build a stronger civil society. And from a stronger civil society build a stronger respect for human rights.

But do not let it take that long. Amid the many troubles, hold the government accountable in treating people justly. And within these coming companies, may their corporate culture model good governance in the economic sphere.

And God, help Egypt to repel. Bring support from abroad and from within, that a humane determination might resist terrorism. From a deeper respect for human rights build a deeper sense of patriotism. From a deeper sense of patriotism build a deeper commitment to neighbor. And from a deeper commitment to neighbor build a deeper understanding of religion.

God, set the single-minded idealists of the Islamic State on the right path. Set the single-minded capitalists of the United States on the right path.

Once there, may their respective zeal and wealth benefit Egypt, the region, and the world. For without your guidance, God, they may trample it all.

Declare your goodness to Egypt, and recruit many to her aid. From abroad and from within, may all demonstrate allegiance to your principles.

Amen.

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Current Events

Are Islamic Terror Plots in Egypt Just ‘Crazy Theories’?

Abdel Rahim Ali
Abdel Rahim Ali

A desperate Egypt reaches out to the West, trying to communicate the dire threat of terrorism.

A celebrity researcher ties this terrorism to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the West yawns.

But 33 soldiers died last Friday in separate brazen attacks on security personnel in Sinai, and now Egypt’s Christian leaders have picked up the mantle to call for help.

‘Egypt now needs the support of its friends,’ wrote Revd Mouneer Hanna, Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt, in an open letter on the diocesan website. ‘This support involves understanding of the real situation.’

One week earlier Revd Andrea Zaki, general director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, joined a semi-official Egyptian delegation to the United States. It was made up of diplomats, journalists, civil society members, and men of religion, who were eager to present Egypt’s perspective to a sceptical West.

On many issues Zaki found an agreeable reception. But their counterparts in Washington DC bluntly told the group that the Egyptian government has not provided ‘clear evidence’ linking the Muslim Brotherhood to the ongoing terrorism campaign.

Due process

Perhaps this is because Egypt appears to be giving this ‘evidence’ first to the people, and only later through judicial channels. This reversal of due process causes Western observers to be dismissive.

‘Isn’t he that guy on television with the crazy theories?’ remarked a European journalist as Abdel Rahim Ali walked into the room to hold a press conference on 1 November on the possible emergence of ISIS in Sinai. The mixed crowd of Egyptians and Westerners awaited his evidence.

Ali expects the ‘Supporters of Jerusalem’ – a home-grown terrorist outfit operating out of Sinai – to soon announce their allegiance to ISIS. Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, he said, was an associate of Abu Musad al-Zarqawi in the Islamic State of Iraq and believed to be killed by US forces in 2010.

But some evidence suggests he is still alive and operating out of the Sinai with the Supporters of Jerusalem, Ali said.

On 4 November, without mentioning al-Muhajir, Reuters confirmed Ali’s prediction of the merger with ISIS. But Egyptian state-run Ahram Online denied the news, quoting from what is alleged to be the Supporters of Jerusalem’s official Twitter account, @3Ansar_B_Almqds.

Leaked conversations

In Ali’s presentation, however, the source of his evidence was not provided, fitting with his general modus operandi. Host of the popular television show, ‘The Black Box’, and editor-in-chief of al-Bawaba newspaper, Ali regularly releases leaked conversations of revolutionary and Islamist figures.

Despite their illegal nature, Ali operates freely. And he freely admits his sources are connected to the security apparatus.

One of the most damning allegations concern leaked recordings of phone calls between President Morsi and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda. In them an agreement is made to cease operations against Egypt while allowing jihadist groups to exist on Egyptian soil.

In this context, reference in Bishop Mouneer’s open letter about the Brotherhood finds verification. He spoke of the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed el-Beltagi’s statement from the pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa in Cairo, prior to its bloody dispersal.

‘We do not control the situation on the ground,’ Beltagi said in a July 2013 video on YouTube. ‘But what is happening in Sinai …will stop the moment …the president [Morsi] returns to power.’

Bishop Mouneer told Lapido Media that, like many others, he is not happy that thousands of people are currently in prison without judicial rulings. He understands this makes the West feel Egypt is being very harsh with the Muslim Brotherhood.

But after listing a long litany of Brotherhood offenses – attacks on protestors, churches, and calls for jihad in Syria – he provides Egyptian perspective on this reversal of due process.

The courts are slow, he said, and Egypt is in a state of war against terrorism: ‘In times of war countries sometimes take extraordinary measures, such as America with Guantanamo Bay.

‘In order to educate the people and influence public opinion, [security] leaks some of these things.’

But of these recordings and allegations, Bishop Mouneer cannot say what is true and what is not, as long as Ali does not release his sources.

Similarly, Zaki does not feel compelled to make the case against the Muslim Brotherhood for the sake of his American audience. ‘This is the responsibility of the government,’ he told Lapido Media.

But he does want to convey Egypt’s general satisfaction with the situation following the post-30 June deposing of Morsi. The military answered the call of millions, he said, and the people ratified this action in subsequent elections.

Acceptance

This message is beginning to be heard. Zaki said the Americans expressed their acceptance of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, as well as the necessary role of Egypt’s military in fighting terrorism.

Economic support will also be forthcoming at the expected 21 February economic summit in the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, the Americans told him. Egypt will present investment opportunities in fifteen projects worth $100 billion.

But the message of Egypt’s popular belief in Muslim Brotherhood culpability in terrorism is still awaiting judgment in the West. The Whitehall report authorised by the British government remains delayed.

‘I have no idea about the link between the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda,’ said Bishop Mouneer, expressing more caution than many Egyptians.

‘But I know one thing, we were going backwards during the time of Morsi.’

This article was originally published on Lapido Media.

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Current Events

Musad Abul Fagr: The Bedouin in Egypt’s Constitutional Committee

Musad Abu Fagr

From my recent article at Arab West Report, continuing a series on the formation of Egypt’s constitution:

By self-description, Mus’ad Abū al-Fajr really wasn’t that important. In almost every categorization he was in the minority. But he also counts himself a ‘son of the revolution’ and fully worthy. And as a Bedouin, his participation in Egypt’s constitutional Committee of Fifty was itself one of its greatest accomplishments.

Selected as a ‘general personality’ independent of any institution, Abū al-Fajr isn’t sure why he was chosen. But he is confident it is linked to his status as a revolutionary from Sinai, active in protest in public squares since 2004. From 2007-2010 he was jailed on charges of ‘inciting riots’, and was released only a few months before the January 25 revolution. He immediately joined in on the National Movement for Change, found himself active in Tahrir Square, eventually became part of the National Salvation Front, and then worked on behalf of Tamarod to depose Muhammad Mursī.

But there were many revolutionary candidates to choose from for inclusion in the Committee of Fifty, so it was his status as a Bedouin that stood out. Therefore from the moment of his inclusion Abū al-Fajr considered that the region of Sinai was going to win at least a minimum of its rights. He knew that if he would withdraw from the committee – along with Hajāj Udūl of Nubia, with whom he cooperated extensively – it would cost the project much credibility and the symbolic vote of their regions. The task, then, was to achieve more, not just for the Sinai but for the people, for whom Abū Fajr described himself as continually defending.

Here is the gain:

His primary achievement, Article 236, represented the minimum. Treating Sinai along with the underdeveloped border areas of Nubia, Matrouh, and Upper Egypt, it promises a ‘comprehensive economic and urban development’ with ‘participation of the residents’. These are promised the ‘priority in benefiting from them’ in a manner that takes into account ‘the cultural and environmental patterns’ of each area. Ten years is given as the limit, with the law to spell out the particulars.

And here is why it wasn’t more:

But in fact, Sinai was to be mentioned more frequently. It was to be in the preamble, in the articles on cultural diversity, and those preventing discrimination based on geography. It was not the writing committee that played the chief role in removing it, he says, but direct pressure from the military seeking support for its own controversial article.

Abū al-Fajr described this as Article 204 on the military trial of civilians. He says he could have achieved more for Sinai had he simply agreed to it. He judges this from his experience in the work and discussions of the committee, but stood against it nonetheless. Besides himself, only five others voted to reject the article in the end.

Most of those interviewed described a few setbacks here and there, but were very positive about the document as a whole. Abul Fagr’s reaction is unique:

And the end result is a constitution he is happy with, recognizes a few flaws, but yet does not consider a revolutionary document, and is ultimately not worthy of Egypt. He does not even believe it will last.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.

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Current Events

Salafi-Jihadis, Sinai, and the Anticipation of Terrorism

L: Mohamed al-Zawahiri, R: Mohamed Morsi
L: Mohamed al-Zawahiri, R: Mohamed Morsi

This post recalls two articles published last year at Arab West Report but not referenced on the blog, on the SalafiJihadis. The testimony is poignant based on current developments:

“We are distinguished from other Islamic trends by not accepting partial solutions,” he said. “The Brotherhood has understandings with the Americans, and they are not working on behalf of the shar’īah but to keep power for themselves.” As for the Salafīs, “They were a pure religious movement, far from politics, but when we see how the Nour Party has behaved after the revolution we see a great similarity to the state security apparatus, finding consensus with the military and even with the liberals.”

This jihad, however, does not target the West directly, though he lauds al-Qā’idah, justifies the Benghazi operation, and warns Americans their blood is not safe in Muslim lands. In fact, though his rhetoric is violent – “We have come to smash the pillars which the people have gotten used to” – the Salafī-Jihadi effort consists entirely of preaching, however much the State Department says otherwise.

“We do not carry weapons in Egypt,” he said. “We are engaged only in an intellectual battle. The security wants to charge us with being armed, but we reject this completely.”

The above quotes from Ahmed Ashoush, a colleague of Mohamed al-Zawahiri. They are accused of links with the Muslim Brotherhood and of fueling Sinai-based terrorism to protest his removal from power.

The second article reflects an email exchange with two experts on Islamist movements, Khalil al-Anani and Ahmed Zaghloul. Here is an excerpt from the latter, on the propensity of different groups toward violence:

Do you believe they are engaged in or preparing for an armed struggle and/or terrorist activity in Egypt or the region?

A large number of the remaining Jihad Organization has renounced violence; so has Jamā’at al-Islāmīyah following their ‘Revisions’ and created a political party with members in the Egyptian parliament. These are the classic organizations associated with violence.

But the idea of using violence is still present and will never disappear. There are a number of vine-like organizations in the Sinai which have conducted violent operations recently. There are others who have adopted the ideas of al-Qā’idah in Egypt.

But the source of danger is not the known groups but the sleeping cells who maintain the idea of jihad. Some of these have traveled to Iraq, Libya, or Syria for the jihad there. As long as there are places subject to aggression there will be suitable areas for these cells to be active.

Reality changes frequently, as does the ability to accept comments at face value. But these testimonies are offered in the ongoing effort to determine what is happening in Egypt, for the good of the country. Please click here to read the full articles at Arab West Report.