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Current Events Jayson

Friday Prayers for Egypt: US Aid

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Perhaps the United States felt she needed to take a stand. Perhaps this is a new wrinkle in an old story of feigned antagonism. Perhaps she backs the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps she backs democracy.

Perhaps she is against the killing of protestors. Perhaps she is muddled and has little idea of how to engage Egypt.

Whatever the reality, God, she has suspended aid.

Not all, of course, and not permanently. But it is a significant step of disengagement from a nation with which she has an entrenched political and military partnership. What will come of it?

Make Egypt, God, a country that needs no aid. Help her to stand on her feet, supply her own needs, and craft her own policies. May these be wise and righteous; may she be generous and able to aid others instead.

Make Egypt, God, a country free from external leverage. Help her to defend her nation as necessary, stand tall in balance of power, and speak into issues of regional justice. May she be strong and welcoming; may she love peace and pursue it.

But these are ideals, God. And even if achieved, Egypt will remain part of the global community in which none are independent. Within this web, she is more often a fly than a spider; give her reprieve.

US aid is the reality in which she lives. Help Egypt’s leaders to respond correctly. May good relations with America persist, even as they evolve. But may all stipulations be negotiated fairly, from strength to strength, on what is right and proper rather than from interest and pressure.

For Egypt can certainly pressure back. Perhaps you deem America immoral, God, as many Egyptians do. But there are certainly other immoralities to flirt with; may Egypt not run from one lover to the next.

There is a certain stability in the world, filled with injustices but facilitating peace as the absence of war. Egypt, if she wishes, can undo some of this. Suez, Sinai, Israel – her contribution to the web is substantial. Make right the injustices, God, but preserve and enhance any peace that exists.

And God, if American aid and leverage has positive ideals behind it, may a principled stand produce principled results. Domestically, hold leadership accountable to the demands of the people. Grant Egypt consensus and a governmental system that represents it.

The United States may be acting from any number of motivations, so give Egypt discernment. But whether aid is restored, lessened, made conditional, or eliminated, help Egypt also to take a stand.

For Egypt, may there be no wrinkles. May there be no antagonism. May there be no backed political entity. May there be no engineered democracy. May there be no killing. May there be no need for protests.

May there be no muddle. God, engage Egypt, and do not suspend your aid.

Amen.

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Current Events Jayson

Anglican Bishop Mouneer on the Break-Up of pro-Morsi Sit-Ins

Bishop Mouneer Anis
Bishop Mouneer Anis

As violence continues in Cairo and cities throughout Egypt today, the Anglican Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis has issued a statement urging people to pray. Here is his description of events:

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As I write these words, our St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi.  They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church.  I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt (see attached photo), as well as a Catholic church in Suez.  Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt.  Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt.

Orthodox Church in Suhag

Early this morning, the police supported by the army, encouraged protestors in two different locations in Cairo, to leave safely and go home.  It is worth mentioning that these protestors have been protesting for 6 weeks, blocking the roads.  The people in these neighborhoods have been suffering a great deal—not only these people, but those commuting through, especially those who are going to the airport.  The police created very safe passages for everyone to leave.  Many protestors left and went home, however, others resisted to leave and started to attack the police.  The police and army were very professional in responding to the attacks, and they used tear gas only when it was necessary.  The police then discovered caches of weapons and ammunition in these sites.  One area near Giza is now calm, but there is still some resistance at other sites.  There are even some snipers trying to attack the police and the army.  There are even some rumors that Muslim Brotherhood leaders asked the protestors in different cities to attack police stations, take weapons, and attack shops and churches.

A few hours later, violent demonstrations from Mursi supporters broke out in different cities and towns throughout Egypt.  The police and army are trying to maintain safety for all people and to disperse the protestors peacefully.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi have threatened that if they are dispersed from the current sites, they will move to other sites and continue to protest.   They also threatened to use violence.  There have been a number of fatalities and casualties from among the police as well as the protestors, but it seems that the numbers are not as high as expected for such violence.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi claim that there are very high numbers of casualties.  The real numbers will be known later on.

Please pray that the situation will calm down, for wisdom and tact for the police and the army, for the safety of all churches and congregations, and that all in Egypt would be safe.

May the Lord bless you!

+Mouneer

In my quick reading of events, it seems clear that live gunfire is being exchanged on both sides. Either infiltrators were very quick to penetrate the protests and fire on police, or the lie is given that these demonstrations were completely peaceful. Reports the past few weeks indicated the protest organizers were keen to check the IDs and pat down everyone who entered the sit-in. Many, probably the great majority, of those present were unarmed. But apparently, reports which indicated weapons were present were also true.

As Bishop Mouneer stated, churches across the country are also being targeted. Interesting to note is this report:

The al-Gamaa al-Islamiya ultra-conservative movement called on supporters of toppled president Morsi to take to the streets to condemn what it termed “coup crimes.”

The statement by the hardline Islamist group – a close ally of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – also urged its loyalists “enraged by police attacks on the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins,” not to assault “Christians or their religious buildings.”

So at this point they read these attacks as actions of the pro-Morsi crowds, rather than a black flag of the security forces, which they warned about weeks earlier. The speculation would be if this is their public face covering over their own private rage and instruction. Anti-Christian rhetoric has been employed by several Islamist figures ever since the original protest movement against Morsi in December 2012 when he issued a constitutional declaration granting himself absolute power (later rescinded, but protecting of actions taken during that time).

But in this current climate, it is difficult to make sense of the situation. Patience is needed, for there will soon be a flood of propaganda.

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Current Events Jayson

A Conversation with al-Gama’a al-Islamiya’s Hani Nour Eddin – Part One, Background

Hani Nour Eddin

A few months ago, before President Morsi was deposed, I had the chance to interview Hani Nour el-Din, a member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya who was elected to the most recent parliament. His group is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States, but they formally gave up violence as a doctrinal strategy in the early 2000s.

This fact – indeed question – is very important now that Islamists find themselves outside the political spectrum. They gave up violence at a time when there was still no means to enter Egyptian politics. The revolution opened up political space, but now it appears closed. Will the group decide they made a mistake – that the only way to transform Egypt into a political state is through a violent seizing of power?

This is a very necessary question to put to al-Gama’a al-Islamiya now. But in the meanwhile, here is a window into the group’s thinking while they were on the winning side.

The interview was reduced and published by the Middle East Institute. Please click here to read the article.

But here on the blog I will post parts of the interview that had to be trimmed for space. Part One here will concern Nour Eddin’s personal history before his group gave up violence. Part Two, in a few days, will concern his views on violence, whether or not the party truly has abandoned the principle. Please enjoy.

Please introduce yourself to us:

My name is Hany Nour Eddin and I represent the Building and Development Party and serve on its high council, and was a member of parliament in 2011 before it was dissolved. I got to know IG in university, when I joined it and engaged in a number of student activities and preaching campaigns. After university I was arrested and spent many years in prison. This is where I became better acquainted with the group’s leadership.

I have read about this experience, and you maintain your innocence. What happened during this clash with police?

Here in Suez we were giving lectures in opposition to Hosni Mubarak and his remaining in the presidency. It was around 1993 and the GI organized a campaign called ‘No to Mubarak’. The state line was to forbid any opposition to the renewal of his presidency. We organized a large exhibition against him and spoke about the damage he was doing to the country, whether politically, economically, or otherwise. So he gave the order to security to stop the campaign, and to do so forcefully.

A large number of police arrived and we understood we needed to withdraw, but were surprised at the gunfire that began as we were doing so. One the bullets struck an officer accidentally, and a campaign was launched against us accusing us of killing him.

Who did kill him?

Someone from security, as the bullet hit him from behind. Part of their tactic was to disperse the crowd with gunfire, but he was hit from close range. Afterwards we all started getting arrested.

What was your role in GI at this time? Did you organize the exhibition?

Yes, I supervised it, collecting pictures and articles to help educate the people. The level of arrests practically stopped the work of GI in Suez, except for taking care of the families of those incarcerated.

So if you were imprisoned unjustly, why were you released later on?

When we were arrested they wanted to dissolve the Islamist movements, and especially our operations, targeting even our preachers. A violent clash took place between us and the police which became an armed struggle, targeting leaders on both sides, including Mubarak himself on many occasions.

By 1974 we realized the struggle was shedding the blood of the nation in general, and not just of the GI. We wanted to overthrow the state, but our violence was met by greater violence by the regime. We considered that we were defending ourselves, but it resulted in oppression and hostility, which reached even our families and relatives. It was not good.

So we undertook a campaign in the prisons, suggesting a unilateral cease-fire, stopping all violence against the regime, both inside and outside Egypt. It is important to note the whole time, even from outside, we targeted only Egypt and were working on its behalf alone. This is opposed to al-Qaeda, for example; we specified our conflict and goals were only against the regime. By 1979 we launched the non-violent initiative officially, opposing all violence against the regime, whether in the media or with weapons.

For a period of time we tried to send this message to GI members internationally, while we waited for a response from the government. Unfortunately the regime did many things to undermine our credibility, representing us falsely. But by 2000-01 they accepted the initiative. We published our ‘Revisions’, publicizing them first in the prisons and then internationally. They began releasing us from the prisons, and I got out in 2005.

So you found normal work to do?

Yes, after the necessary legal procedures, I returned to my job in the Suez Canal Company. I have a BA in Agriculture but my work with them is administrative.

But you have the time to take off work and talk to me today?

(Laughing) Yes, it’s normal, it’s ok.

So from 2005 until the revolution, what were you doing for GI?

We chose to work in preaching, rather than in organization. We would meet in mosques, talk to the people, and engage in social work – helping the poor, the orphans.

Were you a preacher in the mosque?

Sometimes, but not much. I served on the Shura Council of the GI in our governorate.

Served? But not any more?

Since we started the political party it has taken my priority and I left the Shura Council. Politics is different than preaching and social work. But we agreed to keep the party as the political arm of the GI for about two years until its administration is complete and mature. Then it will become independent, and when the appropriate laws are passed the GI will register legally also.

Please click here to continue reading the interview at Middle East Institute.

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Jayson Religion

St. John the Short

The Relics of St. John the Short

The Coptic Orthodox Church is filled with the stories of saints, so much that the production of their movies has become a cottage industry. They are not always the best acted or of the highest Hollywood production value, but they open a window into the worldview of Egyptian Christians.

I first heard of St. John the Short when I visited the Monastery of St. Makarious, located in the Wadi Natrun Desert between Cairo and Alexandria. It is there I saw his relics; the monastery also houses those of John the Baptist, Elisha, and the Three Makarii, after one of whom the monastery is named.

The Relics of John the Baptist and Elisha the Prophet
The Sign above the Previous Photo
Relics of the Three Makarii

St. John the Short’s relics came to settle here as it was his abode for most of his monastic life, indeed, his life entire. John left Bahnasa near Minya in Upper Egypt at the age of 18. He was raised by Christian, God-fearing parents, though his mother was distraught he fully followed his spiritual commitment into monasticism. His father was more accepting, as was his older brother who bore family responsibilities preventing his own monastic choice until after his parents passed away.

John’s path to monasticism led him to a company of hermits who abused him incessantly in tests to decipher his commitment. In general a monk is by nature an individualistic solitary; the film presents them with few social skills. Yet for the most part it was a ruse, and John proved faithful. Eventually an angel appeared to the abbot and commanded him to accept John into their band.

Even so, the testing continued, leading to the event for which John is best known. The abbot instructed John to find deadwood in the desert, plant it, and then water it every day from a river twelve miles away. Faithfully, John did so, as obedience is a mark of Christian character. The abbot was astonished, for John kept at his work, never complaining a word.

This was only the beginning of the astonishment. After a long duration (stated in Coptic records as three years), the deadwood sprouted leaves, produced fruit, and became a full-grown plant. In popular Coptic lore it is known as the Tree of Obedience.

The Tree of Obedience, in Wadi Natrun

Years later John would give example to the fact that however monks desired independence and were often caustic with each other, beneath it all was a foundation of love. The abbot who abused John for so many years grew to love him like a son, and John cared for him in his debilitating illness over twelve years.

John’s miracles were many. The film displays him driving out a demon from a woman who aimed to kill him. He gave sight to the child of a woman to whom he was led from charity to give bread. He healed the stuttering of a man for whom he also cured his withered hand.

Yet despite his miracles he cared most for the cure of souls. A wealthy woman in the nearby village discovered the joy of the Lord when she gave away her possessions to the poor. Yet upon their exhaustion, none cared for her in return, and she slipped gradually into a life of ill repute. John went to her and rebuked her, but with the love of one who cried over a broken masterpiece.

The woman repented and followed John through the desert to take residence in a nunnery. John pushed her, urging her on as penance for her descent into sin. When she could go no further John allowed the opportunity for both to sleep, yet awoke in the morning to find her dead. He wept at his error, cursing himself that he allowed her to die before her sins could be expunged. Yet an angel appeared to him to lift his sorrow. God had forgiven her sins at the moment of repentance, and had now accepted her into paradise.

Eventually John moved from Wadi Natrun to the present day area of Suez. The film does not give the reason, but Coptic records state it was in response to Bedouin raids on area monasteries. Yet in Suez he faced another danger; the Roman prelate Clopas demanded to see who was giving comfort to the tortured village Christians.

He did not have opportunity to torture John himself. God struck Clopas with a painful disease, semi-comically labeled in the film as ‘chicken pox’. It drove him blind and gave him unbearable shivers. A palace servant instructed Clopas to beg healing from John, as he had healed others. When all other options failed, he humbled himself to do so.

In what struck me as odd, John refused. He sent message to Clopas he would not come unless he renounced his gods and worshipped Jesus, the Son of God. Encouraged to come, John heard his confession, and restored Clopas to full health.

John came to Suez in 395 AD, and died in his nearby isolated cave in 409 AD. An angel visited him the day of his death to declare his acceptance before God, that he had finished the course. Coptic records state he led the majority of Suez’s inhabitants to Christianity.

In an earlier post I wrote about Coptic miracle stories and the pervasive acceptance of these throughout the community. I also wrote once about the value of monasticism, though I don’t wish to rehash either of these reflections here.

Perhaps the only remark is the didactic simplicity of these films, seeking to bring the life of the saints into greater focus for the modern world. The cheesiness factor relates mostly to them being dated, but didactic films are often not that entertaining anyway.

Pope Shenouda opens each of these films with footage from one of his weekly meetings forbidding the improper copying and distribution of these films. He states that those who made them have a right to their intellectual property. In Hollywood, the FBI issues such a warning, threatening imprisonment or fine. In Egypt, it is the head of the church, threatening nothing in particular, but you know where this can go…

I mostly jest. I do enjoy the films, though their re-watch-ability is nil. But as I opened, they are a wonderful window into popular Coptic spirituality. The question is if I profit spiritually myself, or only as a sociological student. The former is far better, and St. John the Short offers lessons, to be sure.

Yet I am far too Western to give too much credence to the details of the story. Perhaps here there is a spiritual lesson to come, when I receive my comeuppance.

There is another question: Tonight, should we watch the more modern tales of Sister Irini, or Pope Kyrillos? Any suggestions?

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