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Despite a Murder and Visa Denials, Christians Persevere in Turkey

Turkey Korean Murder
Image: Source Images: Congin Kim / Annie Spratt / Unsplash

This article was first published in the March print edition of Christianity Today.

Five days after her husband’s murder, Jung Kyung-In named her newborn daughter “God’s Goodness”—in Turkish, not Korean.

Jung moved to Turkey with her husband, Kim Jin-Wook, in 2015. The Korean Christian couple found a place to live in an impoverished district of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, 60 miles from the Syrian border.

Kim worked selling spices, but his real calling, as he understood it, was witnessing to the gospel. He took the Turkish name “Peace,” and his Christian friends in Turkey say he was a great evangelist.

“He shared the gospel in every corner of Diyarbakir without hesitation,” said Ahmet Güvener, pastor of the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, which has about 70 members. “He was not aggressive, but clear, and I think local people were uncomfortable with this.”

One day in November, Kim told Jung he was going out to evangelize. He was attacked on the street, stabbed twice in the chest and once in the back. Kim, 41, died of his wounds in a city hospital.

Authorities arrested a 16-year-old boy for the crime. He has allegedly confessed to the murder, saying he was trying to steal Kim’s phone.

Despite her grief, Jung saw this as an opportunity to testify. She wrote a letter to the boy accused of killing her husband.

“I do not understand why you did this, but I cannot be angry at you,” she wrote on her phone.

“Many people want the court to give you a heavy punishment. But I and my husband don’t want this. We pray that you become worthy of heaven, because we believe in the worth of people. God sent his Son Jesus, who forgave those who persecuted him. We also believe in that and we pray that you would also repent of your sin.”

Jung read the letter aloud to the local media. Her testimony was viewed online more than…

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

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Senate’s Genocide Vote Not the Only Good News for Armenian Christians

Armenian Genocide Memorial

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 13, 2019.

Following years of frustration, Armenian Christians worldwide received a double blessing this week.

For the first time in its history, the US Senate recognized the Armenian Genocide. And after 11 years of practical vacancy, the Armenian community in Istanbul, Turkey, elected a new patriarch.

“It is very emotional for the Armenian world, and anyone who wants to see the truth incarnated,” Paul Haidostian, president of evangelical Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon—the only Armenian university in the diaspora—told CT concerning the resolution.

“But it is very obvious this was the opportune moment to be bipartisan.”

Led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, the unanimous passage yesterday drove his co-sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez to tears.

“I’m thankful that this resolution has passed at a time in which there are still survivors of the genocide,” said the Democrat from New Jersey, pausing for 20 seconds before being able to continue. “[They] will be able to see that…

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

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There’s No One Christian View on Kurds and Turks

Turkish Christians
(Image: Lefteris Pitarakis / AP. Clergy representing minority communities in Turkey gathered Sunday in a monastery in southeastern Turkey to pray for Turkish soldiers fighting in the cross-border operation against Syrian Kurdish fighters.)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on October 24.

As reports circulated that Turkey had violated its five-day pause in operations against the Kurds on the Syrian border, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric intensified. If Kurdish fighters did not withdraw from their positions, as agreed between Erdogan and President Donald Trump, Turkey would “crush their heads.”

The front now appears quiet as Turkey has secured its “safe zone” in cooperation with Russia.

In America, as reported in the press, Christian opinion has been almost universal in its condemnation. But the Christian landscape in the Middle East, home to the oldest and some of the most enduring persecuted traditions in the faith, offers a complex array of responses.

CT has previously covered anti-Turkish sentiment from the Syriac, Assyrian, and Protestant communities of the region.

But there is an underreported—and contested—pro-Turkey and anti-Kurdish contingent as well.

Arameans:

“President Trump is right on Syria!” stated Johny Messo, president of the World Council of Arameans, in a press release. “These ‘heroes’ have oppressed vulnerable Arameans, taken their innocent lives, Kurdified their lands, and still use a tiny Christian group as their mouthpiece.”

The Arameans, though an ancient expression of Christianity, represent a 20th-century revival of identity tied to the ancient biblical land of Aram. Communities exist in Syria, Turkey, and elsewhere in the region, and have been recognized by Israel.

While the West has rallied behind the democratic Syrian enclave that permits religious freedom, Messo says what it commonly called Kurdistan is actually…

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

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Armenian Orthodox Leader: ‘We May Forgive One Day, But We Will Never Forget.’

Aram I Armenian Orthodox Church
(Image: Associated Press)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on November 1.

The Armenian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. According to tradition, Armenia was evangelized by Jesus’ disciples Bartholomew and Thaddeus. In 301 A.D., it became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion.

An Oriental Orthodox denomination, the Armenians are in communion with the Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, and Malankara (India) churches. They differ with Catholics and Protestants over the 451 A.D. Council of Chalcedon decision to recognize Christ as one person with two natures: human and divine. Oriental Orthodox Christians declare Christ has one nature, both human and divine.

The Armenian Church is governed by two patriarchs, entitled Catholicos. One, Karekin II, is Supreme Patriarch for all Armenians and sits in Armenia.

CT interviewed Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, which was once located in modern-day Turkey but since the Armenian Genocide relocated to Antelias, Lebanon, five miles north of Beirut. His jurisdiction includes the Armenians of the Middle East, Europe, and North and South America.

Aram I discussed the genocide, the US House of Representatives resolution this week to finally recognize it, and Armenians’ desired response from Turkey.

How do you respond to the US resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide?

Yesterday I made a statement welcoming warmly this action taken. I believe it is very much in line with the firm commitment of the United States of America in respect to human rights. The rights of the Armenian people are being violated. After more than 100 years, we tried to bring the attention of the international community that the Armenian Genocide is a fact of history.

Whether we call it genocide or massacre or deportation, the intention is important. The intention of the Ottoman Turkish government at the time was to destroy [and] eliminate the Armenian people for political reasons. The presence of Armenian people in the western part of present-day Turkey and [historic] Cilicia was an obstacle to their project of pan-Turkism.

This is our legitimate claim: that the international community make a visible, tangible manifestation of their concern in respect to human rights, and recognize the Armenian Genocide. It was carefully planned and systematically executed by the government at the time.

Our people all around the world warmly greeted this action of the House of Representatives. It is our firm expectation that…

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

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Will US Genocide Resolution Satisfy Armenian Christians?

Armenian Genocide Memorial
(from the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute)

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on November 1.

Armenian Americans breathed a sigh of relief this week when the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved Resolution 296 to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Around 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923, as the defeated Ottoman Empire transitioned into the modern Republic of Turkey. Less than half a million survived.

The resolution also mentions the Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Aramean, Maronite, and other Christian victims who lived in Asia Minor and other Ottoman provinces at the time.

If the House legislation is passed in the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump, the United States will be committed to commemorate the genocide, to reject its denial, and to educate people about it in order to prevent similar atrocities in the future.

But if Armenian Americans are finally pleased, the diaspora in the Middle East—much closer to the Turks and the lands taken from their ancestors—demurs.

“It certainly heals some small aspect of our century-long national wound,” said Paul Haidostian, president of the evangelical Haigazian University—the only Armenian university in the diaspora—in Beirut, Lebanon.

“There is some sense of relief. But it should not be exaggerated.”

Nor should it be underestimated, he told CT. All Armenians…

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

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Syrian Christians Brave Insecurity to Stay Behind and Help

Syria Open Doors
via Open Doors USA

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 18.

Though most of the fighting has stopped for now, Turkey’s incursion on Kurdish-controlled northern Syria has left another humanitarian crisis in its wake.

Local churches as well as Christian organizations like Open Doors and Preemptive Love Coalition have prioritized caring for the citizens who took the risk to stay behind and helping the displaced return.

Last Saturday night, after three days of Turkish bombing, the Alliance Church of Qamishli met to make a decision. Would they flee for safety, or remain and help?

To some degree they had no choice.

Fadi Habsouna, a father of two, was injured when missiles hit his home and ruined his shop. His wife is in critical condition. His grandfather’s home was destroyed by a bomb. The pastor housed them in church-owned property, and decided to remain to assist the family, and others suffering similarly.

The church agreed; only eight families would leave.

“These are extremely brave people who want to be salt and light in their communities,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, who relayed this story from his field staff. “They want to maintain the presence of Jesus and reach out.”

Open Doors is better known for its advocacy work on behalf of the persecuted; Syria ranks no. 11 on its World Watch List of places hardest to be a Christian. Its local partners keep a low profile in order to provide on the ground assessment. But the crisis in Syria has driven them to humanitarian aid.

It is not the first time. Following the rise of ISIS in 2014, Open Doors helped 150,000 Christians located in camps along the Turkish and Lebanese borders. Now their community hubs are providing food, medical care, hygiene kits, and temporary shelter in the northeast Syrian towns affected by the Turkish incursion.

“Christians have to make hard choices,” Curry said. “Leave the communities they were raised in, move inland, or …”

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

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Christians Killed on Syria’s Front Lines

Turkey Shelling Syria
Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, as seen from the Turkish border town of Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on October 11.

Three Christians have been killed in Turkey’s assault on Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria, reported In Defense of Christians (IDC), citing their sources on the ground.

In Qamishli, a Syriac Christian and his wife died, while in Ras al-Ain an additional Syriac Christian civilian was killed. Ten civilians were injured in the attacks.

“People were so scared, they were telling me, ‘They are bombing us right now!’” Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, told NPR. “We think this is a message to the Kurds and Christians there to leave, so Turkey can move refugees there. We think it’s a form of ethnic cleansing.”

The Turkish operation focused initially on a 60-mile stretch of land between the two Arab-majority cities of Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, a sparsely populated area known as Syria’s breadbasket, reported BBC. IDC, which advocates for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, said that this area has large concentrations of Christians.

In total seven civilians were killed, including two children, reported Channel 4. Retaliatory Kurdish mortar fire into Turkey killed…

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

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Syrian Christians to US: ‘Don’t Abandon Us Now’

Kurds Syria USA
Image: Chris McGrath / Getty Images; The Kurdish-led and American-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) announced the defeat of the Islamic State in at a ceremony in Baghouz in March.

This article was first published by Christianity Today on October 8.

Not long after the defeat of the Islamic State in the area, Syrian Christians warn that US military withdrawal from the Kurdish-controlled region, announced yesterday by President Donald Trump, will expose them to danger.

“The expected military invasion [by Turkey] and the possible confrontation with the Kurds might oblige Christians of the region to leave,” said Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon. “This means one more tragedy to the Christian presence in Syria.”

Seeking to honor his campaign promises to extract America from “endless war,” Trump yielded to Turkey’s demand to establish a “safe zone” along its southern border with Syria. Since August, the United States and Turkey administered a joint buffer zone patrol in the Kurdish-majority area.

Turkey’s objectives are two-fold. First, to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey. Second, to clear the border of Kurdish fighters linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist entity by both Ankara and Washington. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to establish a 20-mile corridor unilaterally, frustrated by US cooperation with Kurdish fighters belonging to the PKK.

The Kurdish-controlled area of northeast Syria stretches 300 miles from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border. Approximately 750,000 people live there, including estimates of between 40,000 and 100,000 Christians.

Over 700,000 Christians have fled Syria since 2011. And while some warn of further displacement, others fear a greater threat.

“Turkey aims to kill and destroy us and to finish the genocide against our people,” said a statement issued by…

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

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The Cost of Religious Freedom

This article was originally published on September 20, 2018, and in the October issue of Christianity Today.

Turkey Iran Sanctions Advocacy
Image: Jonathan Bartlett, via CT.

This article expands my previous coverage of Andrew Brunson and the US-Turkish crisis to include also issues related to advocacy for Christians in Iran.

Why did advocacy succeed for the drug dealers but not the pastor? And what should be made of Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian house church leader released in 2013 after much international advocacy—only to be arrested and beaten this past July?

“Christians engaged in this part of the world always walk a knife edge regarding how to respond to unjust imprisonment,” said Mark Bradley, an author of three books on Iran and Christianity.

“Some prefer to remain under the radar. Others prefer to get as much support from politicians and journalists as possible. It is impossible to know which is more effective.”

Todd Nettleton, chief of media relations for Voice of the Martyrs, said some persecuted Christians hope for sanctions that will either push politicians to reform or the people to revolt.

But with the experience of working in 68 countries, he described others who believe a society unfettered by sanctions leads to openness to the gospel and a demand for rights and freedoms.

“In our work, we encounter Christians living in hostile and restricted nations who fall on both sides of this debate,” he said. “We stand with them regardless of the action or inaction of earthly governments.”

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

 

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Will Trump’s Turkey Sanctions Help Andrew Brunson More Than They Hurt Turkish Christians?

This article excerpt was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 16.

Trump Erdogan Brunson
Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

… But some analysts say high-level pressure may do more harm than good, for both Brunson and Turkey (and Europe). And Americans who serve the gospel overseas often have dual sympathies, pained by the resultant suffering of the local citizens they serve.

“I would love to have US advocacy for my release,” said one American who previously worked in Turkey, “even though as a Christian I could stay [in jail] as long as I needed to.”

But wishing to stay anonymous so that he can return to Turkey, his reasoning is almost the reverse of expectations.

“Politically, being detained creates a negative image of Turkey in the US,” he said. “I would want to get out as quickly as possible to continue to advocate for that part of the world, helping them see the Turkey I love.”

And this Turkey is suffering, said a Turkish evangelical involved in ministry for over a decade, who also requested anonymity to discuss politics.

“Economic disaster!” he said of the currency devaluation. “Our people are already poor, but now the crisis deepens.”

Erdoğan has engaged President Trump’s rhetoric tit-for-tat, accusing him of an “evangelical, Zionist” mentality. But worries over Erdoğan’s economic policies and his control over Turkey’s central bank have resulted in a near 50-percent decline in the lira this year, as inflation has soared.

As Trump celebrated, Erdogan cried conspiracy.

And Turkey’s minorities unexpectedly asserted they were just fine.

“Statements alleging and/or alluding to oppression are completely untrue,” stated 18 Christian and Jewish leaders, headlined by Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. “Many grievances experienced in the past have been resolved.”

Many religious freedom analysts view the statement as evidence of the opposite: that minorities in Turkey are manipulated by the government in order to counter American claims of persecution. Many grievances continue.

And the above-mentioned Turkish ministry leader fears the worst.

“The response of the US is putting Turkish Christians in danger. People take it as a reason to attack us, and Christophobia is growing,” he said.

“Probably Brother Andrew will be released. But we’ll stay here and face all the effects after him…”

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

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What Next for Syria?

Syrian city of Aleppo

The conflict has turned a corner as the Syrian government regained control of Damascus and begins pushing into rebel-held areas.

LobeLog interviewed Josh Landis of Syria Comment to ask him what happens next. The full interview is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts on competing regional policies.

Turkey:

Idlib was one of the poorer regions of Syria. It was a Muslim Brotherhood and rather Salafi place before the revolution. Now it’s become a dumping ground for all of the defeated rebel forces that have been pushed out of the various rebel pockets. They’ve all been pushed into Idlib, and it’s become this very unhappy collecting point.

Today we’re seeing lots of violence there internally, between militias that are vying for supremacy. But also, Turkey is protecting Idlib. Turkey does not want it to be conquered, because in doing so Assad would push tens of thousands of militia fighters into Turkey. That will make the refugee problem much more difficult for Turkey and saddle Turkey with up to 100,000 hardened rebel fighters, many of whom have links to al-Qaeda.

This gives Turkey a lot of incentive to take Idlib province and try to set up a satellite statelet that can act as a holding province for these rebels.

Israel:

Israel wants Syria to remain weak. The civil war has opened up a lot of potential for advances on Israel’s northern border. It’s destabilized that border, but at the same time it’s weakened Assad tremendously. He’s no longer a military threat to Israel, and the militias that are now along the border also don’t pose a threat.

Even if they have links to the Islamic State or al-Qaeda they’re small and have no missile capabilities or other advanced military technology. Israel would like to be able to preserve those gains and consolidate its control over the Golan. It’s now pressing the United States to follow up on its Jerusalem recognition by recognizing the Golan as Israeli territory.

United States:

The U.S. has closed off all of the major highways out of Syria to the east. International trade for Syria has been blocked off and sanctions tightened. The U.S. is dead set against international organizations playing any role in Syrian redevelopment so the U.S. can continue to strangle Syria and keep it extremely poor.

You might argue that this is bad from a counterterrorism perspective because it will create more instability, but I think the U.S. is willing to pay that price because it won’t hurt the U.S. directly.

We’re not sure exactly what the U.S. is promoting in Syria, but all the talk coming out of Washington reflects an effort to squeeze Syria politically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily in order to unseat Assad and replace him with a government that’s going to be pro-West and anti-Iran.

Any favorites?

 

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Spanning the Great Schism between Evangelical and Orthodox Christians

 

Spanning the Great Schism
Image: Benedetto Cristofani / Salzmanart

This article was first published in the June print edition of Christianity Today.

Three brief excerpts in the efforts to unite evangelicals and Orthodox believers.

Four years ago in Istanbul, a humble Turkish book partially reversed the 11th century’s Great Schism. Catholics joined Eastern and Oriental Orthodox—alongside Protestants—to publish a slim, 12-chapter treatise on their common theological beliefs.

“You can’t find a page like this in all of church history,” said Sahak Mashalian, an Armenian Orthodox bishop and the principal scribe of Christianity: Basic Teachings. “It is akin to a miracle.”

If this is contemporary, here is history…

“The Copts largely resisted conversion,” Suriel wrote, “[but it] awakened in them a spirit of inquiry and an impulse to reform.”

Missionaries supplied Girgis [Orthodox founder of the Sunday School Movement] materials, and the Bible Society of Egypt gave him free or low-cost Bibles for his students, said Sinout Shenouda, the Orthodox vice-chair of its board. “The Americans initiated the idea, and the Orthodox came to imitate,” he said. “It was competition, but useful in that it profited from the missionaries rather than just attacking them.”

So what about the future?

Evangelical principles seep into traditional churches. Evangelicals do too—and the cross-pollination continues.

“I don’t think it is possible to overstate the influence of evangelical converts to Orthodoxy in terms of missions,” said Alex Goodwin, annual giving director for the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). “It has been transformative for many of us who are ‘cradle Orthodox.’ ”

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

 

 

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In Time for Orthodox Easter, A Turkish Declaration of Christian Unity

Turkey Christian Unity
The welcome package with the English and Turkish version © BQ/Warnecke

In the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, a delegation of imams approached the sultan in complaint. Western pressure forced the state to allow Christian churches to ring their bells.

“Do they all ring at the same time?” the sultan asked. No, he was told. “Then don’t worry,” he replied, “until they can agree.”

Perhaps apocryphal, the story illustrates the long history of division plaguing Christianity around the world.

The Ottoman empire is gone, and Turkey is now a secular state with official freedom of religion. Bells are hardly heard these days at all, though in smaller numbers the ancient Christian communities remain.

But from Istanbul – once Constantinople – where the “Great Schism” sundered Catholicism and Orthodoxy in 1054, a new book heralds a new beginning.

Christianity: Fundamental Teachings is a simple, 95-page presentation of the common beliefs of all Turkish churches. Its 12 chapters include descriptions of the nature of God, the salvation through Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, the inspiration of the Bible, and the role of the church.

But its most explosive page is the preface of endorsements.

The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, The Armenian Patriarchate, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Turkey, and the Associate of Protestant Churches all approve it, and recommend that it be widely read.

“You can’t find a page like this in all of church history,” said Armenian Bishop Sahak Mashalian, the principle scribe. “It is akin to a miracle.”

Please click here to read how it developed, at The Media Project.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Energy Hub

Flag Cross Quran

God,

It has long been an ambition. Now it is becoming reality. But strange the one who makes it happen.

Egypt is an energy hub.

Not long ago she sold off share at cut rate prices. Not long after that she was begging fuel from international partners.

Then an enormous natural gas field was discovered, giving promise of self-sufficiency.

Came the bombshell: Importing more.

Came the explanation: To liquify, and then export.

Came the confusion: Israel.

As some gasped at the deal the government nodded. Private sector, but an awaited development.

Given infrastructure and a large consumer market, Egypt positioned herself to profit from regional exploration and extraction.

Israel is the first client, having discovered large fields shortly before. Others may emerge.

God, may they find a good partner.

Help shared economics promote common peace. Egypt has strengthened ties with Greece and Cyprus; now even Israel is drawn closer.

Keep contested economics from sparking further tensions. Turkey eyes developments warily; Sudan and Ethiopia jostle over Nile water.

God, there are details to confirm and obstacles to overcome.

But bless Egypt in the management of her resources. May she build a foundation, and distribute well.

Let not her ambition trump her reality. She is still a long way from prosperity.

But God, let it happen. Allow Egypt to rise.

Amen.

 

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Slow Boil

Flag Cross Quran

God,

The waters of Egypt are simmering. Lower the temperature.

The Nile is her lifeblood, and a dam in Ethiopia may impact historic share. But also threatened Sudan leans instead to Turkey, a Brotherhood-aligned adversary.

The Israelis are her neighbor, and a president in America complicates the status quo. But the New York Times published leaks that suggest a betrayal of Palestine.

The presidency is her backbone, and elections in March invite political review. But back-and-forth developments lend intrigue to potential candidacies.

God, give Egypt wisdom to navigate these challenges.

Provide water to all, and harness the river in widespread development. Keep the Red Sea from further militarization.

Provide transparency to all, and establish justice in fair negotiation. Keep the media from biased disinformation.

Provide agency to all, and validate a leader in contested consensus. Keep the politics from crass characterization.

God, give Egypt peace to impart in these challenges.

Christmas came, with a new cathedral named after the birth of such a prince.

May this spirit hover over the waters. Calm them, God. Peace, be still.

Amen.

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Islamism: Contextualist or Essentialist? Or Both?

My new article for Providence Magazine.

Islamism Contexualist Essentialist
Photo Credit: Mosque in Tunisia. By Tarek, via Flickr.

In an excellent review of Shadi Hamid and Will McCants’ Rethinking Political Islam, Olivier Roy says there are generally two ways to think about Islamism.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, he first briefly introduces three important shockwaves—the Arab Spring, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the emergence of Islamic State (ISIS)—that have affected the debate.

As Hamid and McCants write, “After decades speculating on what Islamists would do when they came to power, analysts, academics—and Islamists themselves—finally have an answer. And it is confusing.”

The confusion tends to be filtered into analysis based on one’s predisposition.

There is a contextual approach, as Roy explains: “The policies and practices of Islamist movements are driven less by ideology than by events and sees such groups as reactive and adaptive.” He elaborates:

Contextualists believe that Islamist groups seek to adapt to circumstances and country-specific norms (for example, by recognizing the monarchies in Jordan and Morocco). The groups’ main goal is to survive as coherent organizations and political actors. And their use of religious rhetoric is often little more than “Muslim-speak”—a way to express a unique identity and articulate grievances, especially against the West.

There is also an essentialist approach: “Islamists are fundamentally ideological and that any concessions they make to secularist principles or institutions are purely tactical.”

A corollary to this argument is the idea—extolled by critics of Islamism but also some of its adherents—that Islamic theology recognizes no separation between religion and politics, and therefore an authentic Islamist cannot renounce his ideological agenda in favor of a more pragmatic or democratic approach.

The presentation is skillful, and after researching Islamist movements and parties across the Muslim world, Roy offers a conclusion…

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Providence Magazine.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Normalizing Ties?

Flag Cross Quran

God,

You desire good relations. But politics is often about particular interests, and sometimes relationships go sour. Sometimes they are damaged beyond repair. Perhaps in some cases, an outright break is necessary and best.

So with Israel, Turkey, and the Muslim Brotherhood, God, help Egypt arrange her affairs properly. Feelers have gone out that perhaps a thaw is in the offering.

Egypt has had longstanding peace with Israel, but it has usually been cold. Formal relations were handled by the intelligence and security sectors, but recently the foreign minister visited Tel Aviv.

Diplomatic relations carry more normalcy, which is controversial in Egypt. But use his effort to further peace between Israel and Palestine, God. And shape policies and attitudes among peoples, so that warm relations will be possible also with Cairo.

Turkey, also, has been mending fences with Israel, and Russia beside. Egyptian ties severed after Morsi was removed from power, and both sides continue to criticize each other.

But there are also hints that maybe things can change. Interests, justice, and legitimacies are sometimes hard to reconcile on the international stage, God. But Egypt and Turkey are regional powers; coordination is preferred to conflict.

God, may Egypt, Israel, and Turkey bless the region and the world. Much must change to experience your ideal. Forgive and be merciful when your ways are neglected.

At heart, this is a mark of the Egypt-Brotherhood relationship. Both sides accuse the other of bloody and traitorous conspiring. Though the Brotherhood is less than a nation, it is more than a person. And their members belong to Egypt, no matter the legitimacy or substance of mutual acrimony.

But does their ideology? God, give both sides great wisdom. Rule justly between them; may every crime find proper punishment.

Help member, group, government, and nation to come to terms. The issues are too disputed to pray simply for reconciliation, when some pray for retribution and others eradication. Many on both sides would see normalization as a terrible compromise, even a defeat.

Even so, it seems some are trying cautiously. If from good and righteous intention, God, bless them. Bless also those who from similar moral clarity are strident to apply justice.

Sideline those of selfish ambition, but for all others scrub away their every impurity. May good men lead the nation well.

Give Egypt discernment, God, at home and abroad. May all true ties be strengthened. May peace, in place of struggle, soon become normal.

Amen.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Europe

Flag Cross QuranGod,

It is Egyptians who must determine their leadership. Bless her with enduring independence and government of the people.

But Europe has a significant influence in legitimizing. President Sisi visited Germany and Hungary to strengthen ties and secure trade. Meanwhile a group of international Islamic scholars gathered in Turkey to give religious justification to resist and take retribution.

Egypt barred a human rights activist from a conference in Berlin. Meanwhile the world awaits the judgment of London if the Brotherhood has terrorist links.

God, make clear in Egypt both reality and righteousness. Let there be transparency over every crime and allegation. Let there be accountability for every failure and offense.

And in Europe, where transparency and accountability are presumably stronger, let there be more than interests and leverage. May they respect both rights and sovereignty.

Balancing both, may peace – with all legitimate pressure – prevail.

Preserve good relations, God. Preserve good government.

And may both ultimately be by and for the people.

Amen.

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The Great Game

Diplomacy the Great Game

Growing up, I loved the game Diplomacy. Die-hard aficionados compete in hours-long, even days-long competitions vying for mastery of early 20th Century Europe. For both lack of sufficient passion — and players — I enjoyed the computer version.

The basic premise is to be one of the seven great powers at the time — England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, or Turkey. Each nation is more or less equally matched at the start of the game, the point of which is to conquer the continent.

There are only a few basic rules to learn, and no dice. Winning is determined by best marshaling of forces, but primarily, through negotiations. No country is strong enough to win on its own; the empire usually turns on which ally will stab the other in the back first, but not prematurely.

Living and reporting in Egypt sometimes feels the same.

Especially during the high days of the revolution, so much didn’t make sense. Why is the (NDP, MB, US, insert your favorite actor here) acting against its interests? Or are they? Expand the question regionally and the changes were so rapid that it was hard to keep enough. Add enough conspiracy theory to fill in the gap, debate control vs. competency, and it is no wonder so few have been able to predict the outcomes.

Part of the problem is living in the middle of it all. Diplomacy, after all, is an overhead look. The ‘Great Game of Nations’ is won and lost in boardrooms, over phone calls.

And in this spirit, this recent article by Brookings takes a look at the region:

There is no place in the world today where chaos is more prevalent and the reestablishment of order more critical than the Middle East. The “great game” between rival great powers may have originated in Central Asia but it found its most intense expression at the “crossroads of empire” in the Middle East. As long as American interests are still engaged the United States cannot desist from playing it.

The US used to rely on regional pillars, it argues, specifically Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. These nations could be relied upon to maintain the status quo.

This worked well up until the aftermath of 9/11. The US abandoned the status quo in effort to remake Iraq. The Arab Spring also introduced a wild card.

In the process, the existing order collapsed and has been replaced by failing states, ungoverned areas, and the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS. One should not be too nostalgic for the old order: its stability was regularly punctured by conflicts and coups and purchased at the price of repression.

The article criticizes President Obama for reacting to regional crises on a piecemeal basis. A grand strategy is needed, and the author sees two possibilities:

1. Joint Condominium with Iran: The essence of this approach is for the United States to concede Iran’s dominance in the Gulf in return for its agreement to curb its nuclear program, reduce its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen, and Basher al-Assad in Syria and contribute instead to the construction of a new regional American-Iranian order.

2. Back to the Future: This approach would require the United States to return to its dependence on its traditional allies in the region: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. The objective of this renewed “pillars” strategy would be to restore the old order based on the containment of Iran, the roll-back of its advances in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and the curbing of its nuclear program. This same coalition of traditional allies would then have the sense of security to work more effectively with the United States against ISIS and Al Qaeda.

The author recognizes the difficulties in each strategy, but in part two of his article argues for option #2.

Fair enough. It is not my point here to argue one way or another, but to remark the sanity that is restored by having a ‘great game’ lens through which to interpret events. In each crisis a push-and-pull dynamic can be seen, and at times the American administration appears to be at odds with itself.

Do we want an Iran deal, or not? Do we prefer Arab autocracies, or political Islam? The questions are endless, and beyond the direct interests of the US regional rivalries are at play as well.

One in particular is aptly described by Foreign Affairs, analyzing Egypt and Turkey. Like Brookings, it begins with chaos:

The chaos in the Middle East has tested many relationships, not least the one between Egypt and Turkey. Shortly after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Turkey became one of Egypt’s chief regional supporters. When the new president, Mohammad Morsi, was himself pushed out of office in 2013, Turkey shifted course. With General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in power in Egypt, Turkey quickly became one of the country’s main adversaries in the Levant.

In the earlier analysis, both represent US interests in the pillars strategy. As such their rivalry is serious:

In the immediate term, it seems likely that the regional rivalry between Egypt and Turkey will exacerbate the Libyan civil war. Further out, it could throw the whole region in to worse chaos.

Reading the Egypt-Turkey article, it was easy to see the development of events. But through the lens of Brookings, it is not easy to see why. Clearly Turkey favors the Muslim Brotherhood. But good relations between nations in business and coordination can continue under any government. It almost feels as if Turkey feels that Sisi threw a wrench into a well-developed plan.

Such plans are part and parcel of great game thinking, but they are also only one step removed from conspiracy thinking. Egypt is full of ideas that Sisi has defended the nation — indeed, the region — from the schemes of US-Israeli-Qatari-Turkish efforts to remake the region. And given how strongly Saudi Arabia and the UAE have supported Egypt, there are definitely different agendas at play.

But what are they?

As much as great game thinking can give a sense of sanity, it also threatens to eliminate agency. As I spin my wheels to understand the region, I sometimes feel every article I read — or even write — is subjugated to someone else’s larger purpose. That is not to accuse respected journalists and analysts of bias, though sometimes I wonder. Rather, it is that any article about human rights in Egypt, or about the duplicity of the Brotherhood, or or or, winds up fitting in to some version of a great game agenda.

The news is not neutral, even if the reporters strive to be.

What then to do? Continue striving. Everyone else is, even those actively manipulating, whether engaged in conspiracies or only propagating the theories.

But the main ones striving are the ordinary people who actually make events happen. Maybe the (US, MB, Egyptian army, insert your favorite actor here) actually desired a revolution. But they did not go down to the streets.

Striving also are those who did not go down to the streets, but could have. Fulan al-Masry [the Arabic equivalent of John Doe] is as real a person as Barack Obama. Both deserve to have their stories told well.

Is this only a hopeful faith in agency, where all real decisions are made by those with power? Maybe. But to conclude with a different kind of faith:

He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.

Maybe this also is a misplaced faith. But it too is a lens for a better sanity. God will achieve his purposes in the world, through and in spite of the strivings of all.

So we might as well strive for what is right and good. Anyone doing otherwise risks being of the devil. And the devil, in diplomacy or otherwise, is in the details.

Categories
Current Events

The Muslim Brotherhood in England and Egypt

MB England EgyptLondon and Istanbul have become the new base of operations for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Following the ouster of Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2011 and their subsequent banning in Egypt in December last year, the organization is recalibrating abroad.

An early base of operations was Qatar, where the al-Jazeera network was widely perceived, even by its own staff, as being biased toward the Brotherhood.

But the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia joined Egypt in labelling the MB a terrorist organization, and their pressure on Qatar resulted in the expulsion of some leaders.

Now several office blocks on London’s A406 North Circular Road comprise one of the two main centres of operation, the other being Turkey.

An investigation into MB links to terrorism was completed by former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins in July 2014, but its results have not yet been made public.

And bar a few lone journalists keeping tabs on the story, there is little public accountability about the presence and growth of such a controversial movement in Britain.

The MB is accused of burning up to 50 churches and Coptic businesses following the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins on August 14, 2013. In December, in an Asyut court 40 Morsi supporters were found guilty, while 61 others were acquitted.

Ian Black of the Guardian has followed the story, implying the inquiry is being leaned on by Gulf nations who have banned the MB.

Delay in its publication is attributed to their displeasure that the report clears the MB of terrorism.

Black quotes MB apologist Anas al-Tikriti, founder Director of the Cordoba Institute, who says Islamists like the MB must be seen as a middle ground in the fight against extremism. If allowed to govern, he says, they would liberalize and sideline their hardliners.

Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute debunks this theory, saying Islamists only ever moderate their behaviour under duress. Once enjoying democratic freedoms, they tend to revert to their original illiberal religious conservatism.

Tikriti, whose father was in the Iraqi Brotherhood, recently denied on Twitter being a member or lobbyist of the MB.

Al-Jazeera however describe the Cordoba Foundation as a Brotherhood front. And the Hudson Institute, in a study of UK-based Islamism, calls him one of their shrewdest activists.

But Ibrahim Mouneer, an MB senior leader in London, told the Times that if the group were banned it would result in increased terrorism at home, with moderate Muslims concluding that an irenic approach didn’t work.

Lapido Media has argued this purported dichotomy between Islamism and jihadism is a false choice, and the government should not be gulled.

According to Andrew Gilligan of the Telegraph, the UK inquiry will confirm that the MB is not a terrorist group and should not therefore be banned.

And a British security source told Lapido they prefer to turn a more or less blind eye within the law, believing this offers opportunities for ‘influence’.

But Gilligan provides extensive evidence the group is linked – directly and indirectly – with terrorist groups, in particular with Hamas, and is at least potentially outside the law.

Cordoba Foundation is named by Gilligan as one of 25 groups with Muslim Brotherhood links. The Muslim Charities Forum is mentioned also.

A June report by the UAE based The National linked Takriti, his family, and associates also to the Middle East Eye and Middle East Monitor.

The Egyptian foreign ministry has asked in vain that London shut down UK based pro-MB satellite channels and newspapers like Alarabi, al-Hewar, and al-Araby al-Jadeed, saying they incite terrorist activity in Egypt.

The BBC has examined this growing media outreach that fails to promote impartial journalism, and is said to be funded by Qatar.

According to the Washington Post, this incitement is clear in the MB’s other haven abroad, Turkey. It says the Masr al-An channel, funded and managed by the MB, warned that the families of Egyptian police officers would be ‘widowed and orphaned’.

Other Turkey-based pro-MB channels like al-Sharq, Mukammilin and Rabaa employ similar rhetoric, and even allowed one MB supporter to issue a fatwa during a live interview to assassinate Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Others advocate the killing of media figures and warn foreigners to leave Egypt lest they become legitimate targets.

The fatwa caused uproar, leading the Brotherhood on its English language Twitter feed @IkhwanWeb to condemn it and deny endorsing the channel.

The call to kill Sisi was made to audible applause by grinning Egyptian cleric Salama Abd Al-Qawi who said: ‘Doing this would be a good deed that would bring (the killer) closer to Allah.’

Although Al-Qawi was official spokesman for the Endowments Ministry during the presidency of Morsi, it is hard to pin down his ‘membership’ in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The MB is a hierarchical organization with strict guidelines for who is in and who simply is like-minded. Those who are members follow policy. Others aid and cooperate. The MB does not publish its membership list.

Many MB self-identify. And the period in power gave the opportunity to see new faces emerge. But without an admissions policy, it is very difficult to identify ‘members’.

MB-watchers have not seen the sheikh identified either way. But clearly he is at least a supporter and often featured in their broadcasts.

On January 25 this year a delegation of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council and the so-called Parliament in Exile, including leading MB figures, visited Washington and met State Department and White House officials.

They asserted that the revolution was non-violent and the only way to undo the coup. The State Department had previously said Egypt had given it no evidence of MB links to terrorism.

Just two days later the MB released a statement urging its supporters to prepare for a long and uncompromising jihad, stopping just short of an outright call for violence.

Charl Fouad El-Masri, editor-in-chief of Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm said: ‘Egypt’s Copts suffered during the Muslim Brotherhood rule greatly.’

Anglican Bishop of Egypt Rt Revd Mouneer Hanna Anis had his Suez church attacked by pro-Morsi supporters following the dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins in August 2013. He strongly suspects the MB to be behind Egyptian violence and terrorism.

‘They may not be directly involved in terrorist attacks,’ he told Lapido Media, ‘but they encouraged the flourishing of terrorist groups in Egypt.’

This article was originally published at Lapido Media, as a press briefing service.