It is ugly, but may it make a difference. It is embarrassing, but may it spur to action. Unfortunately it is real, and may it soon disappear.
In Upper Egypt a married Christian man and a Muslim woman had an alleged romantic affair. That was bad enough, but what followed was worse. A mob pilloried seven Christian homes in the village, and dragged the man’s mother naked through the streets. Police, say the reports, did not intervene.
Arrests have been made, but in similar incidents they have been made before. The authorities call for the guilty to be held accountable, but these calls have been made before. Church figures reject the extra-judicial use of ‘reconciliation sessions’, but they have been rejected before, and held anyway.
The state has a poor record in prosecuting sectarian crime. Society has a poor record in erasing sectarian sentiments.
Religious leaders have been dispatched to address the situation. God, give the people ears to hear.
Dispatch also the hands of justice. Empower police – whether scared or sectarian – to play their God-given role in restraint. Enable judges – whether heavy in caseload or light in concern – to establish patterns of proper deterrent.
But God, fundamentally reeducate in the virtue of honor. Bless the codes that preserve worthy morality. Bless the motivation that enforces its standards.
But better integrate the virtue of mercy. Better equip the discipline of discernment. Focus responsibility on the individual; strengthen prevention in the community.
And if at heart there is religious contempt, purify the heart in personal repentance.
God, help the aggrieved to forgive; help the state to judge. In cooperation with both, may you convict and transform.
Purge Egypt of this poison, God. Honor all who honor you, and gently – but effectively – rebuke where Egypt falls short.
Umm Peter stood with dignity in the corner of her simple, cinderblock home. With an appearance weathered over the years, in grandmotherly fashion she spoke of the men of the village and the difficulties of life.
Half, she estimated, work in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh or Hurghada. There is little opportunity in her all-Christian village of 200 families, a three hour drive south of Cairo in the governorate of Minya.
Umm Peter was speaking to a group of six expats, visiting from Maadi Community Church (MCC). Gathered around were her ten-year-old son, Peter, and his only slightly looking older married sister. Peter is a sponsored child of Healing Grace, a ministry of Kasr el-Dobara, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East, situated at Tahrir Square.
MCC is a partner organization, supporting one of the villages within Healing Grace.
Umm Peter’s own husband is away only half the year, and currently. There is not enough work in the Red Sea either, and he is too old for the rigors of construction.
His age, she was asked. ‘Forty-eight,’ she replied, as if he was already elderly. In village years he might be.
But there is hope Peter might not age as quickly, supported widely through the generosity of donors and the community it helps create.
‘I want Westerners who come here, who live in an expat bubble, to see another side of Egypt and how people live,’ said Rev. Steve Flora, pastor of MCC. ‘Though they barely have electricity or water they are happy, and their lives are being changed for good by the Gospel.’
Flora, who has sponsored a child in the village for the past four years, appreciates Healing Grace for the opportunity to develop a relationship with him. The church arranges visits twice a year; on this occasion twenty expats split into three groups to visit only some of the 49 families who benefit from sponsorship.
Bassel, the sponsorship coordinator for Healing Grace, said the program focuses on three components: Jesus, education, and health.
Every sponsored child is visited weekly by village staff members, who disciples him or her in an age appropriate manner. Healing Grace works with local churches to host an AWANA Club, and sends each child to a weekend retreat once a year. Peter’s favorite Bible story is Joseph and his brothers.
The program pays all school fees, including uniform and supplies, and helps provide private tutoring if necessary. Peter’s ambition is to be a doctor.
Perhaps he has been inspired during his medical checkups, provided free of charge with all necessary medicines. Healing Grace also supplies a monthly package of basic foodstuffs and twice a year outfits Peter and his siblings with new clothes.
‘These kids are different now, the sponsorship gives them health, education, and Christian community,’ said Bassel. ‘Every child deserves a chance, and we want to help transform their lives.’
Since 2009, this has been a reality for 1,275 children in 21 villages. In some Healing Grace has also installed water filtration units in a local church, open to all.
Flora remarked that within Christian denominations Healing Grace is an example and catalyst for unity. In Umm Peter’s village the sponsored children are supported equally through the Orthodox, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches.
‘We thank you for this ministry that provides spiritual and educational needs in this village,’ said Rev. Emil of the Evangelical church, built in 1917. ‘Christianity is not about preaching only, but also serving and helping others.’
Umm Peter served tea to her guests, extending hospitality to those far better off. After praying together the group bid farewell, ready to visit the next family just down the earthen path.
Sponsorship costs $30 a month, all of which goes to support the children. Healing Grace’s overhead costs are raised separately, supporting a staff of 60 with an additional 100 volunteers. For more information about children available for sponsorship, visit healinggraceministry.org or email email@example.com.
‘The ministry of Healing Grace is transformative for the villages, and for us who go and see,’ said Flora. ‘We hope the comparatively wealthy expats in our own church can experience even a portion of the life change that goes on in the village.’
This article was first published in Maadi Messenger.
After a few days the spirit risks becoming calloused. One more tragedy amid a litany of offense. But the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya might strike a nerve that runs deeper. It might awaken a nation to danger, or deaden further a decayed humanity.
For some, God, are blaming the victim. There is talk that the church can only expect such treatment after its support for Morsi’s removal. There is talk that all is faked to further this conspiracy and extend it to Libya.
But there is also action. Two would-be bombers blew themselves up accidentally in the Upper Egyptian city where the victims are from.
God, let not those frustrated with Morsi’s removal descend into hatred and violence. Let them not draw sectarian readings and exact revenge on the innocent. Let not their seeking of justice lead to embrace of chaos. In their struggle, God, save their humanity.
For many are expressing their humanity anew. Government and Muslims alike have poured out sympathy on their Coptic fellow-citizens. A new church will be built in the Upper Egyptian city where the victims are from.
God, let not this moment pass without touching permanently the Egyptian soul. Let not the forgiving example of the Christian families be lost in the outrage against their killers. Let not a desire for justice lump all pro-Morsi together. In their struggle, God, deepen their humanity.
For callousness is still quite possible. So-called Islamic State partisans have been beheading tribesmen in the Sinai for months. May directed targeting of Christians not become as normal. That atrocity is normal at all is a stain on all humanity.
But what should a spirit do to avoid callousness? Do strikes on Libya and a call for international intervention signal a spirit that is hardening? Or is it rather a conscience awakening? Guide Egypt and the world with wisdom to meet this threat.
Whatever the solution, God, limit the blood. Speak alike to presidents and jihadists, that peace, reconciliation, and justice might somehow meet between them.
God, the offenses multiply daily among Egyptians of every persuasion. In their desire to see the world put right, help them hold tenaciously to the humanity of the other. May they forgive, that they be forgiven.
It may be the only way to save their own souls, and Egypt alongside. Be merciful, God, be merciful.
From Slate, a unique first-person account of travels to Upper Egypt, to witness the alleged surge in weapons trading. The journalists find a sleepy town filled with older arms models, feuding families, and unengaged police, but little evidence of proliferation.
But they do encounter a local thug:
A man in a karakul hat—a favorite with Soviet party leaders and Bond villains—strides up to our table and sits next to the omda [village mayor]. He regards us with a rather unctuous smile, revealing his coffee- and nicotine-stained teeth.
Before he arrived we had been talking about government negligence. He offers us a curious anecdote. We’re, it seems, in the company of a kidnapper.
He is a kidnapper armed with what he and the omda’s pals think is unassailable logic. That is, without loans from agricultural banks—who refuse them on “security grounds”—he and other farmers are left without a steady income. Kidnapping, being a very lucrative trade, allows him and others like him to purchase property and build.
“Some ask why we target Christians and not Muslims,” he says with a smirk, looking at my colleague and me. “Because our [Muslim] men are not worth as much.”
He turns to one of the omda’s friends, a Christian who is seated at the table. “It’s nothing personal.”
Often amid the evidence of Christian persecution in Egypt is the tragedy of Christians being kidnapped. Many times the stories say the victims, usually underage girls, are forced to marry and convert to Islam. Surely some of these stories are true, sometimes perhaps not.
But this anecdote reminds us the reality is very complex. Some might use this version alone to deny the more obvious persecution accounts. But a single, simple narrative is best to advance a cause, on whatever side of the issue you advocate.
Meanwhile, muddying the waters in complexity works well to promote confusion and immobility, denting outrage through a fog of uncertainty. It elevates the status of the ‘expert’, but does little to help everyday realities.
God help us. The task is a commitment to both truth and justice. Truth includes the diversity of anecdotes, testing every narrative to divide the wheat and the chaff. Justice proceeds further, to process the wheat and cast off the chaff. The former is made useful into sustaining bread; the latter deemed worthless and thrown to the wind or fire.
May we remember, and act accordingly. And, may all kidnapping cease.
Post-Morsi, some say, the Salafi Nour Party was pushed into a corner. Others say they played their cards perfectly. In any case they supported the 2014 constitution despite its removal of religious provisions they largely orchestrated only two years earlier. While the Muslim Brotherhood and most other non-Nour Salafis railed against what they called the ‘coup and its constitution’, the Nour Party nimbly tried to navigate the landscape.
So what did they do, and what was their rhetoric? In an interview with Arab West Report Sheikh Hamdi ‘Abd al-Fattah provided perspective from Maghagha, a city in the governorate of Minya.
The party held one large mass conference in Minya, in which Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, Nour’s representative on the Committee of Fifty which wrote the constitution, joined Sheikh Sharif al-Hiwari from Alexandria, and the local deputy of the Endowments Ministry formed a panel. The party’s approach to the constitution was explained by Mansour and others; Mansour himself spoke for an hour and answered questions for an hour and a half more. Everything was done in full transparency, ‘Abd al-Fattah stated.
From the government to the district level, such as in Maghagha and Beni Mazar, the Nour Party organized marches and had small four-to-five delegations circulate in the streets. Both were meant to give opportunity for people to speak face-to-face with party leaders and have their concerns answered.
For more details, and to discover the reasoning behind their controversial support, please click here to read the full article.
This video – with transliterated subtitles – was produced by a church choir in Minya, Upper Egypt, a region which witnessed several severe church burnings. They stand within one church’s charred remains, and sing about love and forgiveness.
May they truly live these words.
Many Christians have spoken that if these heinous attacks are the price they must pay to secure a civil state of free and equal citizenship, they are willing. But are they willing also not just to forgive alleged Islamists who committed these crimes, but also reach out to them in love and understanding? Right now, their temptation is to celebrate the upswing of their fortunes and join in the condemnation, if not demonization, of all things Islamist.
For a view of some of these crimes, please see this video, recently released by the Bible Society showing the attack on its branches in Minya and Asyut.
Yes, if they wish, condemn all things Islamist, but not all people Islamist. This is the test of their song: All crimes notwithstanding, can they differentiate between actions, ideas, and the people themselves? The love of which they sing demands they stand against the tide and seek transparent justice for all currently accused.
And then, amidst it all, to forgive. This is far easier in song than in deed, but meditation in song can transform the heart. Can it transform the Copts? Can it transform the nation? The outlook is bleak, therefore, keep singing…
From Ahram Online, reporting on an friendly ‘Battle of the Sexes’ soccer game in Luxor:
The Egyptian women’s youth team has defeated a men’s team in a friendly match in Luxor.
The women beat Al-Madina Al-Monawara, an under-17 team, 5-3 on Wednesday.
The woman’s team was also under 17, so while it was a game of equal ages, the player pool was vastly different. Still, quite an accomplishment, especially for the game to even happen. With better marketing, Luxor might be able to draw the greater tourism they seek:
“The 27 players in the women’s U-17 national squad, currently in Luxor, aim to promote tourism as well as popularise the game in Upper Egypt,” El-Hawary told reporters after the match.
Following on the heels of Morsi’s trial, it is difficult to see how the Muslim Brotherhood is called a terrorist organization from within the urban settings of Cairo. But this article from the Daily Beast describes the embattled position of police elsewhere:
“We never imagined that the violence could reach this point,” said Qadry Said Refay as he lay in the police hospital. The 37-year-old cop based in Fayoum, about 60 miles south of Cairo, had multiple head wounds, a broken right arm, and a deep, guttural cough.
On the morning of August 14, the same day the Brotherhood demonstrators were cleared away by Al-Sisi’s forces in Cairo, Refay reported for duty as usual in the ancient farming town near Egypt’s biggest oasis. The police station got a call: Brotherhood sympathizers were massing for an attack. Refay thinks there were thousands of them. Probably the numbers were smaller than that. But the four officers and 20 cops soon found themselves under attack by men with guns and Molotov cocktails closing in on all four sides of their little compound. After several hours the mob started coming over the walls and breached one of the gates.
I was sure I would lose my life,” said Refay. In the middle of the fray he took off his uniform shirt, untucked his t-shirt, and put his gun in the back of his belt. He tried for a few seconds to reason with the attackers, but they swarmed over him. They took his pistol. They slashed his face with knives. “The last thing I can remember,” he said, “is one of them reaching to the ground, picking up a stone, and smashing it on my head.”
To what degree is the Brotherhood responsible for such violence? There is a culture of revenge in Upper Egypt that is far more intrinsically grassroots than any social support for political Islam.
At the same time, when security forces recaptured some of the villages seized by local Islamists, Brotherhood statements portrayed them as peaceful villagers under police attack. Surely it was bloody on all sides, and revenge from both cannot be discounted. But the Brotherhood publicly stood with those who raided police stations and committed the atrocities described above.
The burned-out police station, its walls pocked with bullet holes, was covered with graffiti—“This is the price for injustice. God will have victory,” and “Sisi, you are next.”
But one Brotherhood leader paints the picture as one of simple revenge, and his organization as a restraining force:
“Families in Upper Egypt are not accepting condolences,” said El Magd. “So they will take vengeance. So I think killing will start in Upper Egypt. And I don’t think the [Brotherhood] movement can control this. In Upper Egypt, if families don’t accept condolences for their dead, then they set their minds to vengeance.”
El Magd had the practice of tha’r in mind. “This cannot be controlled. Nobody can control Upper Egypt vengeance. And now everybody has guns. They have guns in Kirdasah. I am not saying that it will be civil war. But at least Upper Egypt will go back to the ‘70s or ‘80s, where people were shooting at police officers just because they were police officers.”
Upper Egypt is hard to understand. What is the difference between a blood feud and terrorism? Does the distinction even matter?
Truth, justice, and reconciliation are urgently needed in Egypt. Will Morsi’s trial be the beginning of this process, or just one more obfuscation to keep it from happening?
The official space has been claimed. First, in response to massive protests the military removed Morsi from power and installed a transitional civilian government. Second, they closed down media sympathetic to a Brotherhood viewpoint. Third, they removed the standing pro-Morsi protests with much resulting bloodshed. And fourth, they jailed many Islamist leaders who stand accused of promoting violence. Each step of the way negotiations failed.
In each of these steps the transitional government has claimed both popular authority and that of the state, forcing Brotherhood sympathizers to the margins.
From there the response has been varied. In Sinai armed rebellion rages. In Upper Egypt churches were attacked. In various villages police stations were assaulted. And in many streets throughout the nation, small peaceful protests continue.
God, you care for those in authority and those in the margins. But those occupying each choose to struggle against each other.
The police recently reclaimed two margins; a sustained assault returned state authority to villages in Upper Egypt and Giza. The Brotherhood called them an attack against the people, who oppose the coup.
The ongoing rallies are a response from the margin; a sustained assault on state authority emerges as Islamists lay claim to the mantle of the youthful revolution. So far, the state permits them.
There is much to sort, God, and too much to decipher. Where do your principles direct?
You install leaders, God, which never implies your endorsement. But you do grant them authority to govern and maintain order.
In this time of crisis, God, give them wisdom with this rod. Your concerns go beyond governance and order; you care for compassion and justice. Help them to rule not simply with might, but also with heart. May the state ensure a society of opportunity and freedom.
But from the perspective of Islamists, this now only exists in the margins. As they push back against authority they risk – or rather actively disobey – the stability of the state. The margins are distant from official power, but they can choke it. With state authority weakened since the revolution, how much of Egypt is margin altogether?
Your prophets, God, have generally come from the margins. They call out against an improper order which has turned away from your principles. They have marshalled your power, God, and not sought their own.
In this time of crisis, God, give Islamists wisdom with this heritage. Your concerns go beyond criticism and protest; you care for vision and righteousness. Help them to demonstrate not simply from frustration, but also with reflection. May their movement serve the building of a better Egypt.
God, you possess all authority and power, and yet you choose to dwell in the margins. Reveal yourself to those in both places, that the fabric which binds them together may not be torn irreparably.
From the Atlantic Council, following the Muslim Brotherhood’s English and Arabic discourse on Dalga, an Upper Egyptian village seized by Islamists and recently recovered by the security forces:
The Muslim Brotherhood has been quick to roll the Dalga raid into an on-going crackdown on the organization and its supporters, but has once again offered different reactions in English and in Arabic. Arabic Brotherhood media outlets make no mention of the sectarian violence that Christians in Dalga faced. In fact, they have gone so far as to accuse Copts in Dalga of lying to gain the sympathy of the world.
On the Freedom and Justice Party’s official website, they write: “A number of Christian families started to spread false news about being detained by locals of the village as hostages and claimed that some of the village residents burned their churches. The Coptic Diaspora exploited the news to prepare the international community, particularly, American politicians for a new massacre in Dalga.
The article shows a screenshot of the FJP website, and then continues:
In contrast in English, the Muslim Brotherhood’s London office sent a statement to journalists condemning the attacks on Dalga’s Copts, expressing “solidarity” with their “Christian brothers and sisters.”
The Brotherhood’s official website, Ikhwanweb, similarly condemned the attacks on Christians, expressing solidarity with Dalga’s Copts, and called on authorities to “protect all citizens and places of worship.”At the same time, however, the statement placed the blame of the sectarian attacks on the military and ‘thugs’. The official statement read:
“The Muslim Brotherhood strongly condemn attacks on places of worship, including attacks on Egyptian Copts and churches as well as indiscriminate attacks on the innocent civilians in Dalga by the military junta, which it claims to protect Christians from “Islamist Militants.” This is part of the military junta’s propaganda to push for sectarian strife and justify their atrocities against the innocent people of Dalga for their fierce opposition of the military coup.”
Of course, it is possible the Brotherhood’s opponents are also using doublespeak. On the one hand they are terrorists; on the other, they are invited to be part of the nation’s democratic transition.
But in claiming a religious higher ground, the Muslim Brotherhood only reveals a deeper hypocrisy. In a war of propaganda it is good to be reminded regularly of such discrepancies. Here, a pundit offers her advice to all.
“We learned that extremists were going to attack us with machine guns, but we did not prepare ourselves for the attack with weapons. We did something simple,” says Bishop Thomas, about that day he received a message that armed hardliners were on their way to his episcopal residence in the Al Quosia-region of Lower Egypt.
Determined to defend themselves without violent means, the church fathers applied soap and water on the rocky path leading to Bishop Thomas’ residence.
“I saw them coming with their machine guns far down the road. They tried to get to the house, but they slipped and fell. They tried over and over again, without succeeding,” says the Bishop, smiling with grief as he talks about the episode.
The grief is over the many homes in his diocese which were attacked. But he is resisting the urge to demonize:
“Fear and anger does not come in my heart. Fear is the biggest enemy – this makes you lose wisdom and power,” said the Bishop gently when asked about the impact of the violence on life as a Copt. “Hatred is the biggest disease – full of revenge and the source of all evil.”
Doing so enables him to take a path different from many Copts, who have embraced the current crackdown on Islamists:
“I need to embrace the victims with love and communicate forgiveness. When the worst assaults are over, my task is to promote and facilitate reconciliation,” said the Bishop calmly while smiling. “The Coptic church is training people to see the situation from different perspectives, we teach them the difference between autocracy and democracy, and the meaning of a civil state. We are working against both a religious – and a marshal state.”
The attacks, some might say paradoxically, have brought the Muslims and Christians of his area closer together:
“Poor Muslim families brought blankets to the Christians who lost their homes, and together we formed a civil front– not Christians against Muslims– but civil society against extremism,” explained the Bishop.
Among the issues discussed jointly were defense-tactics and how to prevent any new attacks.
Images and video-clips from Muslims and Christians, who hand in hand formed a protective ring circle around churches, were shared on social media across the globe.
“No one who has not experienced sectarian violence close up will be able to imagine what this solidarity means to us, as a society,” said Bishop Thomas gratefully. “We did actually lose hope under Morsi. Now we are hoping and praying that the price Copts are paying now will benefit generations of Egyptians in the future.”
Here in Maadi, Cairo, life goes on as normal amid the political instability. This town in Minya is not so fortunate. From the AP:
A town of some 120,000 — including 20,000 Christians — Dalga has been outside government control since hard-line supporters of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi drove out police and occupied their station on July 3, the day Egypt’s military chief removed the president in a popularly supported coup. It was part of a wave of attacks in the southern Minya province that targeted Christians, their homes and businesses.
Since then, the radicals have imposed their grip on Dalga, twice driving off attempts by the army to send in armored personnel carriers by showering them with gunfire.
Local Christians are particularly suffering, at least those who have not fled:
Among the homes torched was that of Father Angelos, an 80-year-old Orthodox priest who lives close to the monastery. Yoannis’ home was spared a similar fate by his Muslim neighbors. A 60-year-old Christian who fired from his roof to ward off a mob was dragged down and killed, the activists said.
“Even if we had firearms, we would be reluctant to use them,” said Yoannis. “We cannot take a life. Firing in the air may be our limit.”
Those who remain pay armed Muslim neighbors to protect them. Yoannis said his brother paid with a cow and a water buffalo. Most Christian businesses have been closed for weeks.
Armed men can be seen in the streets, and nearly every day Islamists hold rallies at a stage outside the police station, demanding Morsi’s reinstatement.
Most Christians remain indoors as much as possible, particularly during the rallies. They say they are routinely insulted on the streets by Muslims, including children. Christian women stay home at all times, fearing harassment by the Islamists, according to multiple Christians who spoke to the AP. Most requested that their names not be published for fear of reprisals.
“The Copts in Dalga live in utter humiliation,” said local rights activist Ezzat Ibrahim. “They live in horror and cannot lead normal lives.”
The Islamic concept of jizia requires non-Muslims to pay a tax in exchange for their protection. Many Muslims argue today this principle is no longer applicable, as Christians join in the army and jointly defend their nation.
But here the Copts have no share nor desire to defend their village with these Islamists against the army. Therefore, it appears, the concept of jizia is demanded from them.
Here is an example of their protector, the man guarding the monastery-church:
At intervals, the 33-year-old father of three would stop talking, move carefully to the edge of a wall and stick his head out to check if someone was coming.
His big worry was the bearded Muslim at the gate, Saber Sarhan Askar.
Skinny with hawk-like hazelnut eyes, Askar is said by Dalga’s Christians to have taken part in the torching and looting of the monastery. Outside the monastery that day, Askar was telling priests he was there to protect it. But the orders he yelled to other priests left no doubt who was in charge.
“Bring us tea!” he barked at one priest. “I need something cold to drink!” he screamed at another soon after.
To my knowledge, this is the only incident of pro-Morsi supporters gaining a foothold in a local area. Elsewhere, they are on the run. Still, the security apparatus has tasked itself with a heavy burden.
How much blood will be shed recovering this village? If the state of the nation and economy does not improve over the next several months, might their be similar mutinies elsewhere? The state, in general, was weak before the revolution, and is weaker now.
Dalga is the only current example, and is likely to remain so. But the question is open. What will the future hold?
From April 25-28 I traveled with Arab West Report through a few Upper Egyptian Holy Family sites, places Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are recorded to have stayed according to Coptic tradition. This travelogue will share some of the insights and anecdotes learned along the way, by means of pictures taken at each location.
Please click here for the full commentary at Arab West Report. This posting represents the third of the articles I was able to write following the trip; I will only post the photos not used in writing about a cancelled Palm Sunday march through streets of a mostly Christian village, or about local perspectives of Copts toward the elephant in the room – emigration.
But the Arab West Report article is a good nine pages long featuring 35 photos. Most only have a paragraph or two of reflection, so it is easy reading. Here it will easier – pictures with a sentence or two. Please enjoy both here and there.
The trip took in far too much in far too little time to really feel like I learned about these sites and the reality of Christian life in Upper Egypt. But I am very thankful for this first opportunity, hopeful for far better understanding in the future. Please click here for a few more photos and fuller commentary.
From my latest article in Egypt Source, culling attitudes on emigration from a recent trip to Upper Egypt:
“I have nightmares every couple of days,” said Sara Shuhdi, a 23 year old assistant professor of analytical chemistry at the German University of Cairo. “I don’t see a bright future for Egypt; maybe it would be better for me if I left.”
Fifty-five days of fasting concluded on Coptic Easter, celebrated this year on May 5 according to the eastern calendar. Always a period of reflection and joy for Egyptian Christians, this year the community is deeper in the former and subdued in the latter.
Here are the photos of each person sharing, with a quote from each:
“Of course we must stay here,” he said. “Our history, family, and churches are here – we cannot leave Egypt.”
“The civil current – Muslims and Christians together – must provide a different way of thought and raise consciousness through business,” he said, “especially in poorer areas susceptible to extremism and ignorance.”
“Twenty years ago, I tried to convince Copts not to emigrate, but now because of the bad economy I bless them if they want to go.”
“I raised people here, trained them, and watched them grow and become productive members of society,” he said. “And then they leave? It is sad.
“I can’t prevent them but I encourage them to stay. I try to speak to their conscience to make their land a better place. Why would someone leave their home and become a foreigner forever?”
The article concludes with a stinging quote by Bishop Thomas for the conscience of humanity; please click here to read the whole article at Egypt Source.
Joyous Copts raised palm leaves and shouts of welcome as Bishop Thomas, dressed in his regal red clerical robe, entered the Church of the Virgin Mary in Saragna, 325 kilometers south of Cairo.
But departing from tradition he arrived by car for the first time this year. For years local Copts would first parade him through the streets of the 90 percent Christian village.
For the first time in this Upper Egyptian diocese, the ancient parade on 28 April remained within church grounds to control the behavior of Christian youth.
‘It used to be that all churches would parade in the streets, but because of the pressures of the last few decades in most places it has stopped,’ explains Thomas.
Saragna was the last village of his diocese to maintain the parade. ‘We are mostly Christians here, so all is well,’ says Ramiz Ikram, the fourth generation Coptic mayor.
‘Some Muslims complain due to their fanaticism, but we don’t march in their areas so as not to make problems.’
But according to Fr Kyrillos Girgis, a Cairo-trained medical doctor who has served as priest in the village for 23 years, local youth recently began shouting offensive anti-Muslim chants.
He threatened to bar them from communion for a year, but eventually had to stop the procession entirely.
This past Sunday, as everywhere else in Egypt according to the Eastern religious calendar, palms were raised within church grounds instead of in the streets as of old. (Please click here for video.)
Bishop Thomas remains positive however. ‘The challenging religious situation in Egypt reinforces our religious identity,’ he says ‘and today we enjoy being in the kingdom of God.’
Fr Kyrillos can also see the silver lining in the dark clouds gathering over this country. He is leading a vast expansion of the Church of the Virgin Mary, tripling its size and adding a second sanctuary.
Local authorities licensed the expansion before the revolution, along with construction of new churches in the roughly 50 percent Christian villages of Titaliya and Manshia.
‘We have good relations with security and with local people,’ said Thomas, ‘We prefer to obtain proper permissions because we do not want to take any risks.’
Outside of his diocese, however, other bishops are less risk averse. The 22,000-strong village of Bayadia which is more than 90 percent Christian, had a single church for six different denominations, despite many applications for building permission.
‘We felt great injustice under Mubarak,’ said Orthodox priest Fr Girgis, ‘because we had only one church despite being the great majority of Christians.’
His solution was illegal construction of four more churches. Other denominations followed suit, and Bayadia now has fourteen churches. In the nearby village of Dair Abu Hinnis which is 100 percent Christian, Fr Bemwa boasts of an increase of from five to ten churches since the revolution.
Bishop Thomas explains it can take up to fifteen years to gain a church building permit, whether from bureaucracy or discrimination.
Many priests take matters into their own hands.
With the collapse of government, this is increasingly the norm in Egypt. The Ministry of Housing and Local Development announced recently the existence of more than five million unlicensed buildings. A BBC report earlier this year documented the post-revolutionary surge in building, including many that have already collapsed.
But when Christians attempt such illegal church construction in Muslim majority villages, there is often resistance. Sometimes this is the case even when permits exist.
‘As long as it is a primarily Christian area there is no problem to build,’ said Cornelis Hulsman, editor-in-chief of Arab West Report (AWR). ‘But when it is in a mostly Muslim area it can cause clashes if neighbours are opposed.’
AWR investigated an attack on a church in Aswan in October 2011, and a February 2013 attack in Fayyoum. In both cases Muslims had been offended when local houses used for worship were expanded or renovated.
But on Palm Sunday, Egyptian Copts celebrate the success of a community which has maintained Christian roots since the visit of the Holy Family fleeing from Palestine.
The faithful flock to pilgrimage sites, such as the rural Serabamoun Monastery, believed by local Christians to house a tree which provided shade to Jesus and Mary.
Fr Seraphim, Coptic priest in the nearby city of Daryut, said, ‘Christians in Egypt have seen more persecution in the past than we see now.
‘And of course you have to make use of the opportunity: there is no government.’
All too often Upper Egypt is neglected, unless there are problems. Then, they must be extraordinary and embarrassing; normal problems go unheeded and have for decades. Almost by nature, farmers do not agitate, and this nature has permeated much of the region’s character. But is Upper Egypt the frog that boils heedlessly or the camel on which one last straw is placed?
May a better metaphor be found, God. Both of these imply portending ill; perhaps others would imply continued suffering. Surely there is much to celebrate, if ever news would carry. But as the situation deteriorates in Egypt the pain is acute in the south. Some anticipate a revolution of the hungry.
Much is out of their control, God. Governors are appointed from Cairo and most decisions are centralized in the capital. Elected representatives often come from large families and patronage networks. Education is worse than the rest of the nation while religious and tribal rivalries are strong.
Even if Egypt requires a strong central government, God, provide this region the ability, space, and will to shape its own future. May innate common sense and practicality yield fruit; to these add cultural enrichment, political participation, and economic opportunity.
God, in these regions where Christians are plentiful, save them from surrender to a narrative of oppression. Where they have grievances may neutral arbitrators grant justice through the law. Where they suffer bias, rebuke and rebuild soiled mentalities. In both cases may they respond with love and forgiveness, even as they stand for their rights. But may they never generalize their neighbors or pull back from integration. Give them friends, God, but make them friendly. May they creatively initiate for the good of all.
And God, where Muslims see Christians withdraw into the church, expand unlicensed places of worship, and quietly whisper about the nature of Islam and oppose a particular political version thereof, give an understanding and engaging spirit. May they do what is necessary to reassure a troubled community of the unity of all. May they, too, resist the temptation of escalating rhetoric and accusatory recrimination. May Muslims be agents of peace and social healing.
God, provide for the poor. Grow the crops. Multiply the livestock. Establish business. Employ laborers. Upper Egypt is in great need, but has known this need for generations. You have provided, God; you have given patience and contentment. Chastise those who grow rich off their good nature without returning in kind. But make the region an example for the nation to follow.
To a fair degree Egypt is of their nature, for good and for ill. Preserve and transform, God. May Upper Egypt know and increase its strength.
From Ahram Online, following up on a story in which Muslims surrounded a church in Kom Ombo, Aswan, to demand the release of a local woman they believed was held against her will, forced to convert to Christianity:
A sheikh addressed a crowd of men in Kom Ombo to explain the events and dispel any rumours that had been circulating.
“Some say that she had a relationship with a man [who convinced her to convert] and others claim that a woman used to visit her and talk to her about Christianity,” he began.
He said that a man from Cairo, a former Muslim and Christian convert, communicated with her via the internet and the phone.
Allegedly, the divorcee in her mid-30s, had expressed thoughts about converting to Christianity.
“He told her that no one will be able to help, not even Christians, except one priest in Cairo who is [expelled from the Church] because he’s been attempting to convert Muslims,” the sheikh said.
The crowd reacted angrily to this information, interrupting the Sheik.
“When we sat with [Church leaders] they told us that they [do not encourage] such acts and explained to us that this priest is expelled from the Church,” he continued.
“This is a mere financial issue, the [man] came and told her ‘I will help you’ in exchange for EGP 3,500’
“We will bring the man here so that everyone can take revenge on him,” he added.
The sheikh then talked to the crowds about Islamic values and presented some counter-arguments to issues in the Christian religion that affected the girl during her absence.
“The woman told us that she was not fully convinced of several things she was told [by Christians] including the concept of the Trinity,” he said.
“She came and talked to us clearly, she said ‘I do not know if I am right or wrong,'” he added.
“We asked her to write down every point of confusion and we replied to all her concerns – everything has an answer in our religion.”
The sheikh said that curiosity had prompted the woman to leave; it is not known exactly where she had been staying during the past week.
“The woman’s brother had found a Christian hymn on her phone; when we asked her about it, the she said that she had asked for it… She obviously was… You see, the devil manipulates people’s minds. She was curious,” he said.
As the sheikh spoke, men from the crowds raised questions and points of concern to them.
“Do people who [encourage others to convert to Christianity] work through the internet?” one asked.
“Look, so that you know, the nearest person on such a network is from Luxor and the rest are from Cairo and Alexandria, they log on with fake names and we can’t –” but he quickly reassures, “We will get to them all.”
“Because we have already found three of them,” he added.
Additionally, the sheikh responded to the crowds several times saying, “Anyone involved will be held to account.”
This is a fascinating transcript. Very often in Egypt conversions in either direction are due to non-religious reasons such as love affairs, escaping difficult family situations, or securing a better financial situation.
Here, however, this woman appears to have simply been attracted to Christianity, likely through her association with Christian friends.
That which the imam speaks of also likely exists. Both religions have those who promote conversion on the internet, as well as individuals working to gain converts. In Egypt, of course, only the Muslim efforts are welcome.
The church probably had nothing to do with the woman, but needed to present official denials anyway. To placate the people, the imam needed to promise investigations and justice, even retribution.
In the West we would say ‘that poor woman’, and so we should. There appears no conspiracy here, just an individual with religious curiosity and inter-religious friends. Such trouble.
But here, they say ‘that poor family’, over what this innocent curiosity has done to the community. Such a description would apply equally if a Copt was found exploring Islam, though the scope here is much wider.
In both responses there is virtue, but where in all this, if anywhere, is God most pleased? The Muslim and the Christian may have very different answers, let alone the Egyptian and the Westerner.
It is a shame, I think, we have to know about this incident at all. And I’m the one sharing it. It is just too descriptive of Egyptian reality on the subject of conversion.
Dozens of Copts assembled in front of the governorate building, over incidents such as these:
Adel Wadie Fahmi said his house was seized by eight thugs, who forged contracts to prove ownership of the house land, and asked him to pay two million Egyptian pounds, roughly 300,000 USD, to give the house back to him. Fahmi said that he filed a report with the Samalout police.
The security services inspected Fahmi’s house and managed to arrest one of the thugs and Samalout prosecutor remanded him in custody for 15 days pending investigation, but Fahmi’s house has yet to be restored to him.
Medhat Lewis Guirguis said a group of thugs demolished a wall encircling a plot he owns, and when he objected they showed him a false contract of their ownership of the land. Said thugs called on Guirguis to pay 450,000 pounds to leave the land. Upon filing a report with Samalout police, five of the accused were arrested and imprisoned for 15 days pending investigation. Guirguis, however, has received new threats urging him to pay the required amount.
Other incidents are listed as well. The above is a good example of wishing you could be in all places at once. Many stories described as kidnapping reflect simply a young woman who has run away with a lover. Even when this is the case, however, there are often breaches of law that go ignored by authorities. If someone was there, they could better investigate.
So we are left with this investigation, which probably is only a recounting of the claims of those demonstrating. Might some be claiming sectarian discrimination over simple land disputes, perhaps even if they are in the wrong?
Maybe, but there is no joy in being a cynic. Rather, this demonstration is a warning about the real possibility of sectarian aggression against Copts, especially in Upper Egypt. The region has always been rather lawless; amid further decline, might some encroach further, taking advantage of lax enforcement and a slow or absent judiciary, to enrich themselves at the expense of Copts?
Do similar instances happen among Muslims, but are as infrequently reported in the regular press and altogether ignored in Christian-focused publications such as this one? Does Islamist dominance of the public square mean such incidences against Christians will be less rebuffed than normal? Why should it, are there not simple matters of right and wrong at stake? Do Islamists care only about advancing their fellow Muslims? Or should they not be men of principle more than the earlier administrations, and take a stand to investigate and stop such transgression?
So many questions. Would I be able to know better the answers if I was there? I am in Cairo, and there is so much here I don’t know, so why would it be different?
But I wish someone did, and there was a publication that could be trusted. Thank you, MidEast Christian News, for bringing these stories to attention, but I wish you investigated more thoroughly.
This study was published about five months ago; I came across it now. Very interesting statistics:
While the great stretch of land from south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo to Lake Nasser on the border with Sudan, the area known as Upper Egypt, has only 40 percent of the country’s population, it is where 80 percent of the severe poverty is concentrated.
Consider also these figures:
More than half the population of Upper Egypt is under the age of 29, and one third are between the ages of 15 and 29.
Upper Egypt is predominantly rural with 75 percent of its young people living in rural areas.
Upper Egypt accounts for only 40 percent of the country’s population but 60 percent of those living in poverty and 80 percent of those living in severe poverty.
The country poorest 1,000 villages are almost all concentrated in three governorates in Upper Egypt.
Over one third of all young people in Upper Egypt are in the poorest wealth quintile.
The official youth unemployment rate in Upper Egypt is 16 percent, which does not count the ‘jobless,’ those neither employed nor seeking work, a state that describes almost half of all young people in Upper Egypt.
70 percent of young women in upper Egypt are jobless.
Illiteracy rates for young people in Upper Egypt are at 17 percent, higher than the national average, with illiteracy rates for females more than twice those of males.
Less than 4 percent of illiterate females are employed.
Returns on education in Upper Egypt are high, with labor force participation rates for female university graduates as high as 58 percent, higher than the national average of 47 percent, and 84 percent for male university graduates.
Almost all young women in Upper Egypt with no formal education are jobless.
While it is perhaps fitting the World Bank did not make a point to inquire about the religious affiliation of these youth, it would have been useful to see the results of a scientific study. It did state in the footnotes that nearly 6% of Upper Egyptians are non-Muslims, without providing a link to source or methodology. It also called Upper Egypt one of the areas with greater Coptic concentration.
Certainly Christians here will dispute these numbers, which indicate a weakened, slowly dwindling presence. If their greatest concentrations in numbers reach only 6%, what of the rest of the nation?
Well, most emigrants from Upper Egypt wind up in Cairo or Alexandria, so perhaps scientific studies might show these cities with the greatest concentrations nowadays. It should be a simple matter to establish census figures – every Egyptian has his religion printed on his ID card – but it is too politically and religiously controversial.
On the one hand, it doesn’t matter – Egyptians are Egyptians regardless of religion. On the other hand, it means everything – if 15-20% they are grossly marginalized; if 5-6% their rights are still important but their claims are greatly diminished. Will the state and/or the church have the courage to take this issue on transparently? Or is it best for everyone if it remains purposefully ignored?
On the horrible accident near Beni Suef in Upper Egypt, from Ahram Online:
Hours after the tragic train crash that killed at least 19 passengers and injured scores of others in the Giza suburb of Badrashin, victims’ relatives and police officials remained gathered at the scene and a military helicopter hovered overhead.
The 12-carriage train, which was carrying 1,328 Central Security Forces (CSF) conscripts, mostly around 20 years old, had been travelling en route to Cairo from Upper Egypt. The conscripts had been preparing for their first military training, when two railway cars – each carrying over 200 soldiers – derailed, hitting a cargo train sitting outside a storage depot.
According to one, the overcrowding may have saved his life, though it surely killed others:
“On the truck I was in, one injured passenger had a broken leg; his leg hung by the skin only. Another had his nose broken, while a third had suffered broken ribs. I’m one of the lucky ones who had been sitting with five others in seats fit for two. Others were crammed into the upper shelves usually reserved for baggage. Those are the ones who died.”
We have traveled by train several times to Upper Egypt, but always in first or second class. Even there, some passengers are allowed to enter and stand in the aisles and open spaces near the door. In other cars we see how people are crowded together, though never this severely.
But on the whole, we have always found train travel in Egypt to be smooth and economical, even when someone in the aisle has his elbow in your ear leaning on the back of the chair. Usually they are kind enough to adjust. I wonder what sort of ticket they bought, if any, and why the attendant allows them to stay.
On the other hand, there is weird and uncomfortable sense of entitlement when we see them crammed in, yet my six year old daughter has a seat. We did pay for it, right?
I remember my days in university, when I would sit in the corner of the train on a huge bag of laundry, traveling from Washington, DC back home to New Jersey. I wonder how many passengers I annoyed.
May God rest the souls of those who died and comfort the many injured. May he guide the government in fixing Egypt’s many problems. Mercy.