Tag Archives: Cairo

We Pray for the Future

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We Pray for the Future

Safwat Marzouk, Ph.D.Aug 16, 2013

The Christian minority in Egypt pays a heavy price as the police disperse two sit-ins for the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. More than 40 churches were torched; Bible society shops were set on fire; houses and businesses owned by Christians were burnt on Aug. 14. Here is an attempt to record the assaults against Christians in Egypt and here is a map that shows the geographical distributions of these incidents. To be sure the dispersal of the sit-ins was bloody; the number of deaths and injuries are horrific. But it is not Christians who are dispersing the sit-ins, so why take all the anger against this minority.

For a long time many Christians in Egypt chose to stay away from politics and lived in a closed bubble. Isolation from the public life was always perceived through a theological lens that the church is not of this world and should not make this world distract it from fulfilling mission. The mission here was understood in a very narrow sense that excluded social justice, freedom from oppression here and now. Theological discourse, preaching and even hymns reflected and deepened this sense of isolation and alienation. The chorus of one hymn read: “but I am not of this world; I belong to another home.” Whether because of real acts of sectarianism or discrimination against the Christian minority, or because of imagined fears that accumulated over the time, Christian Egyptians saw in isolation a safe harbor.

A major shift of attitude however took place since the 18 days of the 25th of January revolution. Many Christians joined in with Muslims seeking livelihood, freedom and justice. The demands of Egyptians — both Christians and Muslims — were not sectarian in nature, they were not concerned with a particular group of the people; rather, they were seeking the well-being of all citizens equally. The 18 days of the revolution were like the garden of Eden in terms of the peacefulness of the relations between Muslims and Christians. The barriers and dividing walls were torn down and newly energized hopes for a better Egypt gushed forth as Christians and Muslims worked together to undo a tyrant oppressive regime. Some Christians and some of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters and some of the salafists encountered each other for the first time during these 18 days. They had a chance to see each other in a new way; a new way that is different from what the Egyptian national security has portrayed one group for the other and vice versa.

This spirit did not stay for too long, however. Sectarianism and violence against Christians has imposed itself on the scene once and again during the transitional period led by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and during the year of presidential rule of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi. During his presidential campaign and during his year of rule, Morsi blamed the Mubarak regime for the negative image about Islamists in the Christian collective mind; instead, he promised to look after the Christian minority and treat them as partners and equal citizens. Since the ousting of Morsi and throughout the sit-in of the Muslim Brotherhood the discourse concerning Christians went completely the other direction. Speeches of hatred and threats over the past 45 days against Christians resulted in the destruction of many churches, homes, businesses, and orphanages in 12 hours. The Muslim brotherhood is betting on how Christian Egyptians will respond to these assaults; their hope is that Christians would respond violently and spread sectarian disorder.

Thus far, Christians in Egypt have exercised a great deal of self-control. Furthermore, theological ideas are being rediscovered to empower the people in times like this. In response to the burning of churches, Christians in Egypt appeal to the idea of the church as the body of Christ rather than the physical building. The Christian minority is able to find resources in the biblical and ecclesial traditions to respond to the current situation. A friend of mine on Facebook posted these verses from Acts 7: “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?'” For many years, Christians struggled to get governmental permissions to build and maintain church buildings. Now they see these buildings as a tool rather than a goal in itself.

Another issue that emerged since the ousting of Morsi and the many assaults on Christians has to do with the idea of belonging to a country. Christian Egyptians who were marginalized and alienated from the public life for many years, are rediscovering what it means to be “Egyptians.”

This sense of belonging is rooted biblically in the biblical verse “blessed be my people Egypt” (Isa 19:25) and in the sacred visit of baby Jesus and the holy family to Egypt. For a long time Islamists in Egypt treated Christians as traitors who seek the west to support their rights as a minority. Ironically, it was the Muslim Brotherhood that sought the west to restore the power to their ousted president. Christian Egyptians on the other hand are so critical of the European and American interference in Egyptian internal matters. Rediscovering the sense of belonging to Egypt, Christians have become more politically active; the minority has learned that peace and justice in this world is an essential aspect of the mission of the church. It is this activism that bothers the fanatical supporters of Islam, who want to treat Christians as secondary citizens, who either should support political Islamists or be voiceless forever.

Western media is showing one aspect of the story; violence against the Muslim Brotherhood is by no means acceptable. Yet, it is time for the western media to show the other side of the coin. Muslim Brotherhood supporters are not as peaceful as they speak of themselves. My siblings and their families have been home horrified of going down the street only watching the smoke and the fire ascend from their local churches in their town in upper Egypt. Christians are paying a heavy price for being politically active. We mourn and grieve violence and sectarianism. We pray for peace and justice and stability in Egypt. We pray for the Christian community to continue to embody the love, patience and meekness of Christ. We pray for the future so that these acts of violence would not create forms of terrorism or oppression.

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Persecution of Egyptian Christians

Muslim extremists kill our priests, burn our churches and kidnap our women: How Egypt’s Arab Spring dream descended into a nightmare of religious hatred

  • Mail on Sunday correspondent in Cairo reveals hate acts against Christians
  • Extremists have forced many families into hiding or to seek asylum overseas

By ANGELLA JOHNSON

PUBLISHED: 13 July 2013

The mob converging on a church on the outskirts of Cairo were armed only with sticks and stones.

But their frenzied attack on a lone, elderly Coptic priest was merciless.  Father Matthew Awad had refused to reveal the whereabouts of a Muslim woman who had converted to Christianity. For this offence, he was assaulted, suffered death threats and barely escaped with his life.

Today, he is in hiding. His entire family fear for their safety. Matthew’s son, shop owner Marco Awad, cannot set foot in public after he was arrested and tortured by Egyptian police officers sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Two of his three young children are with him in a safe house while his sister, wife and four month-old-son have fled Egypt to Britain and are now staying in Brighton.

Marco, who refused to be photographed because of the risk to his life, told The Mail on Sunday from a monastery in the desert: ‘Muslim fundamentalists are killing our priests, kidnapping our women and burning our churches. Since the 2011 revolution, Coptics like me have lived in fear of our lives. I’m being forced to live apart from my family because of my faith.’

Supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi demonstrate in Cairo on FridaySupporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi demonstrate in Cairo on Friday

The minority Christian group are reeling after a frightening rise in religiously-motivated attacks. Last Thursday, the decapitated body of church elder Magdy Lamay Habib, 59, was found in a graveyard, six days after he was kidnapped by extremists in northern Sanai.

And priest Father Mina Aboud Sharobeel, 39, was shot dead when Islamic gunmen opened fire as he drove home from a weekly grocery shop at a market in the town of El Arish, near the Gaza border.

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are believed to have launched the attacks because they blame Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II for backing the military’s removal of President Mohammed Morsi from power on July 3.

Christians are especially vulnerable in Sinai, where much of the population is armed and the local economy hinges on the smuggling of weapons, drugs and people.

Security officials believe a local branch of Jabhat al-Nusra, the feared Islamist group that is fighting against the Syrian government, may also be operating in Sinai. As are Jihadist groups, including affiliates of Al Qaeda.

Christians saw discrimination against them escalate during Morsi’s drive for an Islamic state. Around 200,000 are said to have left for new lives in Europe, America and Canada over the past year.

Father Youssef Souby Zaky, a friend of the slain priest, reluctantly left his church in Rafa, northern Sinai, after it was ransacked and torched. He says: ‘Every Christian family abandoned the town because it was unsafe for us to live there.

Rania Awad and her baby son have fled to Britain after her husband Marco was persecuted for his faith
Father Youssef Souby Zaky was forced to leave his church in Rafa, northern Sinai, after it was ransacked and torched

Rania Awad (left) and her baby son fled to Britain for safety after her husband was persecuted for his faith, while Father Youssef Souby Zaky (right) left his church in northern Sinai after it was ransacked and torched

‘Several churches were vandalised and set alight, threats made against our families and four priests were kidnapped in the region – three were released after ransoms were paid, but sadly one was slaughtered.

‘These hate crimes have been fuelled by extremists trying to drive us out of Sinai, perhaps even out of Egypt. My fear is that long-term enmity will be established and our national unity will crumble to dust.’

The Awad family became targets after the family of a Muslim woman objected to her conversion to Christianity last July.

‘Extremists led the attack against my father but he managed to escape,’ Marco says. ‘They threatened to kill my sister Feeby and we were forced to flee our homes.’

He took his wife Rania and their children – son David, ten, and daughter Karma, aged six – to live with the in-laws. ‘Then, four months ago, I was taken from my shop by two policemen, who said my business permit was not in order.

‘These hate crimes have been fuelled by extremists trying to drive us out of Sinai, perhaps even out of Egypt. My fear is that long-term enmity will be established and our national unity will crumble to dust.’

– Father Youssef Souby Zaky

‘I was locked in a cell and beaten every day. They kept asking where my father and sister had gone. But my wife had been looking for me and she contacted the Egyptian Federation for Human Rights, who spoke to the right people and I was eventually freed. I was taken unconscious in a car and dumped in the middle of the countryside.’

Dr Naguib Gobraiel, head of the Human Rights Federation and also a Christian, describes what’s happening as ethnic cleansing. ‘It’s a pogrom,’ he claims. ‘I have three sons in their late 20s and they all emigrated with their families since Morsi took power. I’ve been threatened with death and my office burned three times.’

The former judge saw a big increase in false allegations made against Christians, especially teachers, after the Brotherhood were voted into power in the country’s first democratic elections a year ago.

Criminalising blasphemy was enshrined in a controversial Islamist-backed constitution passed by Mr Morsi soon after he became president. Liberal Muslim writers and activists have since been accused of insulting Islam.

But it is the country’s minority Christians – about ten per cent of the population – who bear the brunt of prosecutions and imprisonment for blasphemy.

Dr Gobraiel represented 18 of them. ‘Seventeen received three to six years in prison,’ he says. ‘They went to appeals courts, hoping for retrials or lighter sentences. But the system is biased.’

His most notorious case involved Dimyana Abdel-Nour, a woman teacher in the southern tourist city of Luxor.

The shy 24-year old was arrested and charged with insulting Islam during her classes, after three parents claimed she had expressed disgust for the religion to their ten-year-old daughters.

She spent a week in jail before being bailed for £2,000 in May and is now hiding in a church outside the city. ‘She is in a very bad way and is being protected by one of our priests,’ says Dr Gobraiel.

Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi demonstrate in the street in Cairo after the evening Friday prayer on the third day of RamadanSupporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi demonstrate in the street in Cairo after the evening Friday prayer on the third day of Ramadan

There has been unrest throughout Egypt as pro-Morsi supporters clashed with his opponentsThere has been unrest throughout Egypt as pro-Morsi supporters clashed with his opponents

‘The charges are spurious, yet she was arrested and kept in custody. It was a very shocking experience and her father says she suffered a nervous breakdown.’

Meanwhile, a tense stand-off between pro-Morsi supporters and the military continues in the holy month of Ramadan – fasting has dampened any appetite for fighting.

Television producer Maha Reda believes the Brotherhood hierarchy know they have lost the battle to hold on to power – but also claims that Egypt is not ready to be a functioning democracy: ‘The army is the only solid institution that can hold our society together and stop us drifting into more chaos.’

Marco Awad hopes that is the case – but is too afraid to take a chance with his family’s safety. ‘I never thought of leaving my country but I don’t feel safe here any more,’ he says.

‘I want my children to live somewhere where being a Christian does not put a target on their backs.’

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Earliest Depiction of Christ

Earliest picture of Christ

 

 

The earliest known image of Jesus Christ, from the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt

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April 3, 2013 · 11:12