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August 19, 2013

Rapid Response: A Christian Perspective on Egyptian Violence

Rapid Response: A Christian Perspective on Egyptian Violence

About 900 Egyptians are dead and over 3,000 are injured after a horrific wave of violence began in Cairo on Wednesday, August 14. And those numbers promise to rise.

Among the dead are:

Who is to blame for this violence?

The Muslim Brotherhood: Unhappy that Egypt’s first democratically elected president was removed from office by the Egyptian military, Islamist demonstrators vowed to continue their protests until Morsi was reinstated and his Islamist constitution reinstituted. Although only 30 percent of Egyptians expressed support for the sit-ins, the Muslim Brotherhood refused to budge. Its leaders declined to negotiate with representatives from the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, and the European Union.

The Egyptian Military: Surely the Egyptian military could have evicted the protesters from their encampments through some kind of agreement and without the use of force. Despite military leaders’ claims to have acted with “the utmost degree of self-restraint,” they initiated the violence. In a classic case of violence begetting violence, the Muslim Brotherhood retaliated and now promises to continue protests no matter how stringent the opposition.

How long will this violence last?

Reportedly, violence has spread from Cairo to Alexandria, Aswan, Assiut, Favoum, Suex, and other cities throughout the country. Hopefully, Egypt can avoid the fate that befell Algeria in the 1990s. In 1991, Algeria cancelled elections in which Islamists would have gained power. In response, the Islamists started a decade-long civil war that cost 200,000 lives. In order to prevent civil war, Egypt’s interim-government and the Muslim Brotherhood opposition must find a peaceful solution and swiftly hold a new round of elections. The sooner Egypt can return to democratic governance, the better.

The U.S. response to violence in Egypt:

Should Christians care about what happens in Egypt?

There is a significant segment of our population that is exasperated by continual violence in the Middle East. The mindset here is that, while recent events in Egypt are unquestionably deplorable, the Middle East is hopeless . Despite U.S. efforts in recent decades to liberate the Muslim populations of Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq, genuine democracy never seems to arise. We have no true friends in the region (besides Israel). Furthermore, violence and unrest is incessant, and terrorist attacks are rarely denounced by leaders in the region.

Muslim leaders also fail to defend the rights of Christians in their countries who are violently mistreated on account of their faith. In Syria, rebels fatally shot 11 Christians, who were celebrating a feast day. This kind of senseless violence against Christians has increased in the last two years. Despite the optimism surrounding the Arab Spring, the Middle East will never tolerate Christianity and will never provide fertile ground for the growth of democracy — only for Sharia law. Egypt, then, is utterly unredeemable.

Our Take: First of all, any loss of life — especially on such an egregious scale — merits the concern and the prayers of Christians around the world. Second, we do have true friends in the region — the 8 million Coptic Christians who have been severely persecuted under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. Third, no nation — no people-group — is unredeemable.

On Wednesday, Islamists harassed unsuspecting Christians, setting fire to their churches and homes, ostensibly because Coptic Christians support the interim government. Islamists damaged twenty-five churches across Egypt and stormed Christian sites before raiding public buildings and police stations. The Bible Society of Egypt had its storefront torched, while a Jesuit cultural center and a Franciscan school were attacked. Al-Qaeda flags now wave high above some Egyptian churches. We ought to remember that Egypt was a pivotal center for Christianity during the early church years: Alexandria was foundational to Christendom, and early church fathers shaped Christian practice from Egypt. Egypt has always been part of the church's rich heritage.

Since anti-Christian sentiments are at the heart of the Brotherhood’s worldview, it is no wonder that Coptic Christians praised the overthrow of Muhammad Morsi and continue to endorse the interim government led by Adly Mansour.

Because Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have become so unpopular (the coup that removed them from power received broad public support), they are unlikely to be voted back into office in large numbers. Thus, a free Egypt that holds fair elections, constructs a constitution that facilitates pluralism, and ensures a peaceful transition of power would be an ideal development for Christians in the region.

Admittedly, it is questionable whether this ideal has any realistic chance of being implemented. The last time Egypt declared a state of emergency and broadened police powers was 1981, the year Hosni Mubarak began his 30-year reign of autocratic rule. The Egyptian military may try to place another strongman in power.

Still, Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere should support any non-totalitarian political arrangement arising in Egypt that affords religious liberty to the Christian minority, as well as majority religious groups. This would enable Christians in Egypt to worship, pray, evangelize, and live freely.

The Christian response

Regarding Egypt, Christians should pray for:

  • a cessation of violence
  • a move toward reconciliation between opposing factions
  • a swift return to democratic governance

We should pray specifically for the well-being of our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt, who face tremendous hardships and unconscionable persecution. We hope for a political system that fosters authentic religious liberty. Such a development may ultimately transform the Arab world’s most populous nation and positively influence the policies of other Middle Eastern countries.

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