Sunday, 18 August 2013

Pray for Egypt

Like many others I have been shocked and saddened by the loss of life in Cairo and elsewhere this past week as the Egyptian military have cracked down on the protesters supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and the ousted President Mursi.  Some of the TV pictures have been truly horrifying as they have shown unarmed civilians being gunned down in the streets.  I find myself praying that we will not have another situation like that of Syria where civil confilict turns in to civil war.

And I think of my friends in Egypt, some of whom I visited only 18 months ago when an EBF delegation met the leaders and pastors on the Egyptian Baptist Convention, and also some of the official Evangelical leaders sin the country.  How different the situation was then, after the Tahrir Square demonstrations and before the elections.  I have not managed to make contact with the Convention in these past days so can only wonder about what is happening with those pastors and churches, and to commend them in prayer to God's protection and safe-keeping. 

But I am aware there has been a sharp rise in attacks on Christian churches (mainly Coptic) in the past week - some estimates say as many as 40 churches have been attacked.  Egypt's ten million or so Christians are something of a soft target.  As the Al-Jazeera news headline this week put it 'Egypt's Christians face unprecedented attacks'.

It is understandable that Christians in Egypt (and also in Syria) fear for their religious freedom if radical Islam becomes the controlling ideology of the government.  There were already signs that in a society governed by the Muslim Brotherhood hostility to Christians increased, even if not officially sanctioned.   The result is that most Christians, along with more 'secular' Muslims, womens' groups and others give their support to the military to keep the peace and try to pave the way for a more plural vision for Egyptian society.  The difficulty in this case is dealing with the anger of supporters of the Muslim Bortherhood that their democratically elected President has been removed by force, a fact which comes across in much of the Western media as a gross injustice, making the kllings of so many civilians all the more unnacceptable.  It seems to me that Egyptian Christians are now in an unenviably dangerous situation.  Will they be able to continue to protest about the attacks on them and the possible far-reaching loss to their relgious freedom if radical Islamicists come to power; whilst at the same time making it clear that that they abhor the loss of life which happens when the military fires on civilians?  I pray for much wisdom for their leaders in these days.

I have been looking for other voices which might be said to represent evangelical Christians such as Baptists.  I see that the CEO of SAT 7, the media company supported by many Baptists in the Middle east and elsewhere in the world, issued a Press Release last week, In it he says he is 'appalled at the misunderstandings about the situation in Egypt being propagated by even normally balanced international media like the BBC and the way it has, in general, portrayed the Muslim Brotherhood as the victims of injustice.'   He goes on to justify this claim from the perspective of Egypt's Christians.  You can read the whole piece here:

On one reading it all looks horribly familiar as yet another Middle Eastern nation slides into civil conflict, and with the country's Christians suffering as scapegoats.  But in looking for some signs of hope I remember how an Egyptian friend described how at the time of the Tahrir Sqaure demonstrations which seemed to hold out so much promise, Muslims and Christians had stood together and neighbours of these different faiths got to know each other for the first time.  And now in this article by the Sat 7 CEO, one paragraph stands out to me as a 'flicker of hope' when he says:

It is also important and encouraging to note that some Muslims went to proect churches and that, in return, many Christians then sent messages to their fellow Muslims saying 'buildings can be rebuilt again, but you are priceless, so stay safe and don't worry about the churches'

I don't want to overestimate such initiatives in the scale of the present crisis in Egypt.  But I also know from examining past conflicts that when God moves change in the hearts and intentions of ordinary men and women, amazing transformations of conflict can take place.  This, I pray for Egypt at this critical time.  So I will gladly support the prayer request of Sat7 that the current violence will end soon and that 'Egypt will be governed for the benefit of all its citizens, with people of different persuasions able to live alongside one another peaceably'. 

The message on this southern Egyptian home says 'Love your enemies.  We will pray fervently'

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