Originally published in Mission Network News
A lot can change in a year. Just ask Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The organization is reeling from the stunning reversal of power it experienced this summer. They went from being the national darlings post-Arab-Spring to being repressed in the same vein they oppressed other religious minorities.
This week, an Egyptian court issued a ruling that could provide a reprieve for one of those minorities: Christians. Todd Nettleton, spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says, “They’ve banned the Muslim Brotherhood. They’ve said it’s not acceptable as a Non-Government Organization. Its activities are banned. That’s a court ruling on a piece of paper. The big question is: what does that mean on the ground?”
He goes on to say, “If this court ruling becomes reality, and if they actually do close down the Muslim Brotherhood, that’s a hopeful sign for the Church and for Christians in Egypt. But again, it remains to be seen how this is actually going to play out on the ground with the authorities there who have to put this court ruling into practice.”
Does this injunction dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood? The action also means seizure of the group’s assets as it awaits a verdict from a higher court. The group has been accused of exploiting religion for political gain and of “terrorism” in the days after President Mohamed Morsi took office.
The military ousted him a year later, following massive protests throughout the nation. The court’s latest action is part of a sweeping crackdown that has already put Muslim Brotherhood leadership and thousands of its supporters behind bars.
Nettleton asks the next questions that no one can answer. “Are the police going to actively pursue Muslim Brotherhood members? Are they going to arrest them? Are they going to take them into custody?”
The Muslim Brotherhood could decide to compromise with the caretaker government in order to remain a political player, there could be an outright revolt, or the group could continue to protest in an effort to question the legitimacy of the interim government.
Predicting their next move is hard. Every scenario plays out differently, depending on how unruly its participants become.
In the meantime, Christians are deeply concerned. In none of these scenarios do they come out on top. “The Muslim Brotherhood had repeatedly attacked churches, attacked Christian homes and businesses, and encouraged that radical Islamic opinion that all of the Christians should either leave Egypt or they should convert to Islam,” Nettleton explains.
That could describe any time since Morsi came to power, however, it’s likely that the incident he mentions began 14 August. Police violently cleared two protest camps set up by the deposed president’s supporters in Cairo.
The crackdown sparked nationwide retaliatory violence that left hundreds dead and thousands injured. Christians were blamed for Morsi’s downfall. An international human rights group documented dozens of burned churches and noted that most of the anti-Christian attacks were concentrated in southern Egypt. The potential of a volatile reaction is cause for dread among the battered remnant Church. Nettleton acknowledges, “That could happen again with this court ruling. That could be something that leads to churches and Christians being targeted as they say, ‘It’s your fault that the court ruled this way. It’s your fault that the Muslim Brotherhood has been ruled illegal.'”
Egypt’s future is murky. No one knows if the next few months will lead to an exodus of the remaining believers, or if the nation will be so war weary that stability becomes the prize. Until then, VOM remains a quiet presence in the country, says Nettleton. “Voice of the Martyrs has very significant operations in Egypt to help the Church. We provide Bibles and Scriptures to those that need them. In many cases, we provide medical care to those who were injured in persecution-related attacks, as well as the simple act of encouragement.”
What else can be done? Talk about what’s happening. The silence from the North American Church has been deafening so far. Raise awareness about the plight of Christ-followers living in Muslim nations like Egypt. Let them know they’re not forgotten, says Nettleton. “We need to pray that the Lord will protect them and look out for them. I think, secondly, we need to pray that they will respond in a Christ-like way to the persecution that they’re facing. That can be an incredible witness for Christ: the seeds for revival in a country.”