[notice]SPECIAL REPORT — Originally published in INContext Ministries’ World In Motion, Issue 80[/notice]
Dominating global news during the past weeks have been the events in Egypt. Widely described as “the tipping point in Egypt” by the international media, most journalists failed to recognise that this might indeed be a “tipping point” for Islam as well. While on the surface there were factors such as unmet political expectations and economic dissatisfaction at play, the counter-revolution gathering of nearly 20 million people in the streets of Egypt from 30 June was not so much an outcry for a political democracy as it was a cry for freedom from radical Islamist oppression. This time around, Islam was questioned and not presented as the answer. These events could well define the future of the Arab world and change the face of Islam forever. A brief timeline of recent events looks as follows:
JUNE 30 – Millions of Egyptians join public demonstrations initiated by the Tamaroud group, some calling to Morsi to step down, others voicing their support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
JULY 1 – The Egyptian military announces that they will give Morsi and the Brotherhood 48 hours to respond before they (the military) take action.
JULY 3 – The head of the army, Al-Sisi, announces that Morsi has been ousted from the presidency, the constitution has been suspended and an interim government (led by Adly Mansour) will carry things forward.
JULY 16 – The new interim government is sworn in. Elections are said to be scheduled for early 2014. Violent protests by Brotherhood supporters continue throughout Egypt.
After speaking to a number of Egyptian Christian leaders, Mike Burnard offers the following perspective on the remarkable events in Egypt in the past few weeks. With the ousting of Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt, the Church has probably witnessed one of the greatest miracles of our generation. When millions of Muslims stood up to oppose an appointed Muslim authority, the message they sent out to the rest of the world was that they will not accept unconditional submission as Islam demands. And with this unprecedented act of defying authority, Muslims embarked on a new journey of discovery that could change the face of Islam forever.
Why is Egypt so important?
Before contemplating the consequences of the turmoil within Egypt, the significance of Egypt within the surrounding region needs to be considered. Within the Arab world and on a global level, Egypt remains one of the most strategic nations from religious and Christian mission perspectives.
For Muslims, Egypt is seen as the ‘brain of Islam’ with Saudi Arabia functioning as the ‘heart’. Egypt’s Al Azhar University, situated in Cairo, is recognised as the chief centre of Arabic literature and Islamic learning in the world. It is associated with the Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo and its mission includes the propagation of Islamic religion and Islamic culture on a global level. Many prominent Muslim leaders have been educated at this institution that dates back to the first century AD. In terms of global influence, whatever happens in Islamic Egypt will affect the Islamic world – protests against Islamist leaders on Tahrir Square will eventually influence thoughts and teaching in mosques in London and madrasses in New York.
For Christians, few countries are as strategically positioned as Egypt. 47% of all Christians in the Arab world live in Egypt and more than 95% of them belong to the Coptic Church. If ever there was a time to pray for the Church in Egypt, it is now. Egypt as the ‘gateway to the Arab world’ holds the spiritual key to a region at a crossroads.
What about the 2012 elections?
The 2012 democratic elections that took place after the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions were a first in Egypt’s recent history. And now Muslim Brotherhood leaders and pro-Morsi supporters are arguing fiercely that ‘democracy needs to triumph’ and that Mohammed Morsi must be given the opportunity to serve out his full term of office. After all, he was democratically elected in a free and fair election. Or was he?
Firstly, it is important to note that that less than 40 percent of the Egyptian voting public cast their vote when it came to the new constitution, and 40 percent of those who voted did so against it. It is also widely known that manipulation and intimidation took place during the elections. Dr. Michael Youssef, Egyptian-born founding pastor of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, reported that the Muslim Brotherhood had been threatening Christians at the voting booths. “I know this firsthand because I know folks on the ground. In thousands of villages, during the election, they stood with guns outside the polling booths. And if a Christian wanted to go in to vote, they would say ‘You go in, and we’ll kill you.’ And so hundreds of thousands of Christians couldn’t vote.” Secondly, a key factor in the elections was the principle that in a non-democratic society, you only need to obtain the majority of a minority in order to win an election. The Brotherhood achieved this by telling people in smaller villages that voting for the opposition instead of Morsi will be like “voting against God”. Thirdly, it was widely reported after the elections that the results were changed in order prevent a civil war. Thus Mr Morsi’s position as the first democratically elected president of Egypt can be attributed to spiritual and religious manipulation and intimidation, making the election process not entirely ‘free and fair’.
What about Muslim leadership?
The significance of a Muslim nation questioning their Muslim leadership cannot be overemphasised. According to the Quran, Muslims are simply not allowed to question authority. And yet, during the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions and the latest ‘counter-revolution’, they did just that. A logical assumption is that Muslims are starting to question their faith as they realise that Islam is not compatible with everyday liberties enjoyed elsewhere in the world. This could bring Islam to a point of implosion.
In A Discussion of Obedience and Authority in Islam, Muslim writer and academic Anisa Abd el Fattah describes Islam as being based on a code of conduct that originates from the simple command to obey and that it gets complicated when Muslims start to question their obedience. She explains as follows: “God no doubt knew that mankind would constantly be perplexed by the idea of simple obedience. It stands to reason that we will constantly be challenged by the idea of an “unquestioning obedience” since we cannot see God. We have no way, on our own, to validate the prophethood, or to be assured that those placed in authority over us who are not prophets should be obeyed, so God did something ingenious. He revealed Holy Books. There is no Muslim in the world, left or right, who can question the authority of the Quran, and so whenever questions relating to right and wrong arise, God says for us to come to His judgment and not to rely upon our own desires as guide. The Quran teaches that on certain matters, we must rely upon what is said in the Quran. This means we must accept and follow what was taught by the prophet , and in such cases no opinion is allowed. The Quran addresses the issue of obedience, one verse saying, “Oh you who believe, obey God, and obey the messenger and those charged with authority among you.” (www.mediamonitors.net/anisaabdelfattah31.html)
As the world watches developments in Egypt, ‘cracks’ within Islam are becoming more and more apparent. Fear of life under an entrenched Islamist government clearly outweighs the fear of punishment from a god who demands unconditional and unquestioning obedience to all figures in leadership. The ousting of established leaders like Morsi, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Ghadafi and others is a first in recent Islamic history and places Islam at a crossroads. The widespread resistance of the implementation of the Islamic Sharia law as the foundation of the Egyptian constitution is a rejection of all that Islamists hold dear and will not be tolerated without bloodshed.
Who are the Islamists?
The driving force behind the continued violence in Egypt stems from both the Muslim Brotherhood and the more radical Salafists who differ in degrees of application and expression but who are both clearly defined as ‘Islamists’.
Dr Mark Durie, an Anglican vicar based in Australia and an Associate Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum, comments as follows: “In Egypt today, and in the skirmishes of Syria, the Brotherhood and the Salafists are competing for the hearts and minds of the Muslim masses. Both are feared by non-Muslims and liberally minded Muslims alike. On the ground, in remote villages of Egypt and Syria, it may be the Salafists who are proving the more cogent threat to non-Muslim minorities, but in the corridors of power, it has been the Brotherhood leaders who are the better positioned to take control. For example, in Syria it is the Brotherhood who, with their suits and mastery of western ways, who have been validated by foreign powers as leaders in the ‘official’ Syrian opposition. Despite their differences, one thing is certain – the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood are intent on more Sharia, more radicalism, and less freedom for all, wherever they gain influence. Their paths may differ, but they agree on where the final destination lies.”
Dr. David Aikman, former TIME Magazine journalist and author of The Mirage of Peace: Understanding the Never-Ending Conflict in the Middle East, recently commented that “radical Islam makes mincemeat of secular societies, regardless of their being ‘western secular’ or ‘Muslim secular’”. Egypt is no exception. As one leader commented, “I deeply regret that I took part in the Day of Anger (25 January 2011) and helped to remove Mubarak. I deeply regret that he has now been replaced by a worse dictator.”
What about Egyptian Christians?
Elizabeth Kendal, from the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, reports as follows: “No soft target so clearly represents opposition to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood as the Coptic Church, making it exceptionally vulnerable. The Coptic Pope compounded this vulnerability when he blessed the ‘coup’ and supported the suspension of the constitution. On Friday 5 July, Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie addressed a gathering of tens of thousands of justifiably enraged Islamists outside the Rabaa al-Adweya Mosque in Nasr City, Cairo. He slammed the Coptic Pope, condemned the coup and called on Muslims to rise up and not stop fighting until Morsi was returned to office.” A backlash was to be expected and violence escalated in the days following Morsi’s ousting. In the week after the military took power away from the Brotherhood, the following attacks against Christians in Egypt were reported, and Kendal believes that this is just the beginning. “Whilst the military may have ousted an Islamist president, dissolved a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament and suspended an Islamised constitution, these actions have actually increased the risk to Egyptian Christians. Military violence – such as the army’s firing on pro-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo on Monday 8 July, killing 51 and wounding more than 300 – is only further inflaming the situation. The coup will serve to radicalise many Brotherhood supporters, especially as Islamic groups from Tunisia to Somalia are citing the coup as proof that democracy does not work and that Islam can be established only by the bullet not the ballot. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri (an Egyptian) has ominously warned: ‘The battle in Egypt is far from over, it has only just begun.’”
On a positive note, challenges always present new opportunities and there are always two sides to every coin with different expectations from different groups. A Christian leader from Cairo expressed such an opposite attitude. “Instead of worrying for us, rejoice with us” he said. “Pray that the unprecedented unity expressed between all Egyptians who reject the forceful imposition of political Islam will result in a new Egypt where people with different persuasions can live alongside one another in harmony. This is the Egypt I remember from my youth and the Egypt most Egyptians yearn for.
So, what does the future hold?
In the second chapter of Daniel, verses 20 and 21, Daniel is recorded as expressing the following understanding of the big picture: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons; He deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Yes, God is still in control in Egypt and He deposes and appoints leaders as He sees fit, and only He knows what the future holds. But according to past events and current trends, certain predictions can be made, and we as a Church need to seize the opportunities like never before. Islam is at a tipping point, and the Church’s response will be critical. Considering the recent events, we suggest two main scenarios that may play out, with widely differing levels of intensity.
- Scenario 1: A Great Islamist Revolution
The character of radical Islam, as visible in a number of nations like Iran, Afghanistan, Tunisia and Syria, suggests that the Brotherhood will not willingly relinquish the power they achieved in 2012. Their counter-resistance would likely involve more violence and bloodshed, regardless of any promises of ‘a better Egypt’. The following story is often shared in Egypt in connection with the entrenched policies of the Muslim Brotherhood: One day, a scorpion decided to cross a stream with a fast current. He could not find a safe crossing but he noticed a frog sitting near the bank of the stream. The scorpion asked the frog if he could get on his back and be ferried across to the other side of this stream. “How do I know you won’t sting me?” asked the frog. The scorpion responded, “Because if I do, I will die too, as I can’t swim.” The frog was satisfied and they set out into the water. Halfway across, all was going well when the scorpion suddenly stung the frog. As they both starting sinking beneath the water, the frog asked bitterly, “Why did you sting me? Now we’re both going to die.” The scorpion replied, “It is simply in my nature to sting and I could not do otherwise.” The nature of the Muslim Brotherhood is to seek dominion for the sake of Islam. Mohammed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, made the following statement in an interview with international media: “We share one vision with all Islamists – to maintain Egypt’s Islamic and national identity by putting into force the second article of the constitution which states that, “Islam is the religion of the state… and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Sharia”.
- Scenario 2: A Great Christian Revival
The significance of the June 30 revolution from a spiritual perspective cannot be over emphasised. The bottom line is that God is on the move and is presenting His Church with one of the greatest opportunities in Christian history. Islam is at a crossroads – will the Church respond?
Some Christian leaders in Egypt are already preparing for what they believe will be the ‘great revival’ when Muslims who are asking questions find their answers in Christ. Will believers in the West join hands with the Church in Egypt to use the door that began opening in 2011? Are the renewed protests and the removal of the Brotherhood a shout from heaven declaring God’s desire for Muslims to come to faith in Him? The question that is set before us for the coming months and years is “How will the Church respond?”
How will you respond?