Egypt – The first Catholic church in Sinai

 

“I remember, during one of my visits to Egypt, speaking to a bishop who dreamt of a church precisely in this spot.  It was difficult to imagine then that such a dream could one day come true in this environment where there was nothing around but desert and a few fruit trees.  Add to this all the administrative difficulties to obtain a building permit and all the obstacles to clear to build it once the building permit was obtained.  I understand well how happy the Catholics must have been when this church was inaugurated.”  – Marie-Claude Lalonde, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need Canada.

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

February 15th 2015 the first Catholic church on Sinai peninsulaUp until the very last minute, work was still in progress on the interior decorations, the moulding was being fitted and the marble polished. However, by Sunday morning (February 15) it was finished: the first Catholic church in Sinai. “This is a great day of joy for Catholics in Egypt,” Coptic Catholic Bishop Makarios of Ismailia, to whose diocese Sharm El-Sheikh belongs, said at the consecration ceremony.

Hundreds of hotels line the coast of the famous tourist destination known for its spectacular coral reefs. “We have a number of places of worship in Sinai,” Bishop Makarios added, “but these are chapels or even just rooms in normal houses. The church of Our Lady of Peace is the first proper church building that was built for the sole purpose of worshiping God.”

Three Masses every Sunday

The building application for the church was submitted in 2003. The foundation stone was laid in 2005. After that, things only moved forward haltingly: in Egypt, the construction of a church is a political issue. There are always a large number of hurdles to overcome. “At one point, after everything had ground to a halt, we went to the wife of then President Mubarak. Susanne Mubarak went to school with nuns. She helped us. After that, there was nothing the governor could object to,” Bishop Makarios remembered. “Madame Mubarak also gave the church its name. We actually wanted a different one, Maria Stella Maris, Star of the Sea. But she suggested making ‘Our Lady of Peace’ its patron saint. We were happy to do so.”

Father Bolos Garas has been priest in Sharm since 2010. “When I came here, there was no church, only the foundations of a cellar. So we put up tarps and celebrated Mass. This is why it is so deeply moving to finally see the church completed, and not only for me. A member of our congregation, an elderly Italian, recently came up to me and said that he could now die in peace because he had heard the bells ring in the tower.” In the future, Father Bolos will celebrate three services in the church every Sunday. “I am a Coptic Catholic priest. However, there are only very few Coptic Catholics here, a handful of families. Most of our faithful are tourists or foreign workers. For this reason I not only celebrate Sunday Mass according to my rites, but also according to the Roman rites, in Italian and in English.”

A place with a real heart

On february 15th 2015 the first Catholic church on Sinai peninsu

The English-language service is attended by foreign workers from the Philippines who work in the hotels in Sharm. “The church is our home. Even though we are so far away from our native country, we immediately felt at home in the Catholic church. We are very happy that our beautiful church has now been finished,” Mary, a Filipina who works at a hotel, said. The Italian-language service, on the other hand, is primarily attended by Italian seniors who spend the winter in Sharm because of its mild climate. “We are so happy. Sharm has always been beautiful. But for us, this place has a real heart now,” Giovanni, a retiree from the northern Italian city of Veneto, said. Members of the Italian community of retirees have even formed a church choir. They also sang during the consecration ceremony on Sunday.

Patriarch Ibrahim I. Sidrak, the head of the around 200,000-member strong Egyptian Coptic Catholic Church, presided over the hours-long ceremony that was celebrated according to Coptic rites. The governor of the region also attended the consecration. In his welcoming address, he said how important it was that the Christians have a place of worship. “It is a place to offer prayers for peace,” he called out to the faithful.

The construction of the church was financially supported by the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Father Andrzej Halemba, in charge of Middle Eastern projects, explained why. “Up until now, many Catholics did not have a real place to go to in Sharm. This has now changed. And there is no better fitting name for this church than ‘Our Lady of Peace’. Egypt and the region need peace. The Coptic Orthodox bishop also emphasized this in his welcoming address.” Bishop Makarios added, “May God bless the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their generosity. Catholics from all over the world supporting a church which in turn serves Catholics from all over the world proves that we are one in the Mystical Body of Christ.”

 

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ACN Press Release – Egypt “The Church has been strengthened”

Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin 

Egypt, Sohag, 17.02.2015Bishop Youssef Aboul-Kheir (Jusef Abul-ACN, Montreal / Königstein – Thursday February 19, 2014. “The Church in Egypt has been strengthened by the murder of our brothers in Libya.” These are the words of the Coptic-Catholic Bishop of Sohag in Egypt, Youssef Aboul-Kheir, on Wednesday (18.2.2015) when talking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The Bishop went on to explain: “Persecution is part of the life of the Church. The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church. In Europe the Church is free. We, on the other hand, are faced with many obstacles. But which Church is the stronger?” The Coptic guest workers murdered by the Islamic terrorist militia ISIS in Libya were genuine martyrs, the church leader said. “They suffered a holy death with prayers on their lips. They went to their deaths just like the early Christians.”

The Bishop stressed that he had received many telephone calls from Muslim friends after the murders had been announced on Sunday. “They told me that it was their problem rather than ours. It was Egypt and the Egyptians who had been attacked, and not primarily the Christians.” It had certainly been the terrorists’ intention to force a wedge between Christians and Muslims, Bishop Aboul-Kheir said. “But this plan didn’t work, quite to the contrary. Many Muslims are angry because of the murders. President Sisi visited the leader of the Coptic Church to convey his condolences. And the President travelled to the home of the murdered ones. You can see that the attack has united us Egyptians.”

 

On february 15th 2015 the first Catholic church on Sinai peninsuThe urgent problem of church construction

Bishop Aboul-Kheir conceded, however, that he himself was afraid of the extremists in Egypt: “I am afraid of the Salafists in the country. They speak with forked tongues. The Muslim Brotherhood is opposed to society anyway. So there exists an internal danger in Egypt itself.” In view of the imminent parliamentary elections Bishop Aboul-Kheir expressed his concern that individuals with extremist convictions could be elected: “That can happen because many of the candidates are not known to the population.”

It was important, however, that the next parliament should address the urgent problem of church construction, which had to date been subject to all kinds of restrictions. “It is crucial that we Christians in Egypt should finally be able to live as equal citizens,” Bishop Aboul-Kheir emphasized. There should also be a reform of the religious debate on the part of the leading Muslim authorities in Egypt. “The Al-Azhar University is regarded as a moderate force. But in fact there are many things in its teachings and programs which are anything but moderate. For example, the use of force in cases of apostasy by Muslims is justified. This is in contradiction to moderate views. The Al-Azhar University must correct its program,” the Bishop explained.

 

Interview from the Holy Land – “Only a political solution will bring peace”

OLIVER MAKSANOliver Maksan, Middle East correspondent for ACN, speaking about the situation in the Holy Land (July 15th, 9 am)

Interview conducted by Maria Lozano, ACN International

 

  • What sparked the current conflict between Israel and Gaza?

Well, initially it began with the kidnapping of three Jewish teens and the killing which followed in mid-June close to Hebron. Israel held Hamas responsible and crushed the Islamist organization’s infrastructure in the Westbank substantially during the search for the kidnapped teens. Then the rocket fire from Gaza began. It started slowly but increased ultimately massively. At the beginning of last week, Israel

launched its military “Operation Protective Edge.”  Since then, more than 1,300 targets in Gaza have been attacked by the Israeli army. According to Israel around 1,000 rockets have been launched towards Israel from Gaza.

 

  • Why Hamas decided to get involved so massively?

Hamas wanted the conflict because it is in deep political and economical trouble. In Syria the Islamists by supporting the rebels against Assad bet on the wrong horse. Iran, its sponsor, as a consequence stopped its support. The overthrow of Muslim brother Mursi in Egypt deteriorated Hamas’ situation furthermore dramatically. They decided then that they do not have much to lose. They wanted to reestablish their reputation amongst Palestinian and Arabs as a resistance movement against Israel. On the other hand, in return for a ceasefire they want to get a political and economical price as high as possible. For example, an opening of the mostly closed border crossing with Egypt would benefit them.

But fundamentally the conflict is about the so far unresolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians who in Gaza is given an edge to because of the humanitarian situation there. Without a political solution to the conflict there will be rounds of violence again and again.

 

  • Israel’s security cabinet accepted a ceasefire proposal by Egypt this morning. It gives the enemies 12 hours to stop the fighting starting from 9 am (Israeli time) this morning. Hamas declined. What will happen now?

Well, depends on Hamas. If they follow suit, this round of the conflict will be over soon. If not and they continue attacks, Israel will see itself internationally legitimated to respond forcefully. So far things for Hamas did not turn out well. They were not able to harm Israel significantly since most of the rockets were intercepted. On the contrary they were weakened militarily by Israeli strikes significantly. But they are still hesitant because they want to hammer out a political and economical price as high as possible.

 

  •  How is life in Israel right now?
© ACN/AED

© ACN/AED

Depends on the region we are talking about. The areas close to the Gaza strip are in an emergency situation. The sirens sound there permanently and people are running for shelter to the bunkers. But also in more remote areas like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa there were attacks and air raid alarm. This shows how Hamas could increase the range of its missiles. But in these areas people do not feel immediately threatened. Life goes on normally more or less. Attacks are sporadic only and the Iron Dome system intercepts the rockets.

Not least because of this, most Israelis feel relatively secure in their entirety. So far there were no direct fatalities.

 

  • How is the situation in Gaza instead?

In Gaza the picture is completely different. In this small and densely populated area there are no bunkers and sirens. Weapons and rocket launchers are often deployed in residential areas.  In total more than 175 people have been killed by Israeli attacks so far. Caritas estimates that more than 70 percent of them were civilians. Further, they think that more than 1,200 persons have been wounded, partially seriously. Hundreds of houses have been either completely or partially been destroyed. Hundreds of families thus became homeless. The supply situation is becoming dramatically bad. Electricity and potable water are getting low.

 

  • What about the Christians in Gaza?

They suffer like everybody else there. Up to now there are no reports about fatalities among Christians. But the Catholic parish priest of Gaza fears that radical Islamist groups might try to benefit from an atmosphere of anarchy to turn against Christians.

 

  • How many Christians are there in Gaza?

They are a tiny minority only. Among an estimated 1.8 million inhabitants in Gaza only 1,300 persons are Christians. The majority belongs to the Greek-Orthodox Church, which has an Archbishop residing in Gaza city. Only 170 persons belong to the Roman-Catholic Church. According to estimates more than half of Gaza’s Christian population has left since 2005.

 

  • What is the Church’s position with regard to the conflict?

The Catholic Church in the Holy Land naturally calls for an immediate ceasefire. But the Church asks for more. It wants a just peace implemented and not only another round of a shaky ceasefire.  The commission Justitia et Pax of the Catholic conference of ordinaries recently published a text saying: The present situation in Gaza is an illustration of the never-ending cycle of violence in the absence of a vision for an alternative future. Breaking out of the cycle of violence is the duty of all, oppressors and oppressed, victims and victimizers. In order to commit themselves to this aim, all must recognize in the other a brother or sister to be loved and cherished rather than an enemy to be hated and eliminated.

 

Press Release – Egypt: “I can only recommend that Christians accept the constitution”

By Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal, Wednesday January 15, 2014 – Before the start of the two-day referendum on the constitution in Egypt on Tuesday, Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan came out in favour of accepting the draft. Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) on Saturday, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Assiut said: “The text is without doubt an improvement on what applied under the Muslim Brotherhood. I can only urge the Christians very strongly to accept the draft. If the constitution is really taken seriously then the situation of Christians in Egypt will improve considerably.”

ÉGYPTE 1Bishop Kyrillos stressed that the text takes account of all the groups in Egyptian society. “This was not the case in Morsi’s constitution.” Egypt’s Christian community, he continued, was very happy. Christian press publications were overwhelmingly advocating acceptance of the draft.

In his view, the fact that article 2 of the revised version also stated that Islamic law would still be the source of Egyptian legislation was not a problem. “This has been the case in Egypt for a long time. Even before Morsi. It never did us Christians any harm. But what is more important is that the new article 3 guarantees Christians and Jews autonomy in matters of civil status and internal Church affairs.”

Bishop Kyrillos also expressed his confidence as regards the construction of churches, which had to date been subject to highly restrictive permission procedures. “The constitution guarantees the so-called celestial religions, i.e. Muslims, Christians and Jews, the same right to build places of divine worship. It also envisages that the new parliament will regulate the details at its first session. I hope that we Christians will then be free at last to build and renovate churches.”

ÉGYPTE 3

In early December of last year, a committee of fifty revised the preceding constitution adopted under President Morsi and submitted the draft to the interim President Adli Mansour. Representatives of the Churches were also involved in this work. Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza sat on the committee as representative for the Coptic Catholic Church. His Church has about 250,000 followers. Egyptian citizens living abroad were able to cast their votes up to Sunday, and approximately 51 million eligible voters who are resident in Egypt itself were called upon to do so on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Muslim Brotherhood considers the referendum illegitimate and rejects it. Experience shows that the voting turnout in Egypt is normally very low. Only 33 per cent of those eligible to vote did so for the preceding constitution drawn up under President Morsi.

Observers believe the level of turnout and support for the constitution will be the first official test of the mood as regards the course followed by the interim government which was installed by the military after President Morsi was deposed on July 3 of last year. According to the timetable announced by the army for Egypt’s political reorganization, parliamentary and presidential elections must be held soon after the referendum on the constitution.  The order, in which this will be take place, remains unclear.

 

Think Again: 10 Myths about Egypt’s Second Revolution

Introduction by Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by AG Griffin, ACN Canada

Copyright Status: Copyright: free with credit to Photographer Copyright notice: © Council of the EU Credit: No commercial use."The Council of the European Union"

Copyright Status:
Copyright: free with credit to Photographer
Copyright notice:
© Council of the EU
Credit:
No commercial use.”The Council of the European Union”

The following is a reference document following  Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan’s visit to the EU institutions in Brussels, a visit supported and organized by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) (September 17- 19, 2013).

ACN recently received this document from Bishop Kyrillos which he prepared in response to the more common questions posed around the nature of the situation in Egypt, and what could reasonably be expected from the situation.

The following answers he offered to the EU policy-makers  over a month ago, and they have not lost their pertinence.  The bishop referred to these questions as “myths” because he noticed the power and presence they hold in the imaginations of the people he met.  The bishop is now looking forward to dispelling these ‘myths’ and says:  “We must give the Egyptian constitution and the Egyptian people the chance they have been fighting for.”


Msgr Kyrillos William

مطران الكاثوليك الأقباط                                                                                                                    Bishop Coptic Catholic

A reference document following our visit to the EU institutions in Brussels  

1. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) represents the majority of Egyptians. In Europe we have Christian Democrats – are not the Muslim Brotherhood ‘Muslim Democrats’?

No. The MB, in its political party form, obtained only 12 out of a possible 50 million votes in the elections of 2011. Their rate of support fell sharply to as little as 5% when the Morsi government eliminated a pluralist Parliament and replaced it with one in which they were the absolute majority, was stopped short from replacing 3500 judges by people they knew would uphold Sharia law over the existing more secular laws, and declared illegal the work of foreign-funded pro-democracy and human rights NGOs. The MB, however, has an important detachment of press officers abroad still propagating a message of massive support with little or no bearing on reality in Egypt.

The above short list of exactions bears no comparison to any form of Christian Democracy as known in the West.

2. There are massive, peaceful pro-Morsi demonstrations still taking place and being suppressed.

They are an illusion fuelled by the lack of presence of foreign correspondents outside Cairo. A few hundred supporters still gather intermittently but they have worked with broadcast media owned by well-known Sunni Sheiks, even using images of the anti-Morsi demonstrations labeling them as pro-Morsi.

The demonstrations are not peaceful. Extremists have attacked police stations with rocket-propelled grenades (Kerdasa, Aswan, Menya) killing many policemen. Many MB members are on camera threatening Christians of genocide and raising Al-Qaeda flags in the sit-in areas. Dr. Morsi himself is recorded on video calling the Shia “filth worth only of extermination”. Protestors have also paid families to resist the calls of the police to clear the area or face being expelled.

3. There was a coup and there is now a military government.

It was not a coup, but the military supporting the will of 33+ million Egyptians demonstrating in the streets under the slogan “Food, Freedom, Social Justice and Human Dignity”.

The MB international spokespeople have insisted on isolating two events as if they were disconnected: the elections that brought Morsi to power and his removal from office. There is little mention of what happened in between: the dissolution of the nascent democratic structures such as the pluralist Parliament in favor of the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly and the single-handed appointment of 13 MB regional leaders (out of 27).

The interim government is not military. It is a civilian government and the army has no intention of taking up power. In February 2011, when Mubarak listened to the people and stood down, he surrendered the government to a military council who proceeded to organize elections and a civilian government was installed. The lesson learnt then is replicated now and the interim government is promising to have a new full government in 9 months, shorter again than the previous transfer of 15 months following Mubarak.  

4. The Tamarod was organized by the military and pressured citizens to sign the petition.

No. Tamarod is a youth movement, which started in May 2013 and the timeline of events demonstrates that the collection of the 22 million signatures (with full identification) started well before the army decided to ask Morsi to listen to the people. The Tamarod set a 30 June deadline for Dr. Morsi to respond to the demands, which included calling for early presidential elections.

5. Egypt had bad elections and a bad Constitution. There is no sign this time that things will be better.

Yes and No. Yes, the elections could have been better; Morsi came to power with 12 million votes in an election with approximately 43% turnout of the 50 million registered voters. Moreover, the multiple claims of fraud taking place outside Cairo had no electoral tribunal for recourse (pre-filled ballots, repeated voter names, etc.). Elections can only be improved with a truly independent electoral body and tribunal. In addition, a controversial move of the MB was to first hold the presidential elections and only afterward address the Constitution. This effectively prevented the majority of Egyptians, not members of the winning political party, to participate in the Constitutional process.

Lessons have been learnt. The new Constitution is now being drafted before elections, the Committee has a clear deadline in November, and it includes 50 Egyptians from all backgrounds, including Salafists and one former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, committed to “the creation of a constitutional Nation State, democratic and modern, founded upon a text approved by the nation supporting the separation of powers. Its current Article 3 defines “citizenship as the sole criterion of responsibility within society” (Source: interview of Mahmoud Azab, counselor for Dialogue to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University,  La Croix 16sept2013).

6. There are waves of arrests against the MB; news media are being harassed.

Most MB members are free to live and participate fully in civil society. Judiciary mandates have been issued against individuals who have incited hatred and violence: committing murder (such as those caught on camera throwing youngsters off a roof in Alexandria), as well as perpetrating acts of violence against Egyptians, victimizing not only Christians but also the majority of Muslims. At the same time, the sources of funding used to buy weapons and explosives are also being investigated – and many lead to the MB. This is the origin of the order to banish the MB’s activities, as the investigation continues. The MB is constituted of several operating arms: political party, NGO, social services providers, etc. making the investigation difficult.

As to the alleged media harassment, the broadcasting and social media units that were closed (seen abroad as news media), are rarely more than the medium of expression of well-known foreign Sheiks financing their own objectives. Al-Jazeera is Qatar-funded, largely like the MB, and in Egypt Al-Jazeera has never pretended to be impartial. Most of these broadcasters have little to do with what the West considers as free and responsible media, necessary to a democratic society. (These are facts and are proved with relative ease). Meanwhile, language barriers also play an important part in the misunderstanding abroad of what goes on in Egypt. Multiplying information sources is still the only way to overcome this challenge.

7. Egyptian society is divided, the process of reconciliation is necessary.

No. There is a small minority of Egyptians, approximately 5%, who might be open supporters of the MB. The other 95% want a modern democratic state with a rule of law based on citizenship not on religious background, gender, age or other potentially discriminating measurements. The MB has declared that the only option for consideration is the reinstatement of Dr. Morsi to power. Contrary to the situation in Libya or Syria, the fabric of Egyptian society remains unified; the present desire is to integrate all parties in a peaceful and inclusive manner without a tyranny of the minority.

8. If it were true the people only wanted change, there was no need for a military coup. We do not do that in the West.

With a simple review on the sequence of events it is evident that it was not a coup but an answer to the voice of 33+ million Egyptians who, disillusioned with the Muslim Brotherhood, again sought democratic change by going to the streets.

Since their narrow win in May 2012, the Morsi regime and the Muslim Brotherhood made a rapid power-grab, eliminating the possibility of participation in political life to Egyptians from other political affiliations. The Islamist-dominated Constitutional Assembly quickly issued new laws voiding existing rules protecting the rights of children and women (pushing to make the legal age for marriage as low as 9 years) and freedom of expression and education (going as far as arresting comedians and teachers expressing opinions contrary to the Sharia). With neither political means nor free media to address their government, Egyptians took to the streets demanding Dr. Morsi to meet with them and discuss the changes they thought urgent. Morsi never opened the door, with the consequences we now know.

Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, informed the European Parliament that she had met with Dr. Morsi before the demonstrations and made it known to him that she “…could feel the antipathy to the Brotherhood and could see the growing numbers of people on the streets…” (Source: EU’s Ashton ready to return to Egypt to ‘support’ not ‘interfere’, Ahram Online, 12sept13) and urged him on behalf of the EU to accept dialogue with the population, but he refused to negotiate.

9. Egypt has no tradition of democracy; this will happen again soon.

Egypt may not as yet have a “tradition of democracy” as we understand in the West, but the interim government and the civil society are giving themselves the means to establish its foundations. As reflected by the popular will and the progress of the interim government, Egypt seeks to be a modern, democratic society based on citizenship as the sole source of rights and responsibilities. Transitions are the same the world over, where the economic situation is oppressive and people are tired, unemployed and hungry. The roadmap of 9 months must succeed, and for this Egypt needs every help it can get, particularly to offer its citizens a ray of hope in both material and educational terms. If the West wants to help us, support the interim government in its hopes to establish a new secular Constitution and to implement the roadmap to Parliamentary and Presidential elections. The greatest challenge to this process, especially with the onset of winter, is a revolution deriving from greater economic hardship and hunger. Where possible, help also in civic education programs led by the civil society organizations such as a one meal per day program for school-going children.

10. But Muslims and Christians will continue their sectarian strife.

No. There is no sectarian strife in Egypt. In some communities Christians have suffered more attacks than in others because they are peaceful and a relatively easy target. The tensions grew out of the beginning of the Morsi regime, but the 14 August violence against Christians, police, firemen, museums, schools, hospitals, etc. in fact created a greater solidarity from the side of the moderate Muslims toward the Christians. Many Muslims in Upper Egypt are now protecting the Christian buildings assuring them of their protection from extremists. The exemplary relationship between Al Azhar – the institution representing the highest Sunni authority in the Islamic world, known also for its university and library – and the Coptic Churches has been described as “the two wings carrying Egypt towards its future” (Source: interview of Mahmoud Azab, counselor for Dialogue to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University,  La Croix 16sept2013).

Copyright Status: Copyright: free with credit to Photographer Copyright notice: © Council of the EU Credit: No commercial use."The Council of the European Union"

Copyright Status:
Copyright: free with credit to Photographer
Copyright notice:
© Council of the EU
Credit:
No commercial use.”The Council of the European Union”

Additional Background

Summer is never a good moment for big news, but it was the moment Egyptian society decided they had enough of the Morsi regime and took to the streets by the millions. Egyptians of all backgrounds had seen the democratic illusion dissolve and their rights wither as soon as the results of the elections were confirmed. Morsi had been elected to office by 12 million people, out of 50 million registered voters, which gave him a clear majority over the other candidates. Egyptians celebrated the advent of the first ever elected government.

Over one year, however, the methodical elimination of normal – albeit incipient – avenues of popular expression such as Parliamentary and Judiciary review, as well as NGO action left citizens without a voice unless they showed their number in the open. A youth movement called Tamarod (Rebellion) collected 22 million signatures from identified signatories in early June 2013 asking the Morsi regime for crucial changes in his administration. As they were ignored, Tamarod called for demonstrations in Cairo and other cities on 30 June, to which an estimated 33 million Egyptians responded. After two days of massive and peaceful demonstrations, the military gave notice to the President of the need to respond within an established deadline. Mr Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party refused, leading to his arrest and the immediate establishment of an interim, civilian government.

On 3 July 2013 a Roadmap to the next elections was set. Within the next 9 months, a new Constitution would be drafted by a new Constitutional Committee as inclusive as possible, where also the Muslim Brotherhood as such (not as political party) were invited. The MB rejected both the Roadmap and the invitation, calling as a condition the return of Mr Morsi to the Presidency.

The new Constitution would pave the way for the election of the new Parliament and then of a new President. Meanwhile, some supporters of the deposed government took to the streets as well, and organized sit-ins in squares.

The sit-ins were tolerated for several weeks until the security forces informed them that there would soon be a clearing of the area, inviting them to leave, using loudspeakers and walking through the crowds. Many did, but others defied the orders. On 14 August in the morning, the security forces entered the squares, and they were met with sniper fire from the nearby buildings, which unleashed a violent confrontation leaving and estimated 638 dead, 43 of them policemen.

Simultaneously, however, in several cities in Egypt, far from the eyes of the diplomatic and foreign media corps, a coordinated armed attack on government, cultural and Christian buildings was deployed. Museums were ransacked; police and fire stations were set ablaze, as well as churches, hospitals and schools. Muslim populations moved to protect the Christians forming human chains around their houses and churches, thus in fact unifying the moderate Muslim majority and the Christian community in their desire for a stable society worthy of the sacrifices made for democratic change.

Press Release : Egypt – “We never know where the extremists will strike next”

For Immediate Release

 Oliver Maksan, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada

Montreal, October 4th, 2013 – Despite a measure of improvement in the security situation for the Christians in Egypt, the media spokesman for the Catholic Church in the country, Father Rafik Greiche, continues to be concerned. Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on Wednesday, he said, “Things have become somewhat calmer in Cairo. But we are always in fear of what may happen next. The Muslim Brothers and other extremists are threatening to attack Christian churches and houses; as a result we never know where they may strike next.”

Égypte 1The most recent example in the continuing precarious situation of Egyptian Christians, following the deposing of Mohammed Mursi, the leader of the Muslim Brothers, on 3 July, was the attempted murder of a Coptic bishop on Monday. Father Rafik explains: “Bishop Makarios, the Coptic Orthodox bishop of Minya, was on his way to the village of Saru to visit a family in mourning. In this village there is a church that has been shut for 10 years. The rumour rapidly spread that the bishop had come to reopen the church, and as a result a group of jihadists opened fire on the bishop’s car. Fortunately, he was able to reach a place of safety. But the exchange of fire lasted for over an hour.”

Security forces do not suffice

Égypte 2The attackers were not masked, and villagers were able to identify them unequivocally as jihadists. Father Rafik emphasized that the province of Minya in Upper Egypt, together with the province of Sohag, is a stronghold of Islamist radicalism. They are very active there, and have support in some of the families.

In addition they can easily escape the response of the security forces by withdrawing into the nearby desert. Already on Sunday, the day before the assassination attempt on the bishop, there had been similar attacks against Christians in Ezbet Zakariya, another small town in the province of Minya, when jihadists effectively declared open season for the looting and pillaging of Christian homes. Christian families fled the town as a result, Father Rafik confirmed.

When asked if the Egyptian authorities were fulfilling their obligations to protect the Christians and their establishments from such radically Islamic-motivated acts of violence, Father Rafik replied, “The security forces are doing what they can. But it is not enough. Unfortunately, however, they are preoccupied with many other problems at the same time. Only just recently the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to occupy Tahrir Square in Cairo. So it is not really that they do not wish to protect us. But frequently, given their limited capacities, they simply cannot do so.”

Consequently, the Church is attempting to take its own security measures as far as possible. Thus, for example, they have acquired additional fire extinguishers in case there should be another arson attack. At the same time, Father Rafik pointed out one important aspect, namely that again and again there have been cases where Muslims from the local neighbourhood have warded off attacks, for example against a church, by the Muslim Brotherhood. “I have seen it for myself: people have fought off the attackers until the police arrived. That shows that, contrary to what is asserted, the Muslim Brothers do not necessarily have support in the local population. The people are rejecting the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Egypt – Two Years After the Arab Spring

Egypt is not only pyramids and sun soaked beaches; it is also a country where the economic and political interests of the world’s great powers intertwine.The Arab Spring popular uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir square in January of 2011, has resulted in the country stumbling toward an uncertain future, evermore polarised between Islamist and secular forces. The Muslim Brotherhood, opposed to secularising tendencies and keen to introduce Shari’ah law, took over the reins of state in 2012. After a controversial year in office, Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was ousted by the army following nationwide demonstrations. The country seems to be divided between two fractions. Egypt’s citizens are struggling for stability and economic recovery as they face an uncertain future!