A New Dawn for Christians in Egypt
Throughout the long history of the Egyptian nation, there has never been a peaceful transference of power as a result of a democratic election – until now. On June 9, 2014, Egypt celebrated this unprecedented transition as interim President Adly Mansour handed over power to the newly elected president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In his inauguration address, el-Sisi made note of this historical event. "Now, for the first time, the President-elect shakes hands with the outgoing President, and together they sign a power transfer document in an unprecedented occasion."
El-Sisi won 96% of the vote in last month's presidential election for a four-year term. When he was declared the winner, a boisterous celebration erupted across the nation. In Cairo's Tahrir Square, the center of both the first and second Egyptian revolutions, fireworks erupted, people carried balloons bearing the new president’s image, and the crowds danced and sang.
This joyous celebration is a far cry from the terror experienced by Christians and Muslims alike under the despotic reign of former president, Mohamed Morsi, a member of the radical Muslim Brotherhood (MB). After only a year in power, Morsi was overthrown by a national revolution supported by the Egyptian Army, who directly delegated (according to the constitution) the head of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmoud Mansour, to be a temporary president.
I recently spoke with a Christian intellectual from Cairo about these momentous events and their effect on Christianity in Egypt. We will call him Th.A.N.
CVB: What was it like for you as a Christian growing up under Mubarak? And what are conditions for Christians today?
ThAN: There have been three stages for Christians in Egypt over the last couple of decades: the Mubarak stage; the Muslim Brotherhood stage; and then the current stage under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. We didn’t have any systematic persecution in the Mubarak era. From my point of view, Mubarak was a liberal leader. There may have been some fanatic groups that persecuted Christians in that time, but it wasn’t systematic. It’s just like any other country – some people will have some wrong ideas and will try to push those on the rest of the nation. But from my point of view, Mubarak and his government were against this fanatic phenomenon. So until 2010, I didn’t know any systematic (or official) pressure on the Christians.
Then we went through the Muslim Brotherhood stage, which was one of the most difficult periods in Egyptian history. During this time, we had most of these fanatics in positions of authority. We began to see some systematic and planned persecution against the Christian community. There were 30 churches burned, and many of them were evangelical. And there was no real action by the government against the terrorists who committed these crimes.
But during this dangerous season, Egyptian Christians and Muslims together were dreaming of the day when we could overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood from their authority.
CVB: A lot of people in the U.S. wonder how the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in the first place. There was an election, wasn’t there?
ThAN: I think the first revolution was a combination of two things. Egyptian people who wanted to live in a better situation went to the squares to protest the conditions at that time. During the first days of the revolution, there were no voices calling for the overthrow of Mubarak. These people were only looking for an improvement of the general situation. But then Mubarak gave a televised speech to the nation on January 27th, 2011. This speech changed the situation on the streets and people started to go back to their homes.
In this speech, Mubarak gave the nation a promise that his son will not be in authority after he stepped down. After this the squares started to empty as people went back to their homes. At this point the Muslim Brotherhood accused Mubarak of wanting to kill the protestors in the squares. A lot of people believed this rumor and they started to go back out onto the streets to say no to Mubarak. But now the courts have proved that it was the Muslim Brotherhood that had actually done the killing – not Mubarak.
But the damage was done and now the protestors in the squares were calling for the overthrow of Mubarak. What the people didn’t know was that the Muslim Brotherhood was working with foreign governments and radicals to overthrow Mubarak with the goal of the MB taking power. The Muslim Brotherhood deceived the people, accusing Mubarak of many crimes that he didn’t commit. Because of this, many people in Upper Egypt supported Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in the first election.
But now there is a general consensus that the candidate that ran against Mohammed Morsi – former Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik – was the real winner of the presidential election in 2012. But with the Muslim Brotherhood in places of high authority, there was tampering with the election results and Morsi became the president.
At that point, the whole nation started to discover the deceit being practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood. Their goal was to change the whole context of our country. They don’t see themselves as true Egyptians. They want to establish their kingdom. They want an empire that includes Egypt and many other nations.
At this point the whole nation of Egypt – I think Muslims before Christians – started to discover what was going on in our country. And this brought us to the second revolution to overthrow Morsi.
I know many people who are not interested in any kind of political issues, but they went to the streets to excommunicate the Muslim Brotherhood and to overthrow Morsi. My wife was one of those people. Actually there were more than 30 million people throughout Egypt who took to the streets shouting, “We don’t want Morsi. We don’t want Muslim Brotherhood.”
There were many cities in Upper Egypt where people didn’t participate in the first revolution. But in the second revolution, people filled the streets of these cities to shout against Morsi.
CVB: Why were there so many more people who came out in the second uprising to see Morsi overthrown?
ThAN: During Morsi’s reign, the common people started to understand that the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood was to change our identity as Egyptians – even in our homes. They wanted to change the identity of the nation. But we are Egyptians! For decades we haven’t know differences between the Muslims and the Christians.
I have Muslim neighbors. I really love them, and they really love us. We live together in peace. It’s very common in Egypt to find a Muslim who will knock on your door in the middle of the night to ask to borrow some bread. It’s very normal. And Christians will do the same with their Muslim neighbors. We really love each other in Egypt.
During this time, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to break the real Egyptian identity. They not only attacked Christians, but they also took aim at Muslims who are not a part of the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result, many people in Egypt began to feel that the true identity of the nation was being stolen.
CVB: So there was an Egyptian nationalism that rose up at that time?
ThAN: Yes! Exactly. For many years I didn’t hear in the streets people say, “We love our country.” But in the second revolution, all kinds of people – Muslims, Christians, secular people – rose up and said, “We love Egypt.” Even conservative Muslims, who are not a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, went to the streets and said, “We love Egypt and we will not allow the Muslim Brotherhood to change the identity of this country.”
So the people of this nation declared, “Egypt first, above everything else.”
During the reign of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood targeted their enemies in the street, and they killed many people. When the Egyptian Army saw that innocent people in Egypt were being killed by the Muslim Brotherhood, the officers decided to take a stand with the people. They declared, “We are Egyptian people, and we are the army of this nation. We are the army of the people.”
At this point, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who was Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces at the time, proclaimed that Morsi will no longer be president in Egypt.
CVB: Now there was some controversy with the actions of el-Sisi because Morsi was supposedly elected. But you’re saying it wasn’t a genuine election?
ThAN: That is correct. It was not a legitimate election. But many world leaders, including the American government, didn’t recognize this. I’m sorry to say this, but I’m concerned about the American government, and those in positions of power. I’m praying that America will come back to God.
I love the United States of America. I am praying for America. I visited the U.S. many times, and God met me there many times in a very strong way. I experienced His manifest presence in many streets – and in many states in this country. I like the American people. I have a lot of American friends. I study with an American university for my current degree. I like this society. But I can’t deny that those in leadership now in America have to come back to embrace true Christian ethics and biblical principles.
Regarding the political situation, it is now very clear to us in the Middle East that America really supports the terrorism and fanaticism. I’m very sad to say that.
CVB: What would be a specific way that you see the American government supporting terrorism and fanaticism?
ThAN: They supported the Muslim Brotherhood as the authority in Egypt. But during the second revolution, America didn’t take a positive stand to support the overthrow of Morsi. It was very frustrating for us in Egypt.
We tried to let all our friends in the world know that this was a second revolution – it was not a coup. But when we listened to the American media, they spoke of our second revolution as a coup. We were shouting in the streets, “It’s not a coup – it’s a revolution for our freedom!”
The army declared, “We are with the people.” They excommunicated Morsi, and directly delegated (according to the Egyptian constitution) the head of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmoud Mansour, to be a temporary president. Then in May of 2014, the Egyptian people overwhelmingly elected Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the new president of Egypt.
CVB: It’s very reassuring and exciting that things are moving in this direction in Egypt. So how does this trickle down to the people? How are things different now than they were during the Morsi regime?
ThAN: After the second revolution, the head of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmoud Mansour, served as the acting President of Egypt from July of 2013 until the swearing in of the current elected president. During that time, he made null and void every action of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Things are better now for Egyptians than it was under Mubarak or Morsi because now the entire nation has spoken – even the conservative Muslims. The whole nation has said, “We are against fanaticism. We are against terrorism.”
CVB: What I’m hearing from you is that in your typical Egyptian there is a nationalism that supersedes even religious differences? Does that translate to religious freedom in Egypt?
ThAN: No, because both Muslims and Christians are very conservative in Egypt. But we know how to respect each other. This is the authentic old Egypt – and it has arisen again. The normal Muslim respects the normal Christian, and the normal Christian respects the normal Muslim. But we can’t call this religious freedom because it is still not easy to share freely your detailed beliefs with others.
This can be understood within the definition of religious freedom. If you mean that any Egyptian has the freedom to choose to be Christian or Muslim, then yes, we have that religious freedom. There is no official restriction. But if you are talking about the freedom to evangelize – to openly share your Christian faith with others – then we don’t have this freedom witness in the streets – yet.
1. Pray that believers in Egypt would be strengthened in the Lord as they serve Him in a predominantly Muslim country.
2. Pray that the revolutionary spirit in Egypt would soon bring to the people the freedom to share their Christian faith openly.
3. Pray that the truth of the gospel would spread from Egypt into surrounding nations – and eventually throughout the Middle East.
1. Consider giving to ministries that do evangelistic work in the Middle East through the media and Internet evangelism.
2. Consider partnering with an expert to create an evangelistic Internet outreach targeting the people groups of the Middle East (see my book, NetCasters: Using the Internet to Make Fishers of Men, for ideas, guidelines, and references).
3. Work with ministries who do outreach to college students from the Middle East who study in American colleges.
Craig von Buseck is the co-author of Praying the News: Your Prayers Are More Powerful than You Know. He is a writer at Inspiration Ministries and TV. He is also a contributing writer for CBN.com, More to Life Magazine, and Generals.org. He is a regular guest on “Live the Promise” with Susie Larson on Faith Radio. His other books included Nobody Knows: The Harry T. Burleigh Story, NetCasters: Using the Internet to Make Fishers of Men and Seven Keys to Hearing God’s Voice.