Tuesday, December 10, 2013

RLPB 240. Egypt and CAR: church exceedingly vulnerable

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 240 | Wed 11 Dec 2013

-- with Christmas approaching

By Elizabeth Kendal


El Minya is a sparsely populated region of upper (southern) Egypt. Whilst it has Egypt's highest concentration of Christians, it is also a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold and home to some of Egypt's most militant Islamic sects. Violence broke out on 28 November in two villages. In Nazlet El-Badraman a pogrom erupted in response to a false rumour that alleged a relationship between a Muslim woman and a Christian man. One person was killed and some 18 wounded (four critically), including a 14-year-old girl whose arms were both broken when she was hurled from a building (photo). About 20 homes were burnt.

Nearby, residents of the predominantly Coptic village of Nazlet Ebeid and the predominantly Muslim village of El-Hawarta clashed after Muslims in El-Hawarta shot at a local Christian man for erecting a fence around his own land. Four were killed and dozens wounded. Egyptian security forces made up to 20 arrests (including Copts) and held a 'reconciliation session'. Introduced in 2007 (during the Mubarak era) as a concession to ascendant Islamists, reconciliation sessions conform to Sharia (Islamic Law) which does not permit non-Muslims to testify against Muslims in court. Justice is irrelevant and persecutors are guaranteed impunity. Ministry of Interior spokesperson Hany Abdel Latif told Egyptian media that the clashes are not considered 'sectarian'. Consequently, anyone claiming they are sectarian could be accused of fomenting sectarianism.

Christian journalist Bishoy Armia Boulous (31, formerly known as Mohammed Hegazy) went to El-Badraman to talk to Christian victims. It has been suggested that Bishoy was freelancing in the hope that he could present a report to a satellite channel. Egyptian security forces arrested Bishoy in El-Badraman on 5 December. Accused of spreading sectarianism Bishoy was remanded in custody for 15 days of interrogation and investigation.  In 2007 Mohammed Hegazy became the first Muslim-born Egyptian to sue the Interior Ministry for his right to change his religion from Islam to Christianity. The court ruled in line with Sharia which criminalises the rejection of Islam. Death threats forced Hegazy to change his name and go into hiding; his wife and two children now live overseas. Egyptian authorities accuse Bishoy of spreading 'inaccurate images of oppression' against Copts in Egypt. It is feared he is being beaten and tortured.


As French troops started arriving in CAR on 2 December, ex-Seleka fighters began retreating to the bush. In the early hours of 5 December -- the day the UN Security Council would vote to give French and African Union forces their mandate -- 'Christian' militias launched attacks against ex-Seleka rebels and Muslim communities in the capital, Bangui. Ex-Seleka (Muslim) fighters retaliated, going house-to-house through Christian districts, killing anyone whom they assumed to be part of a 'Christian' militia. Before long, some 400 lay dead. Doubtless the 'Christian' fighters had hoped to change the military and political realities on the ground before French troops came and cemented the totally unacceptable status quo. While the Seleka coalition was officially disbanded some months ago, the Sudan-backed rebel leader Michel Djotodia has proclaimed himself president and incorporated his fighters into the CAR army. France has made it clear that French troops will be there to maintain order, not fight terrorism, which is why French and ex-Seleka (Muslim) forces (now legitimised as the CAR army) are both patrolling the streets of Bangui. However, tensions are growing between the French troops and ex-Seleka rebels over who should be in control. On 9 Dec, two French soldiers were shot and killed while attempting to disarm ex-Seleka fighters.

Regional peacekeepers guarded church services on Sunday 8 December. St Paul's Church set up loudspeakers along the Ubangui River and broadcast the service to the overflowing crowd as women sold papaya and dried fish to the hundreds of displaced people camping there. 'We are asking Christians to pursue peace and forgiveness, to not seek vengeance or commit reprisal attacks,' said Bangui Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga.

CAR's population is 76 percent Christian. (Compare: Australia 69 percent; France 61 percent; United Kingdom 59 percent.)  According to the 2010 edition of Operation World, solid foundations have been formed for national level mission, and 'national missionaries and agencies are on the increase' as interest and energy grows for indigenous-led mission to unreached groups. Now, however, local and foreign Islamic rebels, armed and backed by resource-hungry Sudan and Iran, have seized control. Behind the facade, this is primarily a spiritual battle!


* the Spirit of God will move powerfully amongst all those who call themselves 'Christian' in Egypt and in CAR; may their hearts be drawn to the Lord, so they will take refuge in him and have wisdom, insight, courage and faith from him, so they will know what the Lord requires and be empowered to do it.

'The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.' (Nahum 1:7,8 ESV)

* the Lord of hosts will 'flood' into Egypt and into CAR, to reverse fortunes, defend his faithful ones, gather his lost ones, and repel his enemies.

* in the midst of strife and insecurity, God will use the witness of the true Church in Egypt and CAR to bring awakening not only to extended 'Christian' communities, but beyond them; may the 'fire' of the troubles melt away all resistance to the gospel. 'He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.' (Psalm 126:6 ESV)


Christians in El-Minya governorate, Upper Egypt, have been subjected again to violent Islamic pogroms. It seems that Muslim Brotherhood supporters are looking for any excuse to attack the Christians in their midst. For the Christians there is no security while for Muslims there is endless impunity. It does not bode well! In Central African Republic (CAR), sectarian violence escalated ahead of the French military peacekeeping deployment as 'Christian' militias sought to change the realities of the situation by attacking Muslims before the French could stop them. Muslim rebels retaliated by attacking Christians. Before long 400 lay dead. In Egypt and in CAR, churches could well be very vulnerable over Christmas. Please pray that God will intervene in Egypt and in CAR, and protect and uphold his Church.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)