An Egyptian Christian and a Muslim Response to the Civil Uprising in Egypt

The following "open letters" were written in response to questions about the current situation in Egypt. They address questions about the popular demonstrations calling for President Muhammad Morsi to step down.

The first is from recently returned ELCA long term mission personnel, the Rev. Mark Nygard. The second letter is from Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki, the General Director of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services.  The third letter is from Ahmed Emad El Din Hamzaa, teacher at the American University in Cairo.

Dear Friends of Egypt,

            Egypt looms large in our news broadcasts these days as a unique kind of “popular coup” has overthrown an unpopular, elected government and cleared the stage for a new start.  I’m not an expert on these things, but I cannot think of another example of a political event of quite this shape, where a concerned military joined forces with a popular uprising to reset the national compass.  It is like Egypt is creating a new genre of political action.

            Our strong inclination in the West is to hold elected government sacred, even when it is doing poorly. Americans of all persuasions could give a number of examples from our recent past.  As a result, the American press and considerable swath of American opinion-on-the-street view this second Egyptian revolution with reserve and skepticism, to the consternation of many Egyptians.

            To help us understand the euphoria felt by many in Egypt, I thought I would venture to share two letters written by two friends from quite different cultures within Egypt (attached).  One is by Mr. Ahmed Emad El Din Hamza, a Muslim English teacher at AUC, American University in Cairo.  The other is Dr. Andrea Zaki Stephanous, the director of CEOSS, the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services.  The first was written on July 2nd before the removal of Morsi, and is used with Ahmed’s permission.  The second is written on July 4th after the military intervention, and has been shared publicly with CEOSS supporters and friends.  You will notice the difference in their cultures, yet detect a common perspective on what needs to happen in Egypt.

            We in the West are quick to condemn our colonialist and interventionist past, yet when something unusual occurs in a land not our own, we are still quick to pass judgment, for or against, as if we are the clear-sighted ones.  It occurs to me that this is a time for humility, to hold our tongues, and to watch and pray as Egyptians feel their way through the uncertain business of charting a future for Egypt.

            The people involved in this fray are all dear ones—ones for whom the Lord gave himself to death.  Let us cry for their safety and their well-being.

                                                            Sincerely yours,

                                                            Mark Nygard

Dear Partners and Friends,

Yesterday was like a sports crowd after a momentous, come-from-behind victory; the throng in Tahrir Square, Itehadeya Palace  and all over Egypt seemed unable to stop celebrating its success at having overthrown the Egyptian president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

We have all followed the news of Egypt passionately every second since June 30th, 2013. We have witnessed the unprecedented crowds coming out of different provinces in Egypt calling for the step-down of the first elected president after January Revolution. They protested peacefully demanding their rights that the Law and the Constitution have guaranteed them, despite the few incidents of violence that took place.

The military said earlier it would offer a "road map" for peace if Islamist President Morsi and his opponents failed to heed the will of the people and that the army does not aspire to rule and will not overstep its prescribed role. The military earlier statement’s purpose was to push all parties to find a quick solution to the current crisis.

The military “road map” met a national consensus that responds to the people's demands. Their ultimatum to feuding politicians to resolve the country's deadly crisis within 48 hours cannot be seen as a coup and their public position was that a change had been required in response to a democratic uprising by the masses.

CEOSS expresses its total support to this roadmap that was prepared by various political forces and representatives of the Church and Al Azhar as well as youth and women. We believe it is just a new start for January Revolution to achieve the hopes of its people for justice and dignity.

Let us all rejoice for these unprecedented events taking place in Egypt now and let us all pray that we stay united to contribute to building a new Egypt where all people regardless their affiliations live peacefully. Egypt’s history and fundamental contributions to the human civilization and its pivotal role at all levels can provide us with a strong foundation for building a prosperous future of progress and stability, and restore our regional and international position.

Long Live Egypt

Rev. Andrea Zaki Stephanous

General Director, CEOSS

Dear distinguished members of this congregation, my friends,

I write to you all today from the heart of Cairo, Egypt, where turbulence, instability, and foreboding reign. I also write to you today as one of millions of Egyptians taking part in the daily demonstrations aiming at ousting Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from the presidential office. The words that I speak right now to you I speak through the mouth of a dear friend whom I respect, revere, and love: Professor Mark Nygard.

I met professor Nygard almost a year ago in Egypt. And despite our rather fleeting acquaintance, he struck me as a true man of God, and a most worthy representative of both his faith and his church.  He is also an immaculate American.

My dear friends, I talk to you today in order to make one thing clear: what is happening in Egypt is essentially a conflict over our identity as a people and a nation. The millions that you see every day on TV in large demonstrations and mass protests are not challenging a legitimate president who came as a result of “fair” elections; the contrary, in fact, is true. For despite having had elections that were termed “fair” by many, Egyptians never felt at any point that they were choosing a candidate who truly represented them. In fact, they were forced – and even coerced into – a political process the rules of which they had neither the ability nor the opportunity to decide. A lot of those protesting against Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood today did in fact elect him a year ago, hoping that he would fulfill the promises he made to them and hoping for real change, not because they liked Morsi or supported the agenda of the Muslim brotherhood.

As events unfolded throughout the past year something became clear in the eyes of the majority of Egyptians: the Muslim brotherhood turned out to be the incarnation of a malignant tumor that has been gnawing at the heart of Islam for centuries. This tumor can be traced back to the Kharijites: a group of militant renegades who appeared in the late 7th century BC and ended up rejecting both Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb (prophet Muhammad’s cousin and the lawful khalif of the Muslims at that point) and his most ferocious opponent Muawiyah, and dismissing them as unbelievers (infidels) worthy of death.

It is this militant, exclusivist, fanatic, and literalist Islam that we, my friends, are fighting on the streets of Cairo. Those who elected Morsi and the Brotherhood had naively thought that those obsolete ideas had been purged from their agenda, and that they (the Muslim brotherhood and Morsi) were to present a much more enlightened Islam that sees itself as part and parcel of the modern world, and that proves its allegiance to a civil state in which every citizen has equal rights.

But alas, that simply did not happen. And Egyptians feeling that they were too gullible to swallow the bait took to the streets in millions insisting – much more than they did when they ousted Mubarak – on having Morsi and the Brotherhood (for they are but one single entity) step down. 

Ours is a nascent democracy. As such we cannot, like Morsi and the Brotherhood claim, keep our mouth shut and not move a limb simply because we “elected” a president who turned out later had been nothing but an incarnation of the worst of ideologies ever devised by a human mind: fundamentalist and literalist Sunni Islam.

I have spoken a bit too much, and I do apologize. But through my friend professor Nygard I want you all to know that I appeal to you not as a fellow Christian but as a fellow monotheist. For despite the extant theological differences between Christianity and Islam there remains a bond that ties them; namely, the core belief in the one God of Abraham who created the world and mankind in 6 days. And as such I see that the real battle is not among us (descendants of Abraham).

As a matter of fact, I am one of many Muslims committed to realizing a tolerant, open, pluralistic, and enlightened Islam that excludes militancy and literalism from its agenda. Therefore, let my message be a message of communion and bonding between us. Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship but the same God. And despite their differences – which I believe are not insurmountable – they have the duty to forge an alliance that will help perpetuate peace across the globe, as well as combat the most recent waves of extreme secularism and indefatigable attempts – on the part of so many parties – to exclude faith and the belief in the God of Abraham the Creator of the universe from the daily lives of millions of people.

It is my firm conviction that humanity needs monotheistic religions now more than ever. That the belief in the One God of the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an is no longer a luxury that humanity can afford to ignore or relegate.

Finally, please remember us in your prayers and pray for our victory. I do not see Christendom benefiting more than from an enlightened and inclusive Islam that will prove no doubt to be Christianity’s most faithful ally in the real battle against consumerism, sheer materialism, and the degeneracy of a world infested with moral relativity.

Thank you all indeed. The Lord God blesses you all.

Faithfully Yours,

Ahmed Emad El Din Hamza.

Cairo, Egypt   7/3/2013