On 15 October Baroness Berridge, convenor of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Religious Freedom, hosted a reception at the House of Lords to relaunch the AAG (Asylum Advocacy Group). It was founded in 2007 under the chairmanship of His Grace Bishop Angaelos, to bring together a wide range of people working in the field of support for those seeking asylum on the grounds of religious persecution. Initially its remit was to support Egyptian Christians, but events in the Middle East and North Africa over the past few years, led to a desire to widen its remit to support those of other faiths and in other countries, where people suffer for their religious convictions. At the relaunch there were also representatives of Baha’i and Shia Muslim Groups and those who spoke expressed the desire to see a wide range of faiths represented as witnesses of their commitment to human rights and justice. Abba Seraphim, who is a founder member, attended along with representatives of some sixteen diverse bodies. He spoke of his active support over many years for those persecuted for converting to Christianity, as well as Christians suffering injustice under regimes in Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea.
Abba Seraphim has signed an E-petition recently placed on H.M. Goverment website, which is especially aimed at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The petition, which was drafted by Nicholas Crampton, founder of Eastern Christian Links, states:
“Noting with dismay the attacks on Coptic Churches in Egypt, and in Syria the kidnapping of the Syrian and Greek Orthodox Archbishops in Aleppo while working on humanitarian relief and of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio in Raqqa while working for Islamic/Christian dialogue and understanding,
We call on the UK Government
(i) To commit publicly to the promotion of toleration of and protection for religious minorities in the Middle East as an important part of UK foreign policy,
(ii) To demand of, and make a condition of diplomatic or any material assistance for, (a) the authorities in and any new Government of Egypt and (b) the members of the Syrian National Coalition, especially the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, that they publicly promise, enact and energetically enforce the protection of the practice of peaceful religious activities by all their citizens whether Muslim or non-Muslim.”
Abba Seraphim noted that H.H. Pope Tawadros II had recently called upon the Committee responsible for drafting the new Egyptian Constitution to extend its toleration to all non-Muslim religions and not merely to the “three heavenly religions” (Christianity, Islam & Judaism) and believed that religious toleration cannot be limited but should be open to all faiths. He commended the petition to all who respect freedom, justice and toleration: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54532
Events in Egypt over the past few days have both shocked and saddened, and as reports of continuing incidents and civil disturbance increase we pray fervently that peace and security may return to that land.
Revolutions are destabilising events and come in many shapes and sizes. The Egyptian revolution of 1952 was a military coup by the Free Officer Movement, which established the military regime which was to hold power for the next 59 years. It lacked democratic legitimacy and was both corrupt and venal. The 2011 Revolution, however, was a popular uprising more in keeping with the spirit of the 1919 Egyptian revolution in its embracing all sections of Egyptian society in a patriotic movement to restore freedom and justice. It is worth noting that initially the Muslim Brotherhood declined to support this uprising, but once it saw the rapid success of this momentum for change, it offered its support.
Much has been made of the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, but it is important to recognise that democracy is more than periodic recourse to the ballot box. Having achieved a narrow victory over his main rival on a turnout of just over half of the electorate, the new president might have endeavoured to use his position as a means of unifying and reconciling a fractured society. In his inauguration oath he swore to “respect the constitution and law, to take care of the people’s interests, a complete care.” Later, in an emotional speech in Tahrir Square he announced, “I came to you as I believe that you are the source of authority and legitimacy which is above all. There is no place for someone, an institution or for an authority to be above this. The people are the source of all authority, judge and decide, convene and insulate … There is no authority that is above this.”
Although he resigned as Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party as he had promised during his election campaign, which gave him the opportunity to serve as president of all Egyptians, his concerns and sympathies proved to be narrow and sectarian. Sadly, it soon became clear that the electorate had actually installed the Muslim Brotherhood in office and that the real power lay with its Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, whilst Mohamed Morsi was merely the holder of the presidential portfolio.
During the first year of his presidency the democratic aspirations of the revolution were steadily undermined, culminating in his assumption of unlimited legislative powers without judicial oversight or review of his acts. After the Supreme Constitutional Court’s dismissal of the People’s Assembly for electoral irregularities, only the consultative Shura Council remained of a bi-cameral legislature, yet new legislation was still enacted, including the propagation of a new Egyptian Constitution. Having repeatedly clashed with the judiciary, attempts were made to intimidate the judges and to remove many of them through enforced retirement.
It was as a result of the steadily-growing domination of the Muslim Brotherhood in all areas of the state and society and the encouragement of their narrow vision and divisive social policies, that the popular uprising against Morsi ensued. It expressed the fears of the great majority of Egyptians that their aspirations for a free and just society, inclusive of all, was in danger of being lost for ever. It should be recalled that the National Socialist German Workers’ (Nazi) Party rose to power through democratic election, after which they consolidated their grasp on the state and cynically discarded the democratic process.
The role of the church
Since the Egyptian revolution of 2011 the religious leaders in Egypt, both Christian and Muslim, have consistently called for justice and reconciliation and both the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar (Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb) and the Coptic Orthodox Church (under the late Pope Shenouda III; Metropolitan Bakhomios as locum tenens and Pope Tawadros II) have worked together to encourage national unity. Following the removal of President Morsi, Pope Tawadros appeared alongside the Sheikh of El-Azhar at the inauguration of the new interim president. Having eschewed political involvement since the beginning of his papacy, he made it clear that he was there to support “honourable people whose sole aim is the interest of Egypt and Egyptians, excluding no one, marginalising no one and excepting no one.”
Western governments have been quick to condemn the violence and loss of life and have called for dialogue. William Hague condemned “the use of force in clearing protests” and called on the security forces “to act with restraint.” As supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are also armed and have been responsible for murdering soldiers in Sinai and armed attacks on police stations, restraint is required from all sides. Invitations to dialogue by Al-Azhar have been completely rebuffed by the Brotherhood, as have invitations by the interim President to reconciliation meetings.
Western media bias
It is disconcerting to note the clear bias of much of the Western media in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. The use of emotive words, such as ‘coup’, ‘massacre’ and ‘legitimacy’, with the failure to report widespread violent attacks on churches, police stations, government offices and neutral cultural institutions, such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, lacks the impartiality one might expect from independence sources, such as CNN and the BBC; as does identifying all snipers as belonging to the army, when live news broadcasts clearly showed armed rebels firing guns. Despite its denial of bias, the Qatar-backed channel Al Jazeera depicts the Muslim Brotherhood in a sympathetic light and, according to one of the 22 staff who recently resigned in protest, “the management in Doha provokes sedition among the Egyptian people and has an agenda against Egypt and other Arab countries.” The Irish media, the Irish Times and the Sun in particular, recently relayed reports from the children of Hussein Halawa, the Imam at Dublin’s largest and most controversial mosque in Clonskeagh, who just happened to be inside the Al-Fateh mosque when it was cleared by the security forces. Headlines such as “Irish family held in Egypt jail hell. Holiday nightmare as relatives fear they’re tortured” hardly suggest impartiality.
Attacks on Christians go largely unreported
During President Morsi’s term of office, attacks on Christians became more frequent. Since his removal they have increased alarmingly with over fifty churches attacked, damaged or destroyed in the three days following the Brotherhood’s call for a “Day of Rage.” Vicious denunciations of Christians – now opprobriously labelled “crusaders” – and unrestrained assaults on their property and churches show the true nature of those who support the Muslim Brotherhood. There have been instances of soldiers and Christians lynched by the mob, who then proceeded to desecrate their corpses in the most disgusting manner, in much the same way as Private Lee Rigby was treated by his murderers on the streets of Woolwich. In many instances local Muslim communities have joined Christians in protecting their places of worship, clearly demonstrating that this is not a battle between Christians and Muslims but is a struggle against terrorism and fanaticism. In a recent interview with His Grace Bishop Angaelos on Al-Jazeera, after it was noted that “some Christians have blamed Brotherhood supporter for the attacks”, he was asked if he had any evidence about “who is attacking your churches”. His observations that these attacks, which appeared to be orchestrated and synchronised, and coming on the tail of “certain events”, with the rhetoric, incitement and reported attacks on individual Christians, suggested “some sort of connection”, showed more balance and perception than his interviewer.
In an official statement, the Coptic Church said that whilst it holds in deep appreciation the honourable, friendly States who understood “the nature of the events in Egypt”; it strongly denounced the falsities and errors propagated in the western media. “We invite the media to objectively read the realities on the ground, and to refrain from offering an international or political shield to the bloodthirsty, terrorist groups and all who belong to them. These groups are attempting to spread ruin in our land. We call upon the local and international media to offer the real image of what happens in Egypt faithfully and truthfully.”
The statement went on to say that it strongly stood by the Egyptian police, armed forces, and all the institutions of the Egyptian people in the face of the armed violence and black terrorism from inside and outside Egypt. It denounced the “assaults against the State and the peaceful churches, and the terrorisation of Egyptians—Muslims and Copts—that goes against all religious, ethical and human values. We absolutely reject any attempts to drag Egypt into sectarian strife.”
“If the hands of evil come to Egypt to kill, burn, and ruin; the hand of the Lord is there to guard, strengthen, and rebuild. We put our faith in Divine support, and are confident that it will help Egypt along this critical period, and take her to a better tomorrow and to the bright future of peace, justice, and democracy which this noble Nile people deserve.”
Greetings to all.
These days in the history of Egypt are indeed difficult. The events taking place are by all measures are very sad, combining terrorism, crime, bloodshed and aggression.
Certain people are speaking in the name of religion saying things that are not acceptable mentally, logically or practically. I feel inside that this has injured the national unity that we have always declared. After this crisis ends, society should truly search for the reasons as to how these circumstances came about in the first place and how people with such an extremist mentality came into existence.
I know that Egypt is known for its moderatism in all things. Our lives as Egyptians, whether Muslim or Coptic, at the level of the individual or family, are known for their moderatism in all things. How did such extremism come into existence?
As for attacks on our churches, what did the church do to get involved in a struggle such as this? What did the church do that it was attacked with such aggression? What? If an attack on a home or public institution is a crime, what about an attack on a house of God? How should that be judged? How can we accept this? How can our brothers, the other citizens in this nation accept this? How?
In truth, there is a saying that came to my mind today from an Indian poet that says love is like incense. Its beautiful smell will not emerge unless it is thrown into the fire. In-spite of all that we are seeing and experiencing in these unacceptable events, that even if the hand of evil is torching, killing and destroying, I have full faith that the hand of God is stronger and mightier, and it is the hand that rebuilds.
I want to tell you that we are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ in our Christianity to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us and to do good to those who hate us. This is what we have. So despite this crisis, these mindless acts, this excessive destruction, in all faith, I would like to direct my words to all Egyptians, those Copts that have suffered a lot from what is happening and our moderate brothers in this nation that do not accept such acts, that firstly I offer my condolences to all those who lost their lives in the past two days. My heart is with all those who are injured.
I truly feel inside that all the events that are taking place in the land of our country, Egypt, are not Egyptian in character. Yet our country is guarded by the hand of God. I am not just saying this as a matter of debate or discourse, but that is what history is witnessing. Yet our country is guarded by the hand of God. Truly our country, Egypt, is guarded by the hand of God.
I know very well that God is Almighty. What is happening in Egypt, God is allowing to happen. It is not a product of human thought or action. God allows it. However, all evil has an end and these crimes have an end.
Our history in Egypt is full of examples of such bitter tragedies. Yet, Christians have accepted them and moved on and prayed for those that perpetrated them that God may give them wisdom and better judgement.
I am following all that is happening in the land of Egypt, whether the destruction of churches, stores, schools or nunneries. These are not humane actions. There is nothing humane about these actions. These people have lost their humanity.
I want to take the chance to tell the police department, the armed forces, the media and our moderate brothers in the nation that you have withstood a lot in recent days, and now it is very important that you maintain your role of strength during this crisis in our nation.
I want to tell everyone that the eye of God is on the land of Egypt and all that happens in it. And those that have committed such acts that are not acceptable mentally, logically or morally, these shall be punished by God. God’s punishment is severe. I tell all people that you will live at maximum a hundred or so years and may God prolong your life. But you will stand before God’s judgement one day. In front of God you shall be judged according to the deeds your hands have committed. God’s judgement is swift, not just towards you as an individual, but to all those who followed in your deeds, be it a family or a generation of followers, God the Almighty will have his vengeance. Vengeance will not come via the hands of a human being. It is a Divine vengeance. Who can stand before the Lord?
Abba Seraphim will be in Cairo from 14-20 June attending the annual plenary session of the Holy Synod. In previous years this was always held on the Eve of Pentecost, but His Holiness Pope Tawadros has moved it forward to enable bishops to celebrate the Pentecost Feast in their own churches. The Synodal sub-committees will be held 24-26 June and the plenary session will meet on 27 June.