Just what is going on in Egypt?
The recent civilian uprising in Egypt, which has resulted in the end of the Mubarak regime, has yet to define the exact nature of the next ruling authority. But the military council, to which Mubarak surrendered presidential powers before his resignation, is composed of military leaders that he himself appointed over the different branches of Egypt’s defence forces.
These men, for many years under his direct command, enjoyed power extending far beyond their military units. Their loyalty to him was rewarded and strengthened with control of huge bites of the national economy.
The Egyptian military effectively runs large business empires within the nation’s industry, agriculture, tourism and banking. Moreover, key regional and national government posts, as well as positions in the state-run media, are headed by retired and semi-retired army officers.
For this reason, the loyalty of the military to Hosni Mubarak and his family and his small clique of friends will take a long time to fade away, since he ruled the country for so many years (October 1981 – February 2011).
During the last week of January 2011, growing waves of demonstrators took to the streets of Cairo. The demonstrations were initiated by groups of educated young men and women, who coordinated their efforts through such Internet social web sites as Facebook and Twitter.
The movement included many from among the Egyptian Christian community. It initially called for an immediate change and democratic political reform.
President Mubarak apparently expected these peaceful demonstrations to gain little support among the people. Yet, the demonstrators’ unprecedented courage and ability to organise gained the admiration of other young people and their numbers began to swell.
In the meantime, dormant and weak opposition parties were emboldened to make public statements in support of the movement, encouraging their members and sympathisers to participate in the demonstrations.
On the other hand, the leadership of the most organised, anti-government movement — the Muslim Brotherhood — expecting a successful government clampdown, at first distanced itself and instructed its members to keep away from this civil uprising.
The swelling numbers on the streets ended up occupying several of Cairo’s major squares, including the famous Tahrir (Liberation) Square at the heart of the city. Mubarak instructed the police to avoid using force.
Numbers continued to swell each day and the Government tried to appease the demonstrators with token promises of reform. All along, the police were under strict instructions to do no more than protect public buildings.
Sadly, some of the demonstrations were hijacked by opposition politicians and undercover members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some began to attack police installations and key government buildings in downtown Cairo.
Things got out of hand. A significant number of policemen were injured, some seriously, and a few died of their injuries. The outnumbered police began to use force, and at times firearms, to defend themselves and their positions. It remains uncertain whether or not Mubarak himself gave the orders for the police to use live ammunition.
Several hundred civilians were injured and some killed. This led to more angry protests and calls for the Government’s resignation. Very soon the president ordered the army to take to the streets to bring back law and order, but instructed them not to use live ammunition.
The Minister of Interior and senior police officers objected to the involvement of the army and ordered their men to go home. While the army did indeed protect public buildings and vital installations, the disappearance of the police emboldened criminals and unruly elements of society to take advantage of the situation.
A dusk to dawn curfew was declared, but there was none to enforce it. The result was a wave of lootings of homes, shops and offices, and also rapes and kidnappings. This led the population to organise neighborhood committees of young men to protect their homes, cars and family members. In the meantime, prisons were attacked and several thousand criminals released.
Within three weeks of the start of the demonstrations and after several attempts to cool things down, Mubarak gave in to the resounding calls for his resignation.
The ruling military began to court opposition parties, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood. This resulted in the setting up of a committee to examine possible amendments to Egypt’s constitution.
There are three major concerns for Christians about the present political situation. First, the constitution’s second article enshrines Islamic law as the foundation of Egyptian law. Unless this is revised to allow Christians more freedom, it will continue to expose them to pro-Islamic pressures.
Second, the well-organised and now emboldened Muslim Brotherhood, though in reality representing less than 20 per cent of the population, has a long-term agenda to turn Egypt into a fully-fledged, fundamentalist Islamic state.
It remains possible that, if the Muslim Brotherhood is unsuccessful within the democratic process, then it will infiltrate the restructured police forces and military and seek to achieve its goals by force.
This would almost certainly lead to a bloody civil war between Islamic fundamentalists and the strongly pro-modern Muslim majority. In such a case, the Egyptian Christian community would probably be drawn into the conflict.
Third, a significant number of Coptic Christians seem to think that it is time to assert their political rights. They have become proactive in demanding constitutional changes; many have taken to the streets.
This seems to play into the hands of Muslim radicals, since such activism is equated with religious radicalism. It could also weaken any sympathy among the moderate Muslim majority for the disadvantaged Christian minority.
What is to be hoped and earnestly prayed for is that the strongly democratic spirit of young Egyptians will keep them pushing for a general freedom of beliefs and religion in Egypt, and that the USA and other western powers will persuade the ruling military council to enact new laws to that end.
During the past two years, text messaging responses to MERF’s Arabic broadcasts coming from young Egyptian Muslims has continued to increase, not only in number but in also in quality.
There are now, on average, 850 visiting our broadcast-linked, Arabic ministry web site (dardasha7.com) every month to download books and ask serious questions about the person of Christ.
In Cairo itself, we have three congregations actively involved in the one-to-one follow-up of responding listeners. Several other churches and many individuals are doing the same thing in other parts of the country. Some have already professed faith in Christ and been baptised in closed-door services.
Coptic Orthodox Church sources claim that at least 300,000 Egyptian Muslims have converted to Christianity during the past four years. Whether or not such conversion figures are exaggerated, they are clear indications of significant defections from Islam.
This has been happening, not only in Egypt, but throughout most Muslim nations. Many who leave Islam become agnostics, atheists or humanists. But some, at least, are serious about the gospel alternative. If and when freedom of religious choice is secured, the numbers of openly confessing Christian converts in Egypt might surprise us all.