Ancient Faith Today:
AFR: Ancient Faith Radio presents a special edition of Ancient Faith Today with Kevin Allen: “A Christian in Egypt.” Kevin interviews a Coptic Christian in Cairo by telephone to get a first-hand report on what has been happening in this troubled country over the last several days and weeks. For his own safety, we use only his first name. Here’s Kevin:
Kevin Allen: Hello. This is Kevin Allen for Ancient Faith Radio. As most of you are aware by watching the media, there is significant civil unrest—some call it a civil war—taking place in Egypt after the military ouster of the first democratically elected president and Muslim Brother leader, Mohamed Morsi. We’re speaking today with an Ancient Faith Radio listener and Coptic Christian named Bishoy about the situation. Bishoy lives in Cairo, Egypt, and we’re speaking by telephone. Bishoy, first, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.
Bishoy: Thank you, Kevin. It’s my pleasure.
Mr. Allen: Bishoy, let me begin here: Egypt, as you know, of course, set off a domino effect of civil revolutions throughout the Middle East region that has been called, in the Western media, the “Arab Spring.” From your perspective as a Coptic Orthodox Christian, has this been a good thing for Egyptians overall, this so-called “Arab Spring”?
Bishoy: It’s been not very good, but we hope, and it may end with better end situation than we have now. Till now, things are not so good.
Mr. Allen:Yes, and we’ll be talking a bit about that, but you still feel that the reasons for the civil unrest that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak were appropriate?
Bishoy: Well, Egypt had enough of Mubarak, because of political reasons and economical reasons. He had been ruling Egypt for 30 years, and he had prepared his son to take over after him. So we knew we had no real democracy, and the economic situation was going bad, and people were getting more poor. They needed a change. They were dreaming for a better future for their children. So they stood against Mubarak, seeking a bright future.
Mr. Allen: You know, from what we read here in the West—and please correct me if the impression is wrong or if it’s been misreported—Coptic Christians generally supported the uprisings in Tahrir Square and what led to Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, and were on the streets along with other Egyptians demanding that he leave: is that correct?
Bishoy: Yes, that’s correct. Many Christians, Coptic Christians, joined the 25th January revolution. However, some Church leaders asked people not to join the demonstration and supported Mubarak, but really young people did not listen to them, because they felt it was their duty to help their brothers and sisters in their right stand for truth and seeking dignity and seeking a democracy and seeking a free country.
Mr. Allen: Now, other than the economic situation that you mentioned as one of the reasons for the uprisings in, as you put it, the January revolution, was life not good for Christians or the average Egyptian under the Mubarak regime?
Bishoy: Well, yes, but this was not the reason Christians went to the streets. Because somehow we get used to the discrimination against us. Yes, there was discrimination against Christians. If you want to attend a church in Egypt, you needed approval from the president himself, and then, even if you get the approval, you need another approval from the national security police, which is very hard to get. Even if you want to maintain a church, you can’t do it by yourself. You need to get a license and also approval from the national security police, which was very discouraging. Some people felt discrimination when they applied to jobs to govern, jobs, especially in universities. Some jobs which were related to army and clergy. But this was not the reason. Christians did not think as Christians. They thought as pure Egyptian.
Mr. Allen: I understand. Were Christians’, both Coptic and Greek Orthodox, religious rights protected under Mubarak, or were they not?
Mr. Allen: They were.
Bishoy: Yes, you can go to church and pray—if you have a church. But if you want to build another church, it’s very hard.
Mr. Allen: Yes.
Bishoy: Some problems, if you apply to a job—a governmental job—some problems.
Mr. Allen: Here’s a question that I’ve been concerned about myself, or been thinking about rather, and that is: Didn’t Christians, especially the young that, as you say, supported the uprisings for reasons that many other Egyptians shared, didn’t the Christians realize that the populace, under a democratic process, could have very well elected an Islamist president after Mubarak and wasn’t there some concern about that?
Bishoy: Well, our Church leaders could guess so, and that’s why I believe they advised the young people not to join their demonstrations. But the young people were anxious, and they bet on the people that they would not allow a religious fascist, instead of police fascist or anything, army fascist… Young people had dreams that Egypt would change for the better. They will be a democracy, and human dignity and citizenship—real citizenship, in which we all have same rights and same duty ;especially when young people went to the square and joined Muslim brothers and sisters, and they sat together and really it was nice then, sitting together and discussing things in love and understanding.
Mr. Allen: The state of affairs seems to have changed quite a bit, and I’d like to begin to discuss that. What about the state of affairs for Christians since Morsi’s ouster? We read and see here that Christian churches have been destroyed, Christians have been murdered by mobs, not protected by the police or military—what is the situation? Maybe some background.
Bishoy: Okay. Kevin, what’s going on now is because Muslims were telling the religious people here, that Christians are the enemies of Islam. They were out against Morsi because he is Muslims’ president—although all presidents of Egypt were Muslims, really. Mubarak was Muslim, Sadat was Muslim, Gamal Abdel Nasser. All the presidents of Egypt were Muslims. So they contested, then, that we hate Islam and we are panicked to use secular rules, or even Christian rules, that would force the rest to not be religious any more. Surprisingly, they believed them, and because of this hate speech churches have been burnt. I don’t blame police so much, because some police stations were burned, too, and some police officers were slaughtered yesterday. I think they want to do their best, but they have been attacked also: police, and army has been attacked, even when Morsi was there.
There were attacks [unintelligible] on the Egyptian army, and so many soldiers were killed there. So I believe the problems is the speech and the hate speech of the Muslim Brotherhood against Christians and against [the] Pope Tawadros who supported the Egyptian revolution this July. People were in the streets against Morsi because Morsi did not respect the constitution and the laws he promised to respect. He was against the courts (judges), the Church, and was against the army and was against Christians, against order and organization, against the media, and his regime started to push on the media, the free media, and protestors. He threatened, in [his] latest speech, to stop all of them. He said, “Enough, I will stop all the media against me.” He even cursed a judge and called him a thief, and he cursed him.
People also had a crisis. They couldn’t find enough fuel for the cars, and the electricity was cut off on a daily basis for hours, so life was so bad here. Muslims and Christians were on the streets seeking to oust him, because he did not keep any promise of his election promises. So after that, a Christian would be almost in daily surprise.
Mr. Allen: Has there been any research or polling or surveys that indicate how many Egyptians, regardless of their religion, are for Morsi, and how many, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds, are against reinstating Morsi?
Bishoy: So, okay, I hear that the people who were on the streets in the revolution of July were about 30 million. I don’t know how correct is this number, but I assure you, there were hundreds of thousands, maybe millions even, but I don’t know exactly in numbers. Morsi won the election with 52% against Shafik. And after the human crisis happened and people were so angry, even those who elected him. They were angry with him, so I believe not very [many] supported him now, but they have power. They are supported by some terrorists. They are supported by Hamas and by Al Qaeda, and you can see Al Qaeda led in all demonstrations of people who with Morsi.
Mr. Allen: Were you personally in favor of the military’s overthrow of the first democratically elected president, Morsi, and are you concerned about a permanent military regime in Egypt?
Bishoy: Okay, it’s a good question. First of all, the military did not act until they saw many and many people on the square, seeking him to leave. They gave him a period to think and to act and to take actions that will satisfy people, but he did not act. He told us only a few were out against him and only some Christians wanted to out him, but a lot of people were really upset. So it was action of people followed by action of military.
Am I concerned about military rule? No, they will not rule. They can’t rule. So I believe, and so if things went fine they will… They do not rule now, even now the president of the court, the supreme court in Egypt, is the one who rules. I’m not afraid that they will take over rule. It will not be a military regime.
Mr. Allen: So, Bishoy, what about personal safety? For example, do you and your family feel safe to walk the streets, go shopping, go to church, go to work? We hear about violence and riots in the streets and so on. Are you able to carry on with normal life?
Bishoy: It’s not without fear, but it’s not a complete disaster now. It’s still okay, and just I don’t go to places where the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations are, but other than that life goes on.
Mr. Allen: I have a question: for example, Christian women typically don’t wear the traditional Islamic hijab or headcovering in public, which immediately identifies you as a non-Muslim. Are Christians and Christian women hassled publicly as they go about their business?
Bishoy: Sometimes, not always, because ignorant people who are fanatic and hate Christians, some people, but not the majority. I think many Muslims are okay with Christians, and they are our neighbors and our friends. Only a few, some fanatic ignorants.
Mr. Allen: Is this more the case, that is, the prejudice and the persecution of Christians, in the smaller villages away from the major cities, or is it about the same everywhere?
Bishoy: No, no, it’s true. In small villages, the problem is bigger, because the education level is very low, and the ignorant people are those who are more fanatic and more hateful than those who had enough education. I want to add that in the villages, in the small villages, also the security is not better than in the cities. In the cities, there are enough security. That’s why it’s safe.
Mr. Allen: Bishoy, I have a couple last questions. Briefly, what are relations like between the majority Coptic Orthodox Christians and Church and the minority Greek Orthodox under the Patriarchate of Alexandria? Are there good relations between the leaders, between the hierarchs? Is there interrelations between the churches and faithful, etc.?
Bishoy: In the past, there were not much relationship, but today relations started to get better. In the ordination of Pope Tawadros II, the pope of Greek Orthodox, Pope Theodoros II, came to the ordination and offered Pope Tawadros a gift and he came and he was very friendly. I loved him, really. These days, many Copts are interested in Orthodox theology and in the unity of Orthodox family, because we really believe that we have one faith, and we share many things. I myself and my family went to Greek Orthodox church and met the priest, and we had wonderful discussion. It was very positive, and I will surely go again and again. I really feel that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and we all share the same faith.
Mr. Allen: Thank God, although we obviously have issues that need to be addressed, hierarchically and even some perhaps theologically, but, God willing, that will happen. Last question, Bishoy, as we come to a close: How do you see your prospects as a pious Christian and professional in Egypt? Are you optimistic or are you pessimistic about the future for life in general in Egypt and as a Christian man and father and husband in Egypt?
Bishoy: It’s very hard to guess what’s going on, what will happen. I don’t know. I don’t know if things will indeed get better or not. But we pray, and we will work and we will stand with Egypt. We will not leave Egypt. It’s our country, and we will defend it. We’ll defend our right to live there with dignity and with a complete citizenship. We will stand and we will pray, and we ask you all to pray with us, that our future will be better, that God will give us his peace for all Egypt, for Christians and for Muslims.
Then I need to ask you a favor, Kevin. I don’t know what American people get from media, but sometimes when I watch CNN, I see a very, very… They are with the Muslim Brotherhood. I see that America is with Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t understand why. We see that they support the terrorists who burn our churches and kill our fellow Christians. I don’t know why say you support it. I don’t know. So maybe America should reconsider supporting Muslim Brotherhood and all fanatic Muslims all over the world, also in Syria. I don’t know why they support [them].
Mr. Allen: I will just close by saying that there are many, many, many Americans, including this one, who are very upset and concerned about the current administration’s positions in places specifically like Egypt and Syria. Not all Americans support these overthrows and seem to be tilting towards Islamist regimes. We don’t understand that. So I would ask our listeners to continue to pray for God to intervene in these situations. Bishoy, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. We appreciate your candor. Please be safe, you and your family.
Bishoy: Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate your efforts, and I often listen to you and Ancient Faith. I am each part hello. Thank you, and thanks for our fellow Americans who pray for us and who [support us].
Mr. Allen: Thank you.
AFR: That was Kevin Allen with a special edition of Ancient Faith Today. We ask you to pray for the persecuted Christians in Egypt as well as Syria, and for a quick and peaceful resolution for the conflicts throughout the Middle East. This has been a special presentation of Ancient Faith Radio.