From Ashes to Beauty

17b30f59-54e4-45b6-9286-85981f97c35f[1] 96a40fb9-12b1-431f-8048-34521c8b9ebe[1] e126fb03-f181-4cde-94bf-1104f5e3a79e[1]July 9, 2014 was a remarkable evening in the Christian history of Egypt. Assuit, the largest city south of Cairo, was once a bastion of Christianity. While the percentage of Christians has radically decreased, a very strong Christian presence in the city yet remains. The occasion was the re-opening of the Bible Society Bookshop in downtown Assuit which had been viciously destroyed by Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers on August 14, 2013 in response to the dispersion of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo.

The celebration of the re-opening of the Bookshop was a significant event for Christians in Assuit who felt humiliated and threatened by the destruction of dozens of churches, Christian institutions and many privately owned Christian properties. The re-opening of the Bookshop in a main street in downtown Assuit is a symbol of the continuation of Christian presence in Egypt. What was remarkable about this particular event was the presence of Christian leaders from all denominations in Assuit. Bishops, priests, pastors, Christian leaders, businessmen and others attended the joyful celebration and many spoke about the significant impact of the Bible Society bookshop on the life of the Church in Assuit. No other event could have united the Christians in Assuit in such a way.

It made me realize once again that the Bible is the most uniting common factor among Christians in Egypt. The presence of this Bookshop in such a strategic location is certainly an indication that Christianity continues strong in the city. This has been a real encouragement to the Christians, as this re-opening boldly states that “We are here to stay!” A week earlier we had a soft opening of the bookshop and the staff shared story after story about passers-by who were delighted to find the bookshop open and spontaneously bought bouquets of flowers and presented them to the staff. The staff could not close the bookshop before midnight, and sometimes stayed up till 2 am just to welcome the well-wishers who came excitedly to congratulate them.

On the opening night I also met the young girl who had filmed the attack on the Bookshop from her eighth floor balcony in the building opposite the Bible Society.

The young girl said how terrified she was when she saw the people coming to try to break through the heavy metal door protecting the Bookshop. She said that she did not believe God would allow them to do this and was expecting divine intervention at any moment. After they broke the door and then destroyed the glass she still expected someone to come to stop the raging crowds. When no one came and the destruction continued, her sister standing beside her fainted and her mother kept screaming for help. The presence of three women in the balcony of this house was evident and they received threatening looks and signs from those destroying the shop. I told her that her courageous act of filming helped thousands world-wide to see and experience what really happened on that fateful day.

A Muslim neighbor rejoiced with us at the re-opening and said it felt like he was congratulating a newlywed son on his new home!

Despite the horrible upheaval of 2013, we thank God for the testimony of His faithfulness. The love and support that was showered upon us, both from within Egypt and abroad has been an amazing experience! We have been enabled to provide all of our regular programs and quickly rebuild the destroyed Bookshops, reflecting our commitment and determination to serve the Egyptian Church. Not only are the Scriptures made easily accessible in the Egyptian marketplace, but this network of 15 Bible Bookshops is unique in providing a common meeting point for the Christians of Egypt.

How can I thank God for the privilege of being involved in making God’s Word available in Egypt.

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Bible Society Bookshops burned and destroyed

Dear friends,
I have just received the sad news of the complete burning and destruction (by Muslim fundamentalists) of our Bible Society’s bookshops in Assiut & Minia (the largest cities in Southern Egypt). These were both very beautiful, fully equipped bookshops. Fortunately we were closed today, fearing such an attack, so none of our staff were injured. The attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire. They did the same to many stores on those streets as well as demolishing many parked cars.
Similar incidents are taking place across the nation and to date 15 churches and 3 Christian schools have been attacked and some set on fire.
Dispersal of Sit-ins
Most of you know by now that the Egyptian police, supported by the army, have dispersed the demonstrators from one of the big sit-ins of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) protesters and are working now to evacuate the other, larger one.
To understand why most residents of Cairo feel that these sit-ins should not continue, you should imagine how long residents of New York – or your own city – would tolerate the following scenario:-
Imagine more than 10,000 protestors camped for six weeks in Times Square in New York. No traffic can go through the square and, as a result, all other traffic in the area becomes congested, especially at rush hour. People and businesses in the surrounding buildings have their lives completely disrupted – they can hardly get access to their shops or homes and cannot stand the stench of 10,000 people in the middle of summer using the street and sidewalks as housing. In addition these strangers have set up their own shops and facilities in the middle of the streets. So it is a very scary scene. Add to this the non-stop onslaught of speeches blaring from loudspeakers all day long, and those living in Times Square will neither rest nor sleep as long as the sit-in continues!
In retaliation for the government dispersing the sit-ins, this morning Muslim Brotherhood leaders called for nation-wide protests. In response to these calls, Muslim fundamentalists all over Egypt have gone on a rampage of violence; some of it aimed at Christian targets, but also targeting government institutions, police stations and private property especially parked cars.
One of the reasons why the government has been so reticent in dispersing the sit-ins was precisely because of the MB’s many threats of retaliation. So most Egyptians expected the violence. Nevertheless, it is heartbreaking to watch on TV this bloodshed between fellow-Egyptians unfolding before our eyes.
Trusting God for the future
It is important to underline that — while some Christian properties have been the victim of this violence — they are by no means the only ones targeted. This is an attack against the State by a violent minority in an attempt to destabilize the Nation.
Please pray….
• That the government may manage to disperse the remaining sit-in with as few injuries and loss of life as possible.
• That these sad incidents would not increase the alienation of the MBs but that they would somehow be re-integrated into Egyptian society.
• For protection for all Christian properties across the Nation.
• For Christians to have a spirit of forgiveness and love towards those who are perceived as being our enemies.
The Bible Society of Egypt has been in operation for 129 years and this is the first time we have been the victims of such attacks. We thank God for His protection, praise Him that none of our staff were injured, and are determined – as soon as things settle down – to rapidly restore these two bookshops to continue providing God’s Word in those two strategic cities.
Sincerely in Christ,

Ramez
PS: please feel free to circulate as you see fit
Burned bibles

Burned bookshop 1

burned bookshop

Light at the end of the tunnel

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them…” (Exodus 3:7)

Dear friends,

When I wrote last Wednesday July 3rd about the remarkably peaceful mass demonstrations against President Morsi, I could not have imagined that by that night he would be deposed and the next morning we would already have a new interim President!

On Thursday the majority of Egyptians partied on the streets all night celebrating the downfall of the man and his Muslim Brotherhood (MB) party.

Why did Egyptians vote for Morsi then demonstrate for his removal?

Last year Egyptians had to choose between a former Mubarak-regime army general and a Muslim Brotherhood leader for president.  Many abstained from voting and among those who voted for Morsi were liberal Muslims and a small percentage of Christians who were really voting against a Mubarak candidate.

Within a year since being narrowly elected, Morsi had violated every one of his campaign promises.

Shortly after his election he began acting much more like a totalitarian dictator than as an elected official, and soon gave himself full executive, legislative and judicial powers.  Instead of choosing the best and most capable people to lead the country with him, he replaced nearly all government Ministers and most of the 27 regional Governors by people from his party.  Most of these were incompetent for the positions to which they had been elevated.  In turn these leaders did the same with the people under them.

As a result, the performance of Morsi and his government was extremely poor in almost all areas – economically, financially, politically and from a security point of view.   Moreover, he was leading Egypt rapidly towards the dark tunnel of political Islam, the ideology which he and the MB espoused.  In doing so he and his party succeeded in rapidly alienating themselves from most Egyptians who realized he was really not interested in their welfare.

The greatest blow to Political Islam in recent history

Egyptians are deeply hurt by what they perceive as a complete lack of appreciation by many Western and other allies for the enormous liberation they have achieved.  The BCC claimed that the peaceful demonstration against Morsi by more than 30 million Egyptians was probably the largest demonstration in the history of humanity!

Since it was founded in 1928, the MB has been striving to establish an Islamic state in Egypt which would eventually encompass the Arab world.  Gaining power in Egypt was their first political breakthrough.

The complete failure of the first Muslim Brotherhood “political Islam”experiment is a terrible shock for them and “miraculous” (this word is often used in the media) for many Egyptians who were convinced the MB were here to stay!

The worldwide consequences of most Egyptians’ rejection of political Islam as a viable option are a serious set-back to the MB theocratic political dream. Islam is no longer “the political solution” as the Islamicists claimed.  It has been tried in Egypt and has failed to win the approval of the 21st century Muslim masses. This will have dramatic implications for many of the countries the MB influence in the region (Syria, Jordan, Gaza, Libya, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Tunisia among others) and worldwide.

What next?

Most Egyptians believe the only way to have liberated themselves from the iron grip of the MB was with the army’s help.  But they are also looking forward to returning to a civil State as soon as possible.  So the sooner we can have new Parliamentary and Presidential elections the better.

To do so, there needs to be a political reconciliation with the MB followers, who have been protesting on the streets since the removal of their leader and are continuing to incite their followers to violence.  Their anger at being ousted is understandable.  But the violent and destructive way in which they are protesting is creating havoc in the country.  Unlike the peaceful millions who were on the street to remove Morsi, the hundreds of thousands of MB protestors are terrorizing the areas in which they congregate.  This aggressive protest, and retaliation to it, has very sadly resulted in more than 130 deaths to date and more than 4000 wounded!

Please pray for a breakthrough in this complex, dangerous and very sad deadlock.

Egypt is and continues to be a Muslim Nation

It is very important to emphasize, in no uncertain terms, that Egypt’s voteagainst “political” Islam was actually a vote for “moderate” Islam.  The tens of millions of Muslims who protested on the streets last week will be celebrating Ramadan (which begins this week) with great fervor and deep religious commitment.  What they protested against was the MB narrow understanding  of Islam being forcefully imposed upon all Egyptians.

During and following the January 2011 revolution, Christians in Egypt regained close relationships with their Muslim friends and neighbors and felt very much at peace living among a Muslim majority.  During Morsi’s presidency Christians feared that Egyptian Muslims as a whole were espousing a version of Islam which would not have been hospitable to Christians.  We sighed a deep sigh of relief this week, realizing that the vast majority of Egyptian Muslims were moderates who wanted to share Egypt equally with us.

Back to Nation Building

Having been side-tracked by the MB takeover, we all now want to rebuild our Nation on the basis of true justice, freedom and equal opportunity for all.  Please pray alongside us that this dream will be achieved without discrimination or recrimination.

Pray for us at the Bible Society as we again seek to promote these crucial values which come from God’s Word.Image

PURPLE FINGER COMPATRIOTS

Last Saturday 8.5 million Egyptians were required to dip their finger into permanent purple ink!

The reason was to prove they had voted in a referendum on a draft constitution and could not vote again at another polling station!

The incredibly long lines – from dawn till after 11 pm – were proof of deep concern over the implications this constitution has for the nation. Some stood in line for more than three hours!

I went early in the morning to check the lines and reported to Rebecca that we should wait until they were shorter. But to our surprise when we went to vote hours later, it was just as crowded, if not more so! Then we remembered! “Senior citizens” were allowed to go to the head of the line! Thus we were finished in only a few minutes! We met many friends and neighbors who stood patiently in the long lines determined to make their voice heard (before the 2011 “Revolution” Egyptians never went to the polls, believing it made no difference!).

Initial results for this first phase (the rest of the country votes next Saturday) are that 57% voted yes. While this is a disappointment to moderate Muslims, Christians and many women who feel the Constitution does not sufficiently protect their rights and freedoms, it was a remarkable show of solidarity against it. In many ways it was also a vote against the present administration and indicates that a significant proportion of those who voted do not approve of our government.

Fortunately, there was no significant violence at polling stations. This is remarkable considering the strong emotions among the “Yes” and “No” camps.

Is this the beginning of our worst nightmare? Is Egypt becoming another Iran? Some doomsday prophets say so. But others, including us, believe that the new spirit of freedom of expression in the media and on the street will not be totally snuffed out, even by the most repressive regime. The human spirit, once allowed to express itself, resents any form of oppression. Yes, there may be hard times ahead, but the millions of Egyptians – from all social classes and of all ages -who did and will vote “No” will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

When I was a child, living in this same neighborhood, most of my close friends and playmates were Muslims. Over the years a deep rift developed between Muslims and Christians so that few today have close friends from the other religion.

But with the ascendance of a right-wing Islamist government, moderate Muslims and Christians have worked closely together to oppose what they believe are incursions on their basic rights. During the past year friendships have been built again between Muslims and Christians who have found that they are much closer to one another than they had known. As Rebecca and I chatted with friends and neighbors who were waiting in line to vote, most of whom were Muslims, we realized what a strong bond we have with them.

In spite of the deep differences in opinion between voters, the very fact that they took the trouble to vote demonstrates that everyone who did so is deeply concerned about the future of their country.

In any dealing among each other since Saturday, Egyptians look to see if the other person is a purple finger compatriot!

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