Bishop Mouneer Anis of the Episcopal Diocese of Egypt has written a letter of appreciation for all the prayers and messages sent from around the world in light of the recent instability and anti-government protests in that country. Anis is presiding bishop of the small Episcopal Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East which has about 35,000 members. The largest church in Egypt is the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria which has more than 7,000,000 members.
“In the midst of the turmoil which Egypt is going through, we have felt that the Lord is very near to us. We have experienced his peace, and we were assured of his protection,” he said, noting that all the churches in the diocese are safe even though the government-provided security was withdrawn on 28th Jan. “This assured us that the one who protects the churches is the Lord of the church.”
For over a week now, demonstrators in Egypt’s main cities have been protesting against the 30 year rule of President Hosni Mubarak who had appeared determined to cling onto power until he announced on 1st Feb. that he would not seek re-election when his term ends in November.
Mubarak has appointed intelligence chief Ibrahim Soliman as vice president. “He has a good reputation among Egyptians,” said Anis in the statement released by the Anglican Communion News Service. “This appointment ruled out the possibility of appointing the president’s son as a successor.”
Mubarak also appointed Ahmed Shafiq as new prime minister. “He is a very good man and has done a lot of improvement in his previous ministry” where he served as minister of civil aviation, said Anis. “President Mubarak also called for a review for the constitution to allow democracy; he also assured the people that those who were responsible for the violence, destructions, looting, escape of prisoners, etc… will be brought to judgment.”
But bishop Anis’ hopeful statement was soon followed by news that violence between thousands of Mubarak supporters and opponents had erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Several thousand prisoners have escaped or been deliberately released since the protests began on 25th Jan. Looters have robbed and set fire to several stores and some hotels have been completely ransacked.
“I was touched to see young adults, Muslims and Christians, guarding the streets, homes, and our churches,” said Anis. “They did not allow any thieves or looters to come near the area. They also arrested some of those and handed them over to the Army. I applaud our local Egyptian clergy and people who joined the youth in the streets in guarding homes and churches.”
Meanwhile, in Yemen, similar protests have been underway. As a result anti-Islamist President Ali Abdullah Saleh who has ruled since 1978 announced yesterday that he will step down in 2013 when he completes his current term. This halted his plans to alter Yemen’s constitution in March to erase any term limits to the presidency. It is also thought that Saleh had planned to have his son succeed him.
“Egypt is a very important country in the whole of the Middle East, and whatever happens in Egypt affects the rest of the countries,” said Anis, commenting on Saleh’s announcement. “We pray that we can set a good example to the surrounding countries.”
This present crisis affects not only Egypt but the whole of the Middle East immediately and the rest of the world ultimately. The potential for disaster is enormous.
In Jordan the country’s largest political party, the Islamic Action Front the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, said it plans mass protests after Friday prayers over the appointment by King Abdullah II of a new prime minister, Maruf Bakhit, who started talks on Wednesday regarding the formation of a new government. Hamza Mansour, a leader of the party, has rejected Mr. Bakhit’s nomination, saying, “We want change of policies, not change of faces.”
Other Jordanian political groupings, including the Communist and Baath parties, have decided to withdraw from participation in the popular protests which have been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Today the same progressive voices who are condemning the US and the West for having supported the dictator Mubarak without demanding that he introduce democracy and human rights are to be heard endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood – a movement which rules out democracy and human rights as offenses against Islam and rule by God.
The Brotherhood has a core fundamentalist attitude that could subject women and Egypt’s religious minorities to second-class status, threatens the 30-year peace between Egypt and Israel, and benefits terrorist groups including Hizballah and Hamas, a group created by the Brotherhood to carry out terrorist violence against Israel.
Given the potential for disaster in an unsettled Middle East it is difficult to imagine a greater cause for concern and prayer. Tyrants are being toppled, but to imagine that this will inevitably usher in a kinder, gentler era of democracy and civil liberties is to be naive.