EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT SAYS MUSLIMS DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT TO ACT IN THE NAME OF ALLAH
When then Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi appointed a little-known general Abdel al-Sisi as his new defence minister, rumours swirled that the officer was a sympathiser with the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood. But the general would soon give the world a lesson in the difference between religious devotion and radicalism. The now President Sisi recently gave a two-hour interview during which he said “Religion is guarded by its spirit, not by human beings.” Did he consider that members of the Muslim Brotherhood were bad Muslims? “It’s the ideology.” he replied. “Real Islam grants absolute freedom for people to believe or not believe”.
Never does Islam dictate to kill others because they do not believe in Islam. Never does it dictate that Muslims have the right to dictate their beliefs to the whole world. Never does Islam say that only Muslims will go to paradise and others go to hell.” Jabbing his right finger in the air for emphasis, he added: “We are not gods on earth, and we do not have this right to act in the name of Allah.” When Mr Sisi took power in July 2013, following street protests against Mr Morsi by an estimated 30 million Egyptians, it wasn’t obvious that he would emerge as perhaps the world’s most significant advocate for Islamic moderation and reform.
His personal piety aside, Mr Sisi seemed to be a typical Egyptian military figure. Mr Sisi, 60 graduated from the Military Academy, in 1977 at a time when Egypt was a close U.S. ally on the cusp of making peace with Israel. He did his military training in Texas and later the infantry course at Fort Benning, Georgia. He returned for another extended stay in the U.S. in 2005 at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Recalling the two visits, he notes the difference. “The U.S. had been a community that had been living in peace and security. There was almost no difference between civilian life and life on a military base. By 2005, I could feel the tightening.”
The remark is intended to show deep sympathy with and admiration for the U.S. He also goes out of his way to stress he has no intention of altering the pro-American tilt of Egyptian foreign policy, despite suggestions that he is flirting with Russia for potential arms purchases and the construction of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant. “A country like Egypt will never be mischievous in relations” with America, he insists. “We will never act foolishly.” Asked about the delivery of F-16 fighters to Egypt — suspended by the U.S. after Mr Morsi’s overthrow, and all-but dismisses the matter.
“You can never reduce our relations with the U.S. to matters of weapons systems. We are keen on a strategic relationship with the U.S. above everything else. And we will never turn our backs on you — even if you turn your backs on us.” There is also a deeper purpose to Mr Sisi’s pro-American entreaties and his comments on 9/11: He wants to remind his critics of the trade-off every country strikes between security and civil liberties. It’s a point he returns to when I note the anger and disappointment that so many Egyptian liberals — many of whom had backed him in 2013 — now feel. New laws that tightly restrict street protests recall the Mubarak era.
Last June several Al-Jazeera journalists, including Australian Peter Greste, were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on dubious charges. They have since been released. The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned, Mr Morsi is in prison, and Egyptian courts have passed death sentences on hundreds of Islamists, albeit mostly in absentia. “My message to liberals is that I am keen to meet their expectations,” Mr Sisi said. “But the situation in Egypt is overwhelmed.” He lamented the Al-Jazeera arrests, noting the incident damaged Egypt’s reputation even as thousands of international correspondents “are working very freely in this country.”
Later he said. This country needs to survive. We don’t have the luxury of feuding and taking all our time discussing issues like that. A country needs law and order for its existence. If the world can provide support I will let people demonstrate in the streets day and night.” Sensing my scepticism, he added: “You can’t imagine that as an American. But if American standards were imposed on Egypt, he added, it would do his country no favours. “U.S. values of democracy and freedom should be honoured. But they need the right atmosphere to be nurtured. If we can be prosperous we can safeguard those values.”
It’s impossible to doubt the seriousness of Mr Sisi’s opposition to Islamic extremism. In late February he ordered the bombing of Islamic State targets in neighbouring Libya after Islamic State decapitated 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. Egypt’s security co-operation with Israel has never been closer, and Mr Sisi has moved aggressively to close the tunnels beneath Egypt’s border with Gaza, through which Hamas has obtained its weapons. Mr Sisi will soon host an Arab League summit, the centrepiece of which will be a joint Arab anti-terrorism task force. He refused to commit Egyptian troops to fight Islamic State in Iraq, saying it is a job for Iraqis with US help.
He did not mention Iran’s regional ambitions nor criticise its nuclear ambitions which he supports, while adding: “I understand the concern of the Israelis.” But he said the new task force was needed “to preserve a stable Arab world. He said “The stability of the Gulf states is critical for the security of Egypt.” He decried the Western habit of intervening militarily without taking account of the consequences. “The NATO mission in Libya was not accomplished,” he said. The U.N. arms embargo on Libya adversely affects the non-Islamist government based in Tobruk while “armed militias obtain an unstoppable flow of arms and munitions.”
“I did not support the Gaddafi regime,” he said, “but the risks of terrorism weren’t clear in the minds of the U.S. and Europe. It is really dangerous if countries lose control because extremists will cause them problems beyond their imagination.” But Mr Sisi is not a dogmatic critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Pondering the prospect of a broad U.S. retreat from the region, Mr Sisi says “The United States has the strength, and with might comes responsibility. They have responsibilities toward the whole world including the Middle East. The Middle East is passing through the most difficult and critical time and this will only entail more involvement, not less.”
Mr Sisi sees it as his personal mission to save Egypt. However he has no intention of becoming another president-for-life saying it is a mistake to stay in power too long.” He’s also aware that the most important work will take time. In January Mr Sisi went to the religious clerics of Cairo’s al-Azhar university to demand a “revolution” in Islam. “The most difficult thing to do is bring a shift in how people relate to their religion,” he said. “Don’t imagine the results will be seen quickly. Radical ideas about Islam were instilled 100 years ago. Now we can see the results. Religion has dominated Egypt for years. This does not exist anymore. This is a change I consider strategic.”
What brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power was Egyptian sympathy with the concept of religion. Egyptians believed that the Muslim Brothers were advocates of the real Islam. The past three years have been a critical test for those people who were promoting religious ideas. Egyptians experienced it totally and said these people do not deserve sympathy and we will not allow it.” Throughout the interview, Mr Sisi spoke in Arabic through an interpreter. But after delivering this point, he said in colloquial American English, “You got that?”
ARE KIDNAPPED NIGERIAN GIRLS ANY CLOSER TO BEING RESCUED?
A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Nigeria as attempts are made to retake territory held by Islamic radicals. Thousands of soldiers are battling the terror group Boko Haram. But the military offensive and the Islamic insurgency have displaced more than a million people, many of them Christians. Some 3000 people are taking shelter from Boko Haram at St. Theresa’s in Yola Nigeria and they now outnumber residents of the city. Many of them are girls like Abigail who was held captive by Boko Haram for a month before she escaped. “They said we would be married off as soon as we got well,” Abigail said. “We never thought we would regain our freedom.”
Now St. Theresa has become a safe haven for survivors to tell their stories. For some of them it’s very painful but gradually, they are able to open up and to talk freely, feel accepted and know the world has not turned its back on them.” Twenty-year-old Dorcas Aiden was another caught by Boko Haram. Along with 50 other Christian girls, she was kidnapped and forced to study Koranic verses and say daily Muslim prayers. “They showed us videos every day of them killing people,” Aiden said. “They said if they catch ladies, they will marry them, and if they catch men, they will kill them.” Aiden’s family knows how fortunate they are to have their daughter back.
Today the prayers are for the Chibok girls. A year ago Boko Haram kidnapped 276 mostly Christian girls from a school in Chibok. Fifty-seven escaped, but 219 are still being held. “Society cannot just move on when 219 young women that went to acquire knowledge are nowhere to be found,” Oby Ezekwesili, leader of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign said. The girls’ abduction drew global protests, but since then, the plight of those girls has been largely forgotten, but not by Oby Ezekweili and her group. Since the kidnapping, she and the girl’s families have met daily to pray and demand that the Nigerian government make a priority of bringing back the girls.
“If the world moves on without seeing that the utmost effort is made to rescue these girls, it sends a wrong signal to every child in school,” Ezekwesili said. And it’s not just the Chibok girls. Boko Haram has gone into neighbouring countries Cameroon and Niger and kidnapped more men and women. It shows the brazenness of the group as they seek to turn Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country, into an Islamic emirate. The concern is that Boko Haram is turning the Chibok girls into suicide bombers. Boko Haram is now deploying female suicide bombers. Several girls, including a 7-year-old, have been used in suicide attacks, killing hundreds of people.
In October 2014, Boko Haram fighters overran the town of Mubi, kidnapping and killing scores of Christians. They forced captured Christians to convert to Islam, and if they refused, they were killed instantly,” John Kalma who oversees relief work in Nigeria said. They promptly raised their black Islamic flag and renamed the town City of Islam. Several Christian girls were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. Young Christian boys were taken and given military training. Drinking alcohol and smoking were banned and they burned down every church in the whole town,” Kalma said.
Mubi has since been retaken by Nigerian forces and residents are slowly returning. “To be a Christian in the northeast is very dangerous—you are just risking your life, but the Christian brethren there, they are strong in their faith; they still hold on to Jesus Christ!” Kalma said. Nigeria and four neighbouring countries have launched a military offensive across the northeast to recapture territory held by Boko Haram. Meanwhile, back at St. Theresa’s church, worship fills the compound as survivors can only hope and pray for the safe return of captives and for an end to the radical Islamic warfare against the people of Nigeria.
BISHOP’S URGENT PLEA TO PREVENT CHRISTIAN ANNIHILIATION
As persecution in the Middle East threaten the existence of ancient Christian communities, a prominent church leader, Bishop Mar Awa Royel from the Assyrian Church of the East has delivered an urgent plea for help. Bishop Royel has warned that action must be taken to help Middle Eastern Christians before it’s too late. “We have systematic destruction of all that is Assyrian, from ancient artefacts, to modern day Assyrians,” Bishop Royel said. “This plan is very calculated, systematic and could be defined as genocide,” he said. Without strong, decisive action from the West, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world–could face annihilation.
He said “We are going back to the early Church, to the martyrdom of Saint Stephen who was the first martyr,” he warned. In late February, ISIS drove 5,000 Assyrian Christians from their homes in Syria in and around the city of Tal Tamr. As many as 350 of them were kidnapped. Terrorism Analyst Erick Stakelbeck said only strong leadership and a forceful response against ISIS will save the ancient Christian communities. “They need to be decisively crushed,” Stakelbeck said. “I think what we did in World War II to the German and Japanese war machines in crushing and demoralized them we should do again to ISIS right now.”
Bishop Royel said people around the world also need to pray. “We should pray for the immediate release of the innocent children and the women and elderly who have been kidnapped. We need to pray that the governments in the West will feel the urgency of the matter and act accordingly,” the bishop urged. “And we should also pray for our enemies,” he added. “That may be difficult to say, but we should pray for those who are perpetrating these atrocious acts against the Assyrian Christians because Christ has taught us to do so.”
MUSEUM ATTACK THREATENS TUNISIA’S DEMOCRACY AND ECONOMY
Gunmen in military uniforms stormed the Bardo Museum next to Tunis’ Parliament building killing 22 and hospitalizing 36. The attack hit at the heart of Tunisia’s economy, tourism. Most of those killed were European tourists from cruise ships in port. In the attack gunmen stormed a tourist bus, killing 7, and then moved into the museum, gunning down more innocent people. The three-hour siege ended with two gunmen dead and nine suspects arrested. Tunisia’s floundering economy has been struck hard by lack of tourism. This incident will continue to hinder its economic growth.
Scenes from Tunisian state television showed confusion outside an art museum and Parliament after gunmen attacked. The Arab Spring revolutions began in Tunisia in 2012. Since then the country agreed upon a new constitution and has had peaceful parliamentary elections. Tunisia is seen as a success story in the turbulent Mideast. Many fear the attack may be a great calamity for democracy. Daesh (Islamic State) released an audio recording claiming responsibility for the attack. According to CNN 3,000 Tunisians have left and joined Daesh, more than any other country. Poverty has fuelled their exodus.
• for swift but fair justice for the perpetrators and planners of these senseless attacks upon innocent people.
• for courage, not fear, for the government and businesses as they confront terrorism. Pray for the Church in Tunisia as it globally confronts these powers of darkness in heavenly places that fuel the hatred of God’s truth that sets men free.
• for the cowardly, demonically inspired attacks to open Tunisian hearts to seek God, His Truth, and salvation in the name of Jesus.