by Teresa Sfeir
For the first time since the 2013 coup against President Mohamad Morsi, which brought Abdel Fatah Al Sisi to power, nationwide political protests broke out in Egypt on September 20. Mohamad Ali, Egyptian businessman and actor, who had worked on construction projects with the military, produced a series of viral videos instigating the protests. In the videos, Ali, who now lives in Spain, accused the military and Sisi of wasting state funds on building luxury hotels and presidential palaces. This resonated with a considerable population of Egyptians living in poverty.
Sisi stated that he was not building the palaces for himself, but for all of Egypt. “It’s all in Egypt’s name,” he said at a youth conference in mid-September. What made the demonstrations quite notable was that they were nationwide political protests that explicitly called for Sisi to go. More than 3,600 people were arrested according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.
On November 20, Mohamad Ali said in an interview that he had launched a new plan to coordinate a new opposition movement dedicated to saving the Egyptian economy and democracy. He expressed, “My plan is in the next month to start a political initiative in London to try to unite the political opposition inside and outside the country […] I will launch a reform plan with some experts from politics, the health sector, finance, education and media. I will call all experts in Egypt to join this campaign.”
Despite his call for an opposition, Ali made it clear during a phone call with Robert Fisk that he did not support the Brotherhood. He states, “He was a good man but naïve – I was one of the first people to get to [Tahrir] square to protest against him.” He then adds, “The thing that got me against Morsi – he was explicitly asking for an Islamic caliphate in Egypt. What I wanted was a modern country.” Morsi, who had been on trial since his overthrow, died in June 2019 while held in solitary confinement. Under Sisi, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood has vastly dwindled in Egypt. Qatar and Turkey, on the other hand, have built relations with the Brotherhood, and many exiled members of the Egyptian group live in these countries.
Long before Ali’s videos, Sisi’s image as Egypt’s rescuer had begun to lose its luster, especially after the currency crisis and the rising prices in 2016. On October 1, Sisi expressed his dedication towards addressing the cries of Egypt’s poor. In fact, he placed 18 million Egyptians back on to subsidy rolls. But that is far from enough. Supporters of Sisi, on the other hand, say he brought the much-needed stability. They made constitutional changes allowing President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to extend his rule until 2030. Most Egyptian leaders have come from the military, and their rule did not end by being voted out of office, but rather by death, uprising or coup.
Theological Reflection and Missiological Implications
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings.” (Acts 5:29 NIV)
In light of these events, we need to speak the truth boldly whatever our position. Because we serve an Unseen God, sometimes we find safety in pleasing the powers and authorities of this world – whether it is a conscious or unconscious act of self-preservation. In doing that, however, we forget that our primary allegiance is to God alone, as He is to have full sovereignty. We must obey God first wherever that may lead. Consequently, the Church in Egypt must not take sides in political matters but must be willing to speak objectively against wrongdoing, but more importantly, to speak for what is right. Nevertheless, we must pause and humbly acknowledge that we do not fully comprehend the struggles of the Church in Egypt and the extent to which it has the liberty to publicly address issues of justice in the country. In all cases, the Church must be willing to suffer for the Truth, but even in that, it must not be led by human impulse or calculations, but instead by the wise leading of the Spirit and the revelation of God’s Word.