Discussion Question: Religious Undertones in Egyptian Protests?
Over the past decade, Egyptian Copts have fallen victim to increasing discrimination and persecution, most recently with the January 1 suicide church bombing that killed at least 21 people and injured dozens more. Do the current anti-government demonstrations in Cairo have religious undertones?
When international religious freedom advocate/expert Dr. John Graz, was asked recently about the risks to religious freedom posed by the current situation in Egypt, he reminded the audience that Christians have survived as a minority in Egypt for two thousand years, and that they would likely survive the current unrest. Yet he acknowledged that the Coptic Christian community has recently suffered some widely publicized incidents of terroristviolence, and that such incidents were likely only to increase with the removalof a strong central government.
There is much more to be said. It is also true that Jewish communities have survived and even thrived during centuries of Muslim domination in many middle eastern countries, but in the past fifty years, suchcommunities have been decimated in many Muslim countries. War and politicalinstability has caused great suffering to the ancient Christian community in Iraq. There is reason to be concerned about our brothers and sisters in Egypt.
Dr. Graz highlighted the need for "actors" rather than"observers." It is not enough to recognize risks, to bemoan incidents of terrorism or persecution of a faith community. It is necessary for the morally sensitive to follow up sincere sentiment with action. It remains to be seen what specific actions Americans can take to make a difference, but those who care about religious freedom should cultivate a readiness to act, not just "sigh and cry."
Meanwhile, one of the chief religious freedom concerns revolves around speculation concerning the future role of the Muslim Brotherhood in any Egyptian government to emerge from the current turmoil.While these concerns may well be valid, they also betray a curious attitude: American policy promotes democracy when it is perceived to be in our interest to do so, but we do not support the right of the people to choose leaders and governments hostile to our interests. So, we will support Egyptian democracy that marginalizes the Muslim Brotherhood, but not one that grants them acentral role. With all due respect, that is an issue for the Egyptians to decide, and frankly, it is unlikely that after American support for Mubarak for 30 years, the Egyptians are eager to invite U.S. meddling in the formation of a new government, or the selection of leadership. To be sure, I hope and pray that Egyptians reject Islamic fundamentalism in favor of civil and religious freedom.
The ancient proverb says to be careful that you may reap what you sow. If we proclaim our belief in democracy, we may have to live with democratic choices that are inconsistent with our own interests. If, on the other hand, we promote democracy and human rights in our speeches, but continue to support oppressive and tyrannical regimes, such as Mubarak's, we reap a harvest of lost credibility and respect.
So the experience of Egypt provides Americans with a wonderful opportunity to revisit our national values. Do we really believe in democracy, human rights and religious freedom? And if so, are we prepared to advocate these things, even if the results aren't always pretty in the short term?
As a Christian, I want to encourage respect for human rights and religious freedom because these reflect both the character of the Creator God, and the nature of humanity: in the "immortal" words of Thomas Jefferson: "Almighty God hath created the mind of man free."
Author: Alan J. Reinach
Alan J. Reinach is Executive Director of the Church State Council, the religious liberty educational and advocacy arm of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, representing five western states: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. His legal practice emphasizes First Amendment religious freedom cases, and religious accommodation cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related state civil rights laws. Reinach is also a Seventh-day Adventist minister who speaks regularly on religious freedom topics, and is the host of a nationally syndicated weekly radio broadcast, “Freedom’s Ring.” He is the principal author and editor of Politics and Prophecy: The Battle for Religious Liberty and the Authentic Gospel, and a frequent contributor to Libertymagazine.