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?
It started with a female police officer slapping a man selling fruit. The insult was so painful to the one assaulted that he set himself ablaze in a gruesome death reminiscent of self immolating Buddhists during the Vietnam era. The fruit seller's suicide ignited long simmering emotions of a depressed people that culminated in the overthrow of Tunisia's dictator in the Jasmine uprising. The fires of revolution quickly spread to Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. Perhaps the most important country of those engulfed in the Arab uprisings is Egypt.
There is a genuine concern that the massive, and so far, peaceful demonstrations calling for the resignation of 82-year old President Mubarak could lead to something worse than the present 30-year old authoritarian rule. The fear of radicalism is in the air. These fears are not unwarranted.
The only real definable group ready to fill the vacuum created by a dispatched President Mubarak and government is the Muslim Brotherhood. They are conservative and believe in the application of Sharia Law. Though leadership and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood deny that their coming into power would bring in a radical breed of religious fundamentalism, there are plenty of critics who feel otherwise.
Terrorism analyst Walid Phares says, "The Muslim Brotherhood is themothership for the jihadi ideologies and thinking. And therefore one can say today's Al Qaeda, and today many other jihadists, are off shoots of the Muslim Brotherhood."
America's reluctance to join sides in the Egyptian struggle has many in that country upset. Two years ago in Cairo President Obama called for democracy, and the people want to hear America call for Mabarak's outer. As of this writing no such calls have come from the United States government. The lack of decision upon that question could lead many in that country to question America's real commitment to democracy, and will see fundamental Islam as the better and more consistent alternative.
Of course, if radical Islam gains the upper hand in this present environment of change the losers will be the Egyptian people, but especially those faiths that are not Islamic. Only time will tell what the outcomes will be. For now all we can do is pray for peace, governments that will be more democratic, and that the rebelling masses will resist radicalism in favor of true liberty for all.
Author: Kevin James
Associate Director of Public Affairs & Religious Liberty for the Southern Union of Seventh-day Adventists
Mr James's constituency encompasses Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. His primary responsibility is to provide assistance to church members who seek Sabbath accommodation in the workplace, and in that function has led numerous individuals through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claims process. Mr. James is an ordained minister, and prior to his work with the Southern Union, served as local church pastor for over 20 years.