The blood of martyrs, Alexandria, January 2011 (Source: Reuters)
Interview with a Young Egyptian Christian
Ayman Ibrahim, whose home is in northern Egypt, is a doctoral student living at this time in the United States. He agreed to be interviewed regarding the groundbreaking events now occurring in his homeland.
Q: First, Ayman, you are a long way from home and family at this momentous and turbulent time in your nation's history. Have you personally been able to contact your family in Egypt? Are they safe?
A: Yes, I was able to call, but to landlines only. They are safe so far. Yet there is some news that as chaos rocks Cairo many gangs have started to go to different areas stealing property and threatening people in their homes.
Q: News reports indicate that the protests coursing through the major cities began with the young people in the middle classes, as they did recently in Tunisia, but that they have since spread to include all age groups and classes. What are the factors that drove young, educated people into the streets in the first place? And, what do the young hope to accomplish?
A: It is true that demonstrations began with the middle class and then spread to include all age groups, classes, and religions. Our young people have been suffering from unemployment and poverty. The demonstrations have been calling for change. However, the question we should also ask is, "What type of change?" Many refer to two or three requests, but I believe we Egyptians should be more objective in what we are seeking. If we seek change just for the sake of change, we may not appreciate the final result.
Q: As a young Egyptian yourself, what type of change do you believe Egypt should experience in the areas of politics and economics?
A: Concerning politics, I believe we need a new government with a secular nature, a government that represents all of the different sects of Egypt in a fair way. Concerning economics, we need to seek forms of social justice that would help people live honorable lives and that would raise our minimum wages. We also must ensure that the aid that comes to Egyptians from Europe or America actually reaches the needy of Egypt, who are the majority of the people. In summary, we need freedom in speech, religion, and politics, and we need a fair way of distributing the wealth of the country, making sure to empower and support the underprivileged.
Q: With regard to religion, just a few weeks ago, a massive explosion in Alexandria ripped through a crowd of Christians outside their church, killing and maiming so many. In the wake of this, there arose some solidarity between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. How many Christians live in Egypt, and how long have Christians been there?
A: Concerning Christians, the official number states they are between 6 and 8 million; however, I would argue they are more than 12 million. Christians have been in Egypt since, according to tradition, St. Mark came presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ in the first century of the Christian era. Today, Christians make up 15 percent of the total population (12 million Christians out of a total population of 80 million). Yet, ironically, Christian representatives in the government and the parliament do not exceed 10 people!
Q: Reports have come from Egypt that the cry of "Allah Akbar!" was chanted by some groups in the streets, while others responded, "Muslims, Christians, we are all Egyptians!" Most news reports indicate primarily secular slogans in the streets. As you know, in the West, there is concern that the Muslim Brotherhood, as the largest existing political opposition party, may exert its influence to take Egypt in a radically Islamist direction. Does that concern exist for you? What is the likelihood of a radical Islamist government coming into power?
A: Yes, this concern definitely does exist. Egyptians by nature are a peaceful people and we love life. I am positive that the demonstrations started in a very proper and peaceful way. Even when some people wanted to shout with Islamic slogans on the first day of demonstrations, they were asked to silence themselves and shout only patriotic slogans, not religious ones. However, after Tuesday's demonstrations, it was reported clearly that the Muslim Brotherhood called on its followers to keep on protesting. They also called for another major demonstration after the Muslim noon prayer on Friday, January 28, in order to dethrone the Mubarak regime. Therefore, it seems that things started in a great and peaceful way, but then Mubarak's staunchest opponents wanted to take advantage of what happened and they seem to be leading the nation into total chaos.
Q: It appears then, that on the one hand there is a widespread call for change in the Egyptian government, but on the other hand there is the threat of an open-ended chaos that could lead to an even more repressive government. If you could speak at this critical time to your fellow Christians around the world, for what would you ask them to pray? And, are there definite actions they might also take? Please be specific.
A: Concerning prayer, first, please pray for protection for all Egyptian families and for our national wealth, economically and culturally, not to be lost. Second, pray that these demonstrations do not take on a radical religious nature, namely, that they do not lead to a religious government representing only the majority of Egyptians. Third, please ask God that our future government would bring justice and social opportunity to underprivileged Egyptians. Fourth, pray that this new era would witness fair treatment to Coptic Christians, including protection to them and their belongings. Finally, and most importantly, please pray that we Christians of Egypt will have opportunity and courage to share our peaceful faith, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Concerning actions to be taken, the first thing that comes to mind is that I ask Americans to petition their own government to make sure that the financial or social aid she provides Egypt reach all Egyptians, not only a few leaders who may waste it in corruption. Finally, I hope that the West makes it a priority to foster religious freedom in Egypt, including especially protection of the Christian minorities.