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Middle East

Egyptian Christians Join Calls for Reform

Protests enter second week as Mubarak resists ouster.

The leaders of Egypt's Christian minority increasingly are joining the calls for historic change and reform as protests in Cairo and other major cities this week demand the immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Until recently, many Christian leaders were guarded in their comments if not supportive of Mubarak. But in the past three days with Internet and mobile phone service restored, more are speaking out against injustice in Egypt and demanding political reform, though few are openly calling for Mubarak to resign right away.

Today by email, one prominent Protestant pastor said to his overseas supporters, "We stand united with our courageous young people who broke the barrier of fear and started to demand their basic human rights for a dignified life, freedom and social justice."

The pastor said that Christians in Egypt "feel the pain of our nation." He said young Egyptians feel betrayed by their leaders. He said corruption is a huge factor in the wide spread poverty in Egypt.

"If you want to know where we stand from the present events, we refuse to give in to lies and to fear. We do not accept the lie that says accept a repressive and non-democratic regime because the alternative is worse. Is our God limited to few options?"

He said Christian leaders have been praying for years for the nation. "We are asking for a new system where leaders with integrity and fear of God would tend to the need and the aspiration of Egyptians. Please pray with us."

But other prominent Christian leaders indicate either support for President Mubarak or they express their gratitude for his leadership. Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda spoke on national television, saying, "We have called the president and told him we are all with you and the people are with you."

Presiding Bishop Mouneer Anis, head of the Anglican church in Egypt and based in Cairo, in an interview with Christianity Today said there were Christians, even priests, who also rallied in support of President Mubarak. "We want to be gracious to a man who served Egypt for 30 years. He had his mistakes, just as other leaders."

Christians represent about 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million people. At the grassroots, some Christians have joined in national public protests or helped secure neighborhoods from looting or violence. Such activism exposes them to injury. Terence Ascott, head of SAT-7, the Christian broadcasting channel with offices in Cairo, said his son Wasiim's eye was severely injured by a piece of metal near the scene of one of the demonstrations. The son was passing out water bottles to demonstrators and police alike.

According to the SAT-7 website, Ascott was able to evacuate Wasiim to London for emergency surgery, which was a success. Ascott said in an online statement, "The ‘bullet' was safely removed from behind Wasiim's left eye (a metal shotgun pellet, only about the size of a pea but with a jagged spike from a ricochet).

"The eye has also now returned to a more normal position and Wasiim has already begun to regain some sight. In general, Wasiim has recovered quickly from the operation."

Meanwhile, many Christians chose not to participate in the protests for or against the government. Instead, they turned out in large numbers for special services. At All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Zamalek, an island on the Nile River that is short distance from Tahrir Square, Bishop Anis said, "Christians from different denominations in Egypt are spending more time praying."

Some church members come every day to pray at the church. "They haven't been afraid to come out despite some of the violent incidents," he said.

But Anis said most Egyptian Christians are fearful that extreme groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, "may be trying to take advantage of the youth involved in demonstrations."

"Some of the youths have said that the present demonstrations are very different from the initial protests that took place on the 25th. When they succeeded and the government started to listen to them and responded in part to what they wanted, other groups and individuals want to take advantage of them."

"We want a civilized, gracious transfer of authority," the bishop said. "But extreme groups do not want this to happen."

"Our fear is that if President Mubarak steps down now, things will be chaotic," the bishop said. "At least the new vice-president [Omar Sulieman] has a good reputation among the Egyptians."

The fear of Islamic fundamentalist rule of Egypt is very tangible for Christians. Rebecca Atallah, whose husband Ramez is the Bible Society president, spoke by phone with Christianity Today. She said some Christians are torn about whether to stay in Egypt or flee to safety in another country.

The Bible Society of Egypt is a central point for Christian engagement in Egyptian society. The society operates 12 book stores around the nation. It has distributed Bibles to more than 200,000 children in recent years. It holds regular Bible classes for youth.

"Those who are staying are feeling more committed to Egypt and they want to be part of the rebuilding that will be needed," she said. "They don't want to run away. They want to stay and rebuild."

"This is good, because some Egyptian Christians want to emigrate. But many believe that this is God's time for Egypt. This is somehow or another part of His prophesy in Isaiah 19 to bless Egypt," she said. "They want to be here to see the blessing and to take part in it."

She said her family's Arabic-speaking church, the Evangelical Church of Heliopolis, had it biggest prayer meeting ever on Friday morning for the country. It lasted two and a half hours. They included prayers for the millions of Egyptian poor who live on the margins. "For Egypt's poor, it's very hard right now. This is an area that we will really need to work on as soon as it is possible to start visiting them again," she said. She said poor Egyptians are very quickly running out of money and food and that church members are preparing to provide assistance again as soon as it is safe.

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