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Middle East

Egypt's churches turn to prayer

As protests grow, Christian leaders hold prayer services.

Cornelis Hulsman, editor in chief of the Arab West report and a correspondent for Christianity Today, is currently in Egypt guiding a Dutch tour group.

He reports by mobile phone that many churches located outside the major cities of Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez were able to hold services today, Sunday, Jan. 30. He said church leaders who have spoken to him for the most part are asking Egyptian Christians to stay in their homes and not to take part in the protest movement that is shaking Egypt to its core.

"This is possibly creating a division between Muslims and Christians," he said Sunday morning. He told CT at least one influential Coptic priest has expressed his view that Christians should take part in peaceful protests in order to show solidarity with the thousands of Egyptians who are in the streets protesting for President Mubarak to leave office immediately.

Hulsman said a handful of church leaders have offered special prayers or prayer services in recent days. He said so far there is no evidence that churches in Egypt are being targeted for attacks.

Two of his tour members were escorted personally by Hulsman to the international airport in Cairo. He said the airport itself seemed secure. But in many streets and neighborhoods, there were many unruly youths. He said the situation in many of these communities outside central Cairo seemed very unsafe. "Most people are staying in their homes."

It was unclear if evangelical churches in central Cairo were at risk. Sunday is the normal start to the work week. But he said that all normal activity has come to a halt. His particular tour group is at a seaside resort in Ain Sukhna, where they are safe.

Hulsman has been in contact with Christians in Cairo and they indicate to him that residents, both Christians and Muslims, are protecting churches in urban areas. Coptic leaders have told him that they are not hearing people in the streets shouting out for Islamic fundamentalism, but rather they first and foremost are demanding that President Mubarak step down.

Later on Sunday, Coptic Pope Shenouda spoke on national television and called for the protests to stop.

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