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Egyptian church lauds elections: The Church of England Newspaper, June 6, 2014 June 17, 2014

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The Anglican Bishop of Egypt, the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, has released a statement applauding the freedom and fairness of Egypt’s presidential elections. In a letter released on 30 May 2014, Dr. Anis said that “as soon as the people heard even the initial results being announced, they gathered in squares in cities throughout Egypt, especially in Cairo and Alexandria. The results indicated that Field Marshal Abdul Fatah Al Sisi has won the elections, receiving more than 23 million votes out of 25 million people who voted. His opponent, Mr. Hamdine Sabahi, received just less than one million votes, with another million votes for neither of the two candidates.” Dr. Anis, who is also the Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East noted “many people held peaceful celebrations throughout the night in Tahrir square. They danced and carried the flag of Egypt and posters of Al Sisi.” He added that “I personally think that President Al Sisi is the right choice at this time because Egypt needs a president who can reestablish the security of the country. Without security, tourism and the economic situation will not improve. The new president has to work hard in order to meet the many challenges that are facing Egypt, including the financial situation and the concerns of those who think that Egypt will be ruled in a military-like way.”

Millions march in support of Egypt’s coup: The Church of England Newspaper, August 11, 2013 p 5 August 16, 2013

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An Egyptian court has ordered the detention of former Pres. Muhammad Mursi on charges of treason.

The arrest accompanied by a call by the Army to the Egyptian people to back its coup prompted the largest public demonstration in Egypt’s history. The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics reported that an estimated 35 million people took to the streets on 26 July 2013 to voice their support for the army coup that ousted Pres. Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood government.

The court ordered Pres. Morsi be detained for 15 days while it investigated charges he collaborated with the militant Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in organizing a mass escape from Wadi el-Natroun Prison during Egypt’s 2011 uprising. The former president is said to have used Hamas agents to assist the Muslim Brotherhood in murdering political rivals, and attacking police stations during the uprising Ahram Online reported.

The president of the Bible Society of Egypt Ramez Atallah said the July 26 demonstrations were an accurate measure of Egyptian political sentiment. “[A]n incredible number of people took to the streets to show their solidarity against the aggressive and disruptive behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood  protestors. Like they did on June 30th, the ‘Silent Majority’ – who usually sit at home and watch political events on their TV screens – voted with their feet, taking to the streets in very large numbers.  People went to the demonstration sites from every conceivable place and it was an amazing night of celebration and jubilation, affirming together an Egypt where all are respected as equal citizens.”

Mr. Atallah said the demonstration heralded “unprecedented acts of unity” between Christians and Muslims. “When the call to break the [Ramadan] fast was announced at sunset on July 26th, all church bells in Egypt rang in solidarity with their Muslim compatriots,” he said.

And unlike the protests staged by the Muslim Brotherhood “remarkably few incidents of violence, petty theft and harassment of women were reported. The euphoria of the people went on all night as massive crowds again expressed their rejection of the “Political Islam” agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

The Rev. Drew W. Schmotzer, Chaplain to Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt and rector of St. Mark’s Church in Menouf, told The Church of England Newspaper the majority of Egyptians “want change which is why the military acted on their behalf and removed President Mursi.”

The new government has “consulted both Pope Tawadros and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar” in establishing the new regime, he added, noting “this is an important step forward.”

However, while “there are moments when Christians and Muslims work together, and this is good, but not the norm. There is a deep chasm between the understanding of Christians and Muslims, and most judgments are based on misconceptions of the other.  I do think that steps are being taken on that front, but doing anything in the Middle East takes time,” he said.

Mr. Atallah added the Muslim Brotherhood remained a problem. The claim made by Al Jazeera that the Muslim Brotherhood were “peaceful demonstrators goes contrary to all that we are experiencing of violence and brutality on our streets.  Anyone who has the misfortune of walking or driving close to one of their demonstrations is taking his life in his hands.”

“Most Egyptians, in spite of their disdain for the Muslim Brotherhood, are very much against Egypt turning into a police (or worse, army) State and have been putting much pressure on security forces to be restrained in their response to the Muslim Brotherhood agitators,” he said.

“At the same time, the vast majority of Egyptians agree that the month-long disruption of normal life by these protesters must end.  The crowds on July 26th were there to give the government that very message,” Mr. Atallah said

Church backing for second Arab Spring in Egypt; The Church of England Newspaper, July 21, 2013 p 6. July 23, 2013

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Christian leaders have welcomed the overthrow of Pres. Mohammed Mursi and his Muslim brotherhood government in Egypt. Following four days of nationwide demonstrations that saw an estimated 20 million Egyptians take to the streets on 3 July 2013 the Egyptian army seized power, arresting Pres. Mursi and suspending the country’s Islamist Constitution.

“At last, Egypt is now free from the oppressive rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” wrote the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, on 3 July.

At the start of the demonstrations, Pope Tawadros II – spiritual leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church tweeted his support, writing: “It’s wonderful to see the Egyptian people – through the idea of Tamarod and its youth – taking back their stolen revolution in a peaceful way.”

Shortly after the Army gave Pres. Mursi 48-hours to respond to the protestor’s demands, Pope Tawadros pleaded for a solution that “listens to the voice of the people” and gave his support to the opposition, tweeting “I ​​pay tribute to the big three of Egypt: the people, the army and the youth.”

Dr. Anis reported the army had “responded to the invitation of the people to intervene and force the President to step down at the request of the people of Egypt. Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi invited His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of Egypt Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyib, and other political leaders, to discuss the roadmap for the future of Egypt,”

“After this meeting, it was announced that the head of the constitutional court will be an interim leader of the nation. The current controversial constitution is now suspended. The new government will involve capable people from different backgrounds.”

“As soon as Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced this, millions of Egyptians on the streets went around rejoicing, singing, dancing, and making a lot of fireworks. I have never seen Egyptians rejoicing in such a way! They deserve this joy as they insisted to write their own history,” the bishop wrote.

“Since the Muslim Brotherhood ruled the country a year ago, we Egyptians experienced divisions, exclusions, sectarian clashes, fanaticism, a decrease in tourism, and a bad economy. This is an answer to the prayers of so many people from around the world who were praying for our beloved country Egypt,” the bishop said.

On 4 July Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom released a statement saying the overthrow of Mursi regime was the second wave of the Arab Spring.

“What has been seen in the streets of Egypt over the past week would have been considered by many as impossible, especially when set against the backdrop of two years which commenced joyfully, but became increasingly challenging through a state of fragmentation, a failing economy and a weakened state of law and order,” he said.

“With the age old scourge of illiteracy and poverty unaddressed and the development of a cohesive sense of national pride and unity unrealised, the people of Egypt took to the streets to follow their desire for dignity and social justice in the way that proved successful just over two years prior,” Bishop Angelos wrote.

The path ahead was not clear, Dr Anis warned, noting there could be a “violent reaction of the Islamists.”

Pray for Egypt, the Bishop wrote. Pray for “unity and reconciliation after more than one year of divisions.”

Anglican-Muslim call to ban blasphemy: The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012 p 2. October 2, 2012

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Four Anglican bishops from North Africa and Middle East have joined Muslim leaders in Egypt in writing to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon urging the adoption of an international declaration against religious defamation.

On 16 the Egyptian State Information service reported the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyeb had written to the U.N. leader urging the adoption of an anti-blasphemy resolution that would criminalize insults to Islam and to its prophet, Muhammad.  The government also reported that the Bishop of Egypt, Mouneer Anis had issued a similar call to the U.N. to ban blasphemy.

On 15 Sept 2012 Bishops Anis of Egypt, Michael Lewis of Cyprus and the Gulf,  Bill Musk of North Africa and Grant LeMarquand of the Horn of Africa urged the U.N. to prohibit actions and language that denigrated all religious faiths.

In “view of the current inflamed situation in several countries in response to the production of a film in the USA which evidently intends to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters by insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and in view of the fact that in recent years similar offensive incidents have occurred in some European countries which evoked massive and violent responses worldwide, we hereby suggest that an international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.”

They said such a declaration would not be a violation of the right of free speech, but would encourage people to be “responsible and self-restraining in expressing or promoting offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world.”

The bishops said their aim in offering this suggestion was to build peaceful relations amongst the world’s religions and prevent “violence that may easily lead to wars between nations and conflicts between people from different cultural or philosophical backgrounds or followers of different faiths,” the bishops said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Egyptian bishop backs blasphemy ban: The Church of England Newspaper, September 23, 2012 p 5. September 24, 2012

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Bishop Mouneer Anis

The Government of Egypt reports the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis, has written to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon endorsing the call made by Islamic member states to ban blasphemy. The government statement comes as part of the Muslim Brotherhood government’s media response to the attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo by Muslim militants last week ostensibly in response to a YouTube video that defamed Mohammad.

In a statement released on 16 Sept 2012, the Egyptian State Information Service said Dr. Anis had written to the U.N. chief the previous day urging him to “issue a declaration that prohibits blasphemy.”

The Egyptian government said that in his letter, Dr. Anis said a ban on blasphemy would “not run counter to freedom of speech, but it prevents using this right to insult religious sanctities. ‘We believe that mutual respect is the only way for peaceful coexistence’.”

The Church of England Newspaper has not been able to confirm with Dr. Anis or the Diocese of Egypt the veracity of the state information service’s claim, or whether Dr. Anis’ letter was an endorsement of the resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on 19 Dec 2011 condemning the stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of people based on their religion, and urging countries to take effective steps “to address and combat such incidents.”

Similar resolutions had been brought to the U.N. each year since 1999 by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – a 56 member block of Muslim nation-states, but had been opposed by Western states.

However, in 2011 the language of the resolution was changed with language condemning the “defamation” of religion dropped and a clause inserted that reaffirmed “the positive role that the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the full respect for the freedom to seek, receive and impart information can play in strengthening democracy and combating religious intolerance.”

The amended resolution received the backing of the U.S. and U.K. and the E.U., though Poland’s ambassador questioned whether this resolution favored one religion over others. After the vote, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “the best way to treat offensive speech is by people either ignoring it or combating it with good arguments and good speech that overwhelms it.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Anglican bishops call for U.N. ban on blasphemy: Anglican Ink, September 17, 2012 September 18, 2012

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Bishop Mouneer Anis

Four North African and Middle Eastern Anglican bishops have written to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon urging the adoption of an international declaration against religious defamation.

Bishops Mouneer Anis of Egypt, Michael Lewis of Cyprus and the Gulf and assistant Bishops Bill Musk of North Africa and Grant LeMarquand of the Horn of Africa wrote to the U.N. leader on 15 Sept 2012 following the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and consulate in Benghazi on 11 Sept.  In the days that followed mobs demonstrated outside American diplomatic posts across the Middle East and attacked U.S., German and British embassies in Tunis and Khartoum, ostensibly in response to a Youtube video that attacked Mohammad.

The bishops wrote that in “view of the current inflamed situation in several countries in response to the production of a film in the USA which evidently intends to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters by insulting the Prophet Mohammed, and in view of the fact that in recent years similar offensive incidents have occurred in some European countries which evoked massive and violent responses worldwide, we hereby suggest that an international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Anarchy fears for Egypt: The Church of England Newspaper, February 17, 2012 p 8. February 23, 2012

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Bishop Mouneer Anis

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The promises of the Arab Spring have failed to flower, the Bishop of Egypt reports.

In a 6 February 2012 letter to the Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association Dr. Mouneer Anis reports that his country is “is undergoing a very, very difficult time. It looks as if the country is experiencing labor pains which may end up by the birth of a new baby, a new democratic Egypt. But it could also be the pains prior to a stillbirth, or an abortion.”

The latest round of violence follows the deaths of spectators at a football game in Port Said on 1 Feb.  Following a game between the Al-Masry home team and the visiting Al-Ahly club from Cairo, supporters of Al-Masry attacked fans from Cairo.  The Ministry of Health reported that 74 people were killed in the fighting and 400 were injured.

The deaths sparked protests in Cairo and a Feb 3 march on the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for the police who have been blamed for allowing the riot to escalate into a massacre.  Protestors battled with the police, who dispersed the crowd with tear gas.  Riots also erupted in Alexandria and Suez, where 3 people died after a mob ransacked the main police station.

Bishop Anis wrote that it was “very difficult to understand why” the Port Said riot took place.  “Many people believe that this massacre was an arranged by the old regime. I can hardly imagine that this is my beloved country, Egypt.”

“This very sad massacre provoked anger all over Egypt which led to widespread demonstrations and violence in several provinces. These violent demonstrations led to more killing and injuries. It is said that more than 2,500 were injured in this last week alone. In addition to this, a government building was set on fire and unknown persons detonated the natural gas pipeline in Sinai for the 12th time in the last year,” the bishop wrote.

The government has formed a commission of inquiry to investigate the riot, but the bishop is not sanguine as to its outcome, noting that an investigation into anti-Christian riots last year in Maspero that led to a massacre have “revealed nothing and brought no one to justice.”

Dr. Anis reported that “some political parties and students from different universities are now calling for civil disobedience for three days starting on the 11th of February 2012. They are calling for the transfer of government from the Military Council to a civil one. We as a church have decided that we will keep our churches open for prayer during these days. We pray that it will pass without violence.”

Egypt was at a crossroads, he said, with the “major challenge” facing the country being the “writing of the new constitution.”

“Who will be involved in this? Is it a group of like minded people or a group of Egyptians representing the entire spectrum of thoughts? Will it respect the United Nations declaration of Human Rights, or not?” he asked.

“Please join us in prayer for Egypt, for the stability of the country, for those who will write the new constitution, for safety and protection for all, and for the unity of the church,” Dr. Anis said.

Egyptian unrest causing Christian exodus, bishop warns: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2011 p 6. November 25, 2011

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Bishop Mouneer Anis

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Four days of protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have left an estimated 33 dead and 1750 injured as demonstrators call for an end to military rule in Egypt.  Crowds estimated at over 100,000 have gathered in the central Cairo square, scene of the protests that brought down the government of Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.

Television footage of the demonstrations show protestors hurling fire bombs and paving stones at police, who have responded with tear gas and batons to clear the square.  On 21 Nov 2011, Egypt’s civilian cabinet offered its resignation to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in protest to the army crackdown.

The bloodshed comes only a week before Egypt’s parliamentary elections are set to begin. Reuters has reported that while the army stated the riots would not postpone the elections, the unrest could deter voters from going to the polls in Cairo.

The Cairo newspaper al-Masry al-Youm reported on Monday that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had met with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and have agreed to speed up the process towards civilian rule.  The Muslim Brotherhood urged protesters to show restraint, and said it would not participate in the demonstrations. However, other Islamist groups have stated that they will join democracy activists and Copts in the protests against military rule.

The Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis has asked for prayer for his country.  In a 16 Nov 2011 letter sent to the Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association in Britain – before the latest riots – Dr. Anis wrote the unrest had many causes.

“Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis, Moroccans, Yemini, and

Bahrainis are rising up, calling for freedom, transparency and democracy. Many of these people of the Middle East have suffered under oppressive and corrupt governments. They feel that the time has come to determine their own destiny.”

“On one hand, this is very hopeful and encouraging,” the bishop wrote. But “on the other hand, this brings concern, apprehension and even fear. There are those who rode the waves of these uprisings and have called for Islamic (not secular, nondemocratic) governments.”

“Many moderate Muslims and Christians are concerned because they see the examples of Islamic states like Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.”

He added that almost 60 per cent of the population of the Middle East is less than 30 years of age. “The problem of unemployment, the rise in the cost of food, and the lack of good education hits them hard. This is a major reason for these uprisings.”

Dr. Anis added that in the “last ten months we also experienced a rise in fanaticism. This was manifested in demolishing and burning of churches, as well as protesting for the appointment of a Christian local governor. Egyptian Christians, overcoming the barrier of fear in which they lived for so many years, are now bold to demonstrate against injustice. As a result of this the clashes at Maspero happened and resulted in the death of 27 and over 318 injured.”

The unrest had also led to many Christians leaving Egypt, Palestine and Iraq for the West.  “I cannot imagine the Middle East, where Jesus lived and walked, being without Christians. It would never be the same. The future can be dim, but it can also carry hope for the church.”

“We trust that God is in charge and we are in His hands. His promise is that ‘the gates of hell will never overcome’ His Church,” Dr. Anis said.