December 2010

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Egypt: The Head of the Islamic World

by Dr. Patricia Depew

Egypt: A Snare or a Blessing?

Concerning Egypt itself I shall extend my remarks to a great length, because there is no country that possesses so many wonders, nor any that has such a number of works which defy description.

The Greek historian, Herodotus, writing in the mid-400s B.C. was vividly portraying this incredible land. Its past is so rich that its accomplishments have awed people around the world for centuries.

He also wrote, “All of Egypt is the gift of the Nile.” For over 5,000 years its people have been blessed with this incredible river, which is the longest in the world, stretching 4,160 miles from its source at Lake Victoria in East Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. Along its banks the Ancient Egyptians built their temples, tombs and pyramids honoring their many gods and pharaohs.

Between 1798-1801 the French General Napoleon Bonaparte led a military campaign into Egypt, and brought with him some of the leading scholars of France. One of them was Captain Bouchard, who discovered the Rosetta Stone which contained both Egyptian and Greek writing. When translated, the writing on this famous stone became the codebook that enabled scholars to translate the ancient Egyptian language into modern languages and unlock volumes of information about ancient Egypt’s culture and history. Their history includes invasions from Nubians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Alexander the Great came to Egypt in 332 BC and founded the famous city of Alexandria, naming it after himself.

Egypt’s Role in God’s Kingdom

From the time when Abram went down to Egypt during a famine, to the power of God’s hand leading the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt, to the flight of the Holy Family to protect Jesus, this nation has taken a prominent place in the Bible that cannot be ignored.

From the beginning of the church age, Egypt has played a prominent role in the Christian faith. About 50 AD, St. Mark the Evangelist visited Egypt and started a Christian church that is now called the Coptic Orthodox Church. The English word, “Copt” (from Coptus) had important historic, linguistic, ethnic, and religious roots. The ancient Coptic language is spoken today only in the Coptic Church, making it more culturally “Egyptian” than Islam. Upon the arrival of the Arabs, Egypt became known as “qibt.” Eventually the term qibt (copt) referred to the native Christian inhabitants. Although they are undergoing some persecution in modern Egypt, the Coptic Christians have survived as a strong religious body, estimated at between six and nine million. Operation World estimates that Egypt is about 13 percent Christian, a very high figure in this Islamic region. The Egyptian government has blocked an official count of Christians for over two decades.

Egypt played a significant role in the early development of Christianity. The Theological School of Alexandria, known as Didascalia, was established in 190 AD. Many church leaders came to Didascalia to be educated, including Clement and Origen. The First Council of Nicaea met in Alexandria in 326 AD to settle a serious split in the Church. This was caused because the Alexandrian priest Arius proposed that only God was self-existent, immutable and divine, but this was not true of Christ. Bishop Athanasius and many other Christians firmly opposed this, and the Council proclaimed that Arianism was a heresy. Regrettably Arianism continued to grow along with other heretical movements such as Gnosticism (“gnosis” Greek for “knowledge”) and Manichaeism. These movements blended Christian and pagan elements. Such heretical movements centered around a claim to secret knowledge that leads to salvation.
Egypt also became the center for monasticism. A well-known monastery is St. Catherine’s located on the Sinai Peninsula. Some believe this to be the site of the “burning bush” where God spoke to Moses and the Mount where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

The Rise of Islam in Egypt

Between 639 and AD 642, Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt. In AD 969, the Shi’ite Ismaili Fatimid rulers founded Al-Azhar University in Cairo. It became and remains one of the leading and most influential universities in the Islamic world. It has been said that Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the “heart” of Islam, but Egypt was and still is the “head” of Islam. In the 12th century, Sunni Muslims led by Saladin took over rule in Egypt, and Sunni Islam has dominated this ancient country ever since. But advanced learning has remained an important part of Egypt to this day.

In the 1200s Turks were using slave soldiers known as Mamelukes to conquer Egypt, Palestine and Syria. The Muslim Turkish Ottomans defeated the Arabs in 1517, and they controlled Egypt from 1517 until 1882, except for a brief period of French rule under Napoleon Bonaparte.

From British Control to Independence

In 1882, British expeditionary forces crushed a revolt against the Ottoman rulers, ultimately leading to the beginning of British occupation and the addition of Egypt to the British Empire. In recognition of growing nationalism, Great Britain gave Egypt independence in 1922 and Fuad I became the Egyptian King. However, British influence continued to dominate Egypt’s political life, fostering financial, administrative and governmental reforms. The British Empire also maintained control of the Suez Canal, which had been completed in 1869.

In 1956, Gamal Abdel Nasser became Egypt’s second president. He nationalized the Suez Canal and started construction of the Aswan Dam. Anwar al-Sadat came to power in 1970 with an extensive Islamist agenda. He released thousands of imprisoned Islamic radicals of the “Muslim Brotherhood.” In turn he imprisoned secularists, socialists and many Christian activists. Sadat cancelled Egypt’s secular constitution, replacing it with Sharia (i.e., Islamic) Law. By September 1981, Sadat had stripped the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III, leader of the Christian community, of all authority, banishing him to a desert monastery and ordered the arrest of some 125 Coptic clergy and lay activists along with hundreds of secular Muslims. Sadat was assassinated in 1981, two years after he signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Hosni Mubarak then became president, and he continues in this position today. Mubarak made a subtle agreement with the Islamists in which he turned control of the media, education and government administrations over to them in return for allowing his rule to go unchallenged. The Islamic agenda continues to grow stronger in Egypt. Many women are involved in Islamic studies at al-Azhar University. There is, however, a controversy over the niqab (full veil that covers the face and body). A new law might ban the wearing of it in public. Some of the women who wear the niqab are against this proposed change.
The violence and persecution against Christians in Egypt has steadily increased. The police often ignore these incidents. Coptic Christians have been removed from senior positions in government administration, the army, the police, the security services, and top professional positions.

The State of Today’s Egyptian Church

In addition to the Coptic Christians, there are about 900,000 believers who are spread out among 48 different denominations, including Protestant, Catholic and other Orthodox churches. Also there are three to five million Sudanese who sought asylum in Egypt from the long, horrific civil war in Sudan. Many of them are Christians.

Although the Christians in Egypt are faced with serious problems, they are growing stronger and more united. This has led them to become more open in witnessing. Many Christian children are receiving a strong biblical education, which is preparing them for their future. Christian literature, the JESUS Film, radio, tapes, satellite television (see day 11) and the Internet are powerful tools for witnessing to Egyptians.

The underground church is also a powerful tool God can use. There are also a number of Muslims in Egypt who have chosen to accept the teachings of Jesus and recognize God as He is presented in the Bible. Family members and acquaintances often threaten their lives. They risk losing their family, their jobs and everything else. The government does not accept formal “conversion” to Christianity, but allows Muslims to pressure them to return to Islam.

Let’s Pray!

Today the largest Christian community in all of the Arab countries is in Egypt. Pray that God will bring guidance, strength, protection, and justice to Egyptian followers of Christ. Pray that God will use them to extend His Kingdom to non-believers.
Pray that soon Egypt will begin to take her rightful place as God’s tool to win the nations for Himself.
Egypt is faced with a rapidly growing population. Their resources are being overtaxed, which places stress on its people, leaving millions in poverty. Pray for God to shower His abundant mercy on the millions of poor people who suffer in Egypt.


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From the Editor

by Keith Carey

Dear Praying Friends,
Before editing any of the daily entries of this issue, I looked into a concordance. The word “Egypt” was listed 25 times. Most of these references deal either with the time when the Israelis lived in Egypt or a time when Egypt offered some form of temptation or snare to the Israelis. Yet there is this one key reference in Isaiah 19:25 that tells us what Egypt will someday become: “The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” Such strong words! Such a strong blessing! Egypt will become God’s people!
Today, this nation has tremendous power in the Arab world. For centuries they have been known as the “head” of Islam because of their fine universities and their intellectual prowess. The Arabic-speaking world is made up of many dialects, but most of the Arabs understand the Egyptian form of the language, because Egypt controls most of the media. Will they use their power to be a snare to those they influence, as they were to the ancient Israelis, or will they use it to be a blessing as His children? Let’s pray for the children of Egypt to be God’s people.
In Christ,
Keith Carey, managing editor, GPD