Culture At Large

A Christian reports from troubled Cairo

Chris Meehan

The so-called Arab Spring in Egypt that began two years ago has been a disappointment to many Egyptians who had hoped that it would begin building political and social stability, according to Anne Zaki, who lives in Cairo and is a resource development specialist for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Zaki recently spoke at a symposium held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she addressed the second anniversary of the uprising that drove longtime President Hosni Mubarak from his position and placed Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, in power. According to the BBC, more than 50 people have died in recent protests against the new government, with the chief of the army warning that it could lead to a “collapse of the state.”

“We are now living in a period that doesn’t make sense,” said Zaki. “Many people believe we are worse off now than we were under President Mubarak.”

Zaki and her husband, Naji Umran, moved with their four children to Zaki’s homeland of Egypt, where Umran serves with Christian Reformed World Missions. There is much about Egypt for which she and her family have deep appreciation, Zaki said, but tensions have grown over the last two years as many people in Egypt have had their optimism dashed.

“The church is starting to be awakened about the need to be present in this time of tension and transition."

Zaki said that Egyptians find themselves chafing under the rule and domination of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups such the ultraconservative Salafis. Christians in particular have become targets. Some Salafi men have barged into a church and claimed the building for Islam by conducting a Muslim prayer there, Zaki said, while a Salafi female teacher publicly cut the hair of two non-veiled Muslim girls in her classroom.

Meanwhile, many of Egypt’s poor have been left out of the system and face continued grinding poverty. Unemployment remains high.

But that doesn’t mean things are hopeless. There has been a move to build a political front joining many civil parties that can be a non-Islamist voice as Egypt struggles toward democracy. Egyptian women across the country are beginning to lobby for their rights. Egyptian Christians are also setting aside their historic tendency to avoid involvement in politics.

“The church is starting to be awakened about the need to be present in this time of tension and transition,” said Zaki.

Zaki discussed how Morsi has set a limit of purchasing three loaves of subsidized bread a day for each person, in some cases the only food people eat. While this move will only stir more discord in Egypt, she said, it is important to note the significance that the church can play in this and in other developments.

“The church knows that it can give the bread of life to people, but they also know that offering bread for the body creates a fertile ground for the bread of life to take hold and transform,” she said.

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, World