Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pray for Egypt

The protests in Egypt are something that the Christian community should be keeping in prayer.

We were in Egypt some years back and experienced some different aspects to the place. Though it is not an open society, we did find the people easy to talk to and even found occasion to share the Gospel at times—though you gotta be careful. We also noticed how nominal it was—nobody even flinched when the call to prayers would come through the day much less go and pray; they’d just go on with their things completely ignoring it. We also saw firsthand the grinding and abject poverty. I was prepared for that sort of thing in other places like India, but in Egypt it caught me off guard in a land that once ruled the world as one of the great empires of ancient civilization— here was another example of a formerly great empire in the Middle East that had turned completely backwards. The contrast after traveling in affluent Israel, it’s next-door neighbor, couldn’t be more stark.

An example of how dire the social situation is came on a visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Egypt created a special division of police called the “Tourist Police” specifically to protect tourists from being harassed by those seeking money, handouts, and bribes, all day long, everywhere they go. Quite literally, one can find himself being followed all day by those seeking handouts if the tourist police don’t intervene. A law exists that tourists cannot be followed more than 100 meters by those wanting handouts, a law that is of course routinely ignored.

While at the museum, I was taking interest in an exhibit of a king who is mentioned in the Bible for battling with Israel: Shishak. A tourist police officer close by noticed my interest and asked, “You want picture?” “Sure, why not,” I replied. He suddenly cleared the room and made everyone leave and then locked the door. “Take picture,” he demanded. I was going, “What?? Man I guess I better take a picture the way this crazy nut is acting.” So I took a couple and he said, “No, no, take more, take more.” I took some more while he stood blocking the door from me leaving or anyone coming in, and then he demanded I take even more. I finally said, “You know, I think I have enough now.” I had every angle of Shishak you could want! While he continued blocking the door he said, “Now bahkeesh!” I was going, “What’s bahkeesh?” “A tip, you pay, you pay for pictures!” he demanded. I pulled out some bills and of course no matter what I offered it wasn’t enough. “How am I going to get away from this crazy nut? He is the police after all.” I finally had to show him that my wallet had no more bills in it and hey, my camera is full now too by the way—I got a mass of pictures of mostly Shishak from my visit to the famed Egyptian museum with all its different antiquities. I don’t mind giving some money to those in need but that was just weird. “Wait a minute,” I thought “that was the tourist police, they’re supposed to prevent this sort of harassment.”

The reality that most in Egypt live on less than two dollars a day gives some explanation about the desperation and the systemic corruption on every level there.

Christians should be praying that one of the main centers of the Early Church—Alexandria was amongst five key cities of the Early Church—could have the Gospel spreading through it once again. The Coptic Church still exists but is marginalized and persecuted within Egyptian society. The current situation could turn a number of ways, some bad, some good. If the wrong people take over it could be very bad. There are other possibilities though: It is important for us to pray that the door opens for a more open society that allows the Good News of Christ to spread within it freely once again. God knows they need it!