February 4, 2011

03RNSB: For Egypt's Christians, Conditions Could Worsen--or Even Improve

For Egypt's Christians, Conditions
Could Worsen--or Even Improve

BY MARK KELLY                                                                                   ©2011 Religion News Service

The turmoil in Egypt threatens to unleash chaos in a country long ruled by a dictator where militant Islam has been growing for years--and the outcome is difficult to predict, two Southern Baptist observers said Jan. 31.
Massive protests, at times violent, have rocked Egypt's major cities for nearly a week, partly inspired by successful democracy protests in neighboring Tunisia that drove that country's strongman from power. Over the weekend, police vanished from the cities and allowed mobs to pillage and loot at will, according to media reports. Gangs of armed men attacked at least four jails Jan. 30, freeing hundreds of Muslim radicals and criminals.

While some demonstrators in Egypt have called for democracy, most are venting their anger over poverty, joblessness, food prices, corruption and police brutality. The Muslim Brotherhood, a hard-line Islamist organization of 600,000 members, also has organized demonstrations.

"Islamic factions of various stripes are interacting with secular and democratic groups with common immediate goals in mind -- overthrow the tyrant," said Mike Edens, professor of Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. "The common energy of youthful idealism, awareness of the injustice of the status quo, and impatience with structure has caused these and other factions to cooperate for immediate outcomes with disregard for who will lead after the dust settles."

The Egyptian turmoil is not primarily a democratic uprising like the one in Tunisia, said Eddie Pate, director of the David and Faith Kim School of Global Missions at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

"I doubt very seriously that this is some kind of 'grass-roots' popular uprising by people that are disenchanted with the government, fed up with poverty or a lack of jobs," Pate said. "While they may be some of the people protesting, I would see this as being orchestrated by people seeking to capitalize on what happened in Tunisia.

"I think the fact that the situation worsened after Friday (January 28) prayers is an indication that Muslim leaders are at best not discouraging the protests," Pate added. "We have to remember that the Muslim Brotherhood started in Egypt. They are likely to demand a more influential role in the next government should the current government be forced to step down."

The Muslim Brotherhood advocates imposing Islamic Sharia law and is closely allied with the radical Hamas and Hezbollah organizations, both of which also are linked to Iran. Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been suppressed by the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 29 years. The jailbreaks freed 34 Muslim Brotherhood members, including at least seven senior members of the group, according to news reports.
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