Blog 322 October 16, 2016
With the crazy, bizarre twists and turns of the current political campaign for the Presidency, other stories have been pushed out of the headlines. The American electorate wakes up every morning to a new revelation or accusation that leaves them dumbfounded. Ah! But you have more profound concerns that keep your interest percolating around the larger situation occurring across the world – and the Middle East in particular.
While they have hardly even been on the back page, the Egyptians continue to dig out from under the revolt that threw out the Moslem Brotherhood and put Morsi in jail. A number of significant events have occurred that you should know about.
While not an alliance, the relationship between Egypt and Israel continues to improve and becomes increasingly significant. There now exists an unprecedented level of mutual understanding and cooperation between the two countries. Israel has agreed to allow Egypt to exceed their treaty agreement by bringing in larger number of troops and heavy weapons into the Sinai. The eruption of radical Muslim attacks from the Sinai has been a concern for both countries and increased military presence is an asset for both sides.
Both countries agree on the problem of Hamas as well as the unwelcome efforts of Turkey to assume a large role in the region. Israel and Egypt see Iran as attempting to assert more power at a high cost to the whole area. Both countries have now exchanged ambassadors. Egypt’s new position represents somewhat of a crack in any Arab alliance. However tension continues to exist between the Muslim majority and the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt. Muslim clerics continue to harass the Coptics and attacks on churches is common. However, an important step was taken in August that would facilitate the acquisition of building permits for churches. Egypt’s new constitution states a guarantee of freedom of religious rituals for Christians. This is an important step forward for the Christian community.
The three Christian denominations in Egypt – Coptics, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics—recognize problems in the new Constitution, but continue to hope for improvements in the near future. Probably few will be achieved even with the backing of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
In 2011, there were an estimated 2,860 churches compared with 108,000 mosques. The numbers tell the tale. Egypt remains a Muslim country. Change is cumbersome because of a corrupt Egyptian bureaucracy. Eighty percent of the Muslims believe Sharia law must be the basis for an Egyptian constitution. Nevertheless, it is hoped that something approaching civil society may be emerging in Egypt.
Certainly, Egypt is changing and from a democratic point-of-view the country is on an uphill climb. The extreme fears created by the Muslim Brotherhood appear to have disappeared and a more equable society seems to be emerging.
Such change is good for Israel, the Middle East, and certainly the Egyptian people.