Religion & Liberty Online

Explainer: What’s Going on in Egypt?

burnt-churchHundreds of supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were killed in Cairo this week by Egyptian security forces. The protestors, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, responded by destroying Coptic Christian churches throughout the country.

Here’s what you should know about what’s going on in Egypt.

What is the Muslim Brotherhood?

The Muslim Brotherhood, begun in 1928, is Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organization.

Founded by Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood – or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic – has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work. The movement initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence. While the Brotherhood say they support democratic principles, one of the group’s stated aims is to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia. Its most famous slogan, used worldwide, is: “Islam is the solution.”

Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party.

Who is Mohamed Morsi?

Morsi served as president of Egypt from June 30, 2012 to July 3, 2013, when he was ousted by the military. He is considered to be the first democratically elected head of state in Egyptian history. He became Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) when it was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. He stood as the FJP’s candidate for the May–June 2012 presidential election. Although most of his education was in Egypt, Morsi received a Ph.D. degree in materials science from the University of Southern California in 1982.

Why is Morsi no longer president?

On 30 June 2013, mass protests erupted across Egypt calling for the President’s resignation, following severe fuel shortages and electricity outages. The Egyptian military told the country’s civilian government to “meet the demands of the people” or it would step in to restore order. Morsi was declared unseated on 3 July 2013 by a council consisting of defense minister Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, and Coptic Pope Tawadros II. He is being held at an undisclosed military facility, facing a variety of criminal charges.

Who is protesting, and why?

Since Morsi’s ouster, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party have staged mass rallies and sit-ins across Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood officials said on the group’s website that they will continue protesting until Morsi is put back in office. They say Morsi’s removal is an illegitimate coup and they refuse to accept its validity. They refuse to recognize the interim government or cooperate with it.

What sparked the latest round of violence?

On Wednesday security forces drove out supporters of Morsi from two sprawling encampments where they had been camped out for six weeks demanding his reinstatement. More than 500 people were killed in a security crackdown.

The protestors responded by destroying dozens of Christian churches and institutions.

Why is the Muslim Brotherhood attacking churches?

As Jonathan S. Tobin explains:

The first reason is because the Christian minority, unlike the military, is vulnerable. Throughout the long year when Egypt suffered under Morsi’s Islamist rule, Christians and their churches were increasingly subject to attacks as the Muslim movement sought to make the position of the religious minority untenable. As the Brotherhood seeks to demonstrate that it is still a viable force in the country’s streets even after its Cairo strongholds are uprooted, expect more attacks on Christians to remind Egyptians that the Islamists are still a force to be reckoned with.

Second, the attacks on churches are not just a regrettable sideshow in what may be soon seen as a civil war as the Islamists seek to regain power after losing in the wake of the massive street protests that encouraged the army to launch the coup that ended Morsi’s rule. Rather, such attacks are an inextricable part of their worldview as they seek to transform Egypt in their own Islamist image. In the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt, there is no room for Christians or even secular Muslims. That is why so many in Egypt applauded the coup as perhaps the last chance to save the country from permanent Islamist rule.

What is a Coptic Christian?

The word Copt is derived from the Greek word for Egyptian. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, it became restricted to those Egyptians adhering to Christianity.

How many Christians are in Egypt?

Approximately 12 percent of the Egyptian population—roughly 12 million people—are Christians. Egypt’s Copts are considered the largest community of Christians in the Middle East. The majority of Copts belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. About 800,000 are divided between the Coptic Catholic and various Coptic Protestant churches.

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Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).