Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Monday, August 19, 2013

At Last, a Bright Future for Egypt

The recent events in Egypt, including the burning of Churches and violation of Christian people and properties, prompted me to write this little essay which remains open for discussion. On one hand, it remains puzzling to me - in this atmosphere of uncertainty - that the Interim Government could allow demonstrations in Egypt, in the name of democracy, when many demonstrators are there to cause violence and increase hatred. On the other hand, if it does not allow demonstrations, the Government may be perceived (by  its own people and allies/enemies in the Globe) to be dictatorial and undemocratic. In the one year when the Muslim Brotherhood governed Egypt, Mohammed Morsi was widely perceived to be a dictator. I also saw the stress that engulfed Egyptians due to spreading hatred and despair about their own future. Today true charismatic leadership is needed. I recall true leadership which inspired me and many Egyptians. Such leaders may have been dictators but each of them had a vision that inspired his talk and walk in life and attracted people to love him. Gamal Abdel Nasser was a dictator but in his vision of an inclusive society he also introduced reforms including making university education accessible to poor students and inspired his listeners by his charismatic character. Anba Shenouda, the late Coptic Orthodox Patriarch inspired many Christians in Egypt by his homilies and pastoral travels. For over 40 years since his election as Patriarch and Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, he actively pursued his dream. In one of his speeches in the presence of President Anwar El-Sadat (another dictator yet a great leader), he said "Not that we live in Egypt but that Egypt lives in us."  We must dream to survive. Fifty years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. said "I have a dream." The hero of Civil Rights Movement has already entered history! Pope John Paul II, probably a dictator too at the helm of the Catholic Church, inspired such events as the World Youth Day that brought many of the lost young sheep back to Christ the Pastor of all and made humanity the core center of his pontificate. One still living example is the visionary Nelson Mandela who, in spite of many years in prison, forgave his enemies and became a leader of South Africa. He is loved all over the world for his courage and big heart.

At Last...The Survival of Egypt
1. Brief Update
2. Definitions
3. Thesis:
a. Historical Background
b. Today's Situation
c. Recommendations and Conclusion

In an  interview with the respected Egyptian author Mohammed Hassanein Heikal in June, he said that today the most important thing that matters is knowledge. Knowledge about everything that takes place in Egypt is instantly available across the Globe through advanced information communication technology. No one can hide any more. As has been shown with the "Snowden" case, spying also has taken new forms and means at a global scale. In spite of, or probably due to, this technology, millions of Egyptians were able to gather effectively and move on in their cities to demand the end of a militant dictatorship. On July 3, the army intervened, seized power and transferred it to an interim civil government. By mid August, the Egyptian police and army moved to end a sit-in by those militants and their supporters in two areas in Cairo and Giza. Egypt has been on its way to liberation from an encroaching militant dictatorship. Or so most Egyptians think!


Dictatorship has always been a concern to Christians because the dictator dictates his own rule on everyone else. Not only does he repress freedom but also appoints himself the final judge of any conflicts that take place in his land. Stalin and Hitler have been described by most freedom seekers as dictators. Leaders of Western democracy expressed their fears that since July 3 Egyptians have replaced Islamist dictatorship with a military dictatorship.

Militancy or extremism emphasizes certain ideas at the expense of reasonable ones. Extremists are not realists. They do not understand the developing world around them. They are not moderate in their thought, neither conservative nor liberal but agents of evil-doing in revenge, and nearly sick in killing their opponents whenever they need to. Such acts are objectively considered crimes although subjectively the murderer may not be guilty due to his mental illness. However, no one with a reasonable mind who hopes to live in peace, in any religion or no religion, would tolerate such crimes against himself, his family, his friends, his neighbors of good will, or his society.

Society is important too. Humans always live in societies and share their goals and dreams with fellow humans. In her TED talk in 2010, Professor Brené Brown of Sociology at Houston, Texas University referred to recent research that confirms that we are "neurobiologically-wired" and connected. People are able today to communicate with each other across continents through advanced technology...

If the above is acceptable I wish to state a thesis: Canada is supportive of the necessary measures undertaken by the Egyptian Government to protect religious minorities. However, if Egypt and America (backed by Europe) cut off their relationships under any pretexts, both sides will pay heavily. It is in the West's strategic interests that Egypt grows into a secular state that respects all religions equally and thus follows the Constitution of the U.S. or that of Canada. It is also in Egypt's interest that the West's abundant technology and investments be available to Egypt. Since Egypt remains the most populous Arab country, kind of a "big brother," this step will encourage a true Arab spring in the rest of the Arab world.

Before I address business people, economists and leaders of the U.S. and countries of the European Union with regard to their role in helping Egyptians transform their economy, I wish to give a little historical background from the second half of the 20th century.

Historical Background:

It is a fact that the end of WWII ushered the rebuilding of Western Europe but also attracted most European scientists especially from broken Germany to seek residence in the rich U.S. This is one distinct workforce that contributed to the advances in the living standards of society in North America. The Cold War between the West-based NATO and the Communist countries witnessed the competing forces of war in Vietnam, Korea, Cuba, and others in Latin America inspired by Marxist ideology. Having formed NATO, Western Europe was protected from any war since the end of WWII. The global rise of America's power seems to have started on the Moon when in 1969 the American Neil Armstrong, lead astronomer in Apollo 11 and the first-ever human being to step on the Lunar surface, immediately declared his achievement  "a one giant leap for mankind"! The giant leap for mankind reflected a commitment of the United States to a global order where it leads the world in technological advances and confirms the defeat of the Soviet Union in space and advanced technology. The U.S. space agency NASA which until today is in charge of advanced technology for space exploration continues to send satellites that may be used for military purposes or, worse, for spying on other countries.

To economically open the world to America,  the politically astute Henri Kissinger engineered the first visit of an American President - Richard Nixon - to China in 1972 and in the same year Richard Nixon paid the first visit of an American President to the Soviet Union. Agreements with leaders of both Communist giants made sure to mutually reduce the military arsenal and nuclear weapons so that the world could breathe for spending in the more important economic sphere. In 1972 too, President Anwar El-Sadat of Egypt expelled the Soviet military experts and, later on, he turned to the U.S. saying that "99% of the political cards in the game are in the hands of America." On October 6 1973 the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal and seized the eastern side from Israel. Syrian forces, after struggling to return the Golan Heights, were pushed back by Israeli forces. Fully aware of America's military support for Israel to regain Sinai and cross to Suez possibly reaching Cairo, Sadat, in a televised speech nearly a week later, proposed a full cease fire between military forces of Egypt and Israel and declared Egypt's victory in psychologically breaking the Israeli intransigence. Recognizing the futility of war and with a rare courage, Sadat later visited Israel to seek peace. In 1979 the Camp David Agreement between Egypt and Israel, mediated by Jimmy Carter the American President at the time, sealed his efforts. In receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Sadat was duly acknowledged by the international community as a great hero of peace to the chagrin of other "revolutionary" Arab states who thought Sadat betrayed the Arab cause to liberate Palestine from the Jews! After letting Muslim extremists out of jail, Sadat acknowledged his fatal mistake. Assassinated by those Muslim extremists in 1981, Sadat's legacy was recognized by political global powers. Egypt's highly respected position in the Arab world was regained in the 1980s due to the moderate stance of his successor Hosni Mubarak.

While the Soviet Union lost the most strategically important ally in the Middle East, it continued its presence in Syria. However, the most powerful transformation of policies in the Soviet Union occurred at the hands of the newly elected leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. It was Pope John Paul II who in 1979 inspired the Polish workers union known as "Solidarity" to continue demonstrations and peaceful resistance against the Communist government. Gorbachev recognized the unstoppable international power of the Pope and visited him in the Vatican, an unprecedented move by the Soviet Communist leader while the United States President Ronald Reagan, probably with the Vatican's knowledge, moved quickly to economically dismantle Communism. In 1989, the Berlin Wall that divided Western Europe from Eastern Europe was demolished by the young crowds who sought freedom. The Soviet Union, facing much economic difficulties in keeping up with the advances of the Capitalist United States and Western Europe, returned the republics that made it into independence. Governments of other Communist countries collapsed except for a couple. A new globalization order was born. Having regained Sinai under the Camp David Accords, Egypt was already on the right side of history with a policy of open markets.

With globalization underway, the 1990s witnessed  a growth in trade. Canada, the U.S. and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The European Union was enhanced with a single currency. The so-called BRIC countries (after Brazil, Russia, India, and China) made significant economic progress which eventually challenged the dominance of the U.S. in economic free markets. By the early 21st century, most workers unions were already being downsized. And America, proud of its military and economic supremacy, chose to fight two wars against terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq on grounds that these countries regimes supported global terrorism which struck the U.S. on 9/11 in 2001. The wars cost America and the invaded countries hundreds of thousands of lives (people who lost their lives or whose lives were compromised because of the intransigence of their leaders) and a huge debt. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it was demonstrated that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which the U.S. had used as a reason for the invasion. In an effort to contain the losses, Barack Obama sought to withdraw American forces from both Afghanistan and Iraq while ignoring the fact that America's invasions added more hatred of Muslims towards the West and Christians. On the contrary, according to Heikal, as early as 2009 the U.S. and the rest of NATO planned military and political support for the Muslim Brotherhood to take over stable Arab regimes. The 2011 experiment called "The Arab Spring" exploited the religious divisions among Sunni and Shiite Muslims and the hatred of Muslim extremists against Christian minorities to advance America's control over the entire Middle East and cross over to contain the ascending China which is already present in many African countries with its cheap products. Egypt was one of the Arab countries that fell to the Muslim Brotherhood supported by the West. Tunisia and Yemen had fallen without resistance and Libya was taken by force. It seems that America and Europe support the radical islamisation of the Arab world in order to secure themselves against terrorism. By localizing terrorism in the Middle East, Western powers can eliminate it gradually and prevent it from spreading to their lands. Meanwhile, casualties of lives whether Christian or Muslim do not matter to them...Israel remains the most secure of all lands in the Middle East. In 2012 Egypt's Muslim Brothers in government accepted and negotiated a deal with Israel and Hamas (the Palestinian terrorist organization - also a branch of the international Muslim Brotherhood) which ended strikes from Hamas into Israeli's lands and - in return - bestowed Egypt's Sinai on the Palestinians governed by Hamas as their land! The United States, eager to solve the Palestinian Question, supported this agreement.
The unstable economic and political condition in so many Arab countries has thus been created by the so-called "Arab Spring" planned in advance by NATO and negotiated by the Americans with the Muslim Brotherhood as a number of trusted sources confirmed. Its propaganda was to replace dictators with democratic systems. But could democracy be manufactured? Could the West ever come to terms with the revival of theocratic Islam without hurting its own citizens and the Christian minorities in Islamic countries? While Egypt is on its way to liberation from militant Muslims, many questions remain open for the rest of the Arab world. Iraq is already suffering divisions from the aftermath of the American invasion. Syria is undergoing a vicious war against militant Islamists who receive military support from Turkey and have fighters from Al Qaeda terrorists. Alleging that the Syrian regime is dictatorial, the governments of France and Britain wish to send military support to the embattled militant Islamists but are held back by a hesitant U.S. administration who certainly do not wish another costly involvement while the invasion of Iraq has greatly cost America. Over a million Syrians have left their land and thousands have been killed in fighting over 2 years. The involvement of Russia militarily in support of the Syrian regime has sustained so far the Syrian President with collaboration from Shiite parties such as the militant Hizbullah and Iran. However, Lebanon is also witnessing violent exchanges between Shiite and Sunni Muslims which may engulf Christians and extend to Jordan too. In view of the Syrian war, stability in the region remains highly doubtful.

Recommendations and Conclusion:

The West has trampled over the UN Declaration of Human Rights...But who has not? Political powers in the Middle East failed to act responsibly. We cannot blame the West solely for the failures of Arab regimes. If the Western powers acted in their own interests, Arabs too should have acted in their own interests. Yet we see rich Arab countries fearful of Iran only because the latter is dominated by Shiite Muslims. Since the 1960s Western Europe has had a common market and in the 1990s they were able to form the European Union but it took Europe a huge program to restore it economically after WWII. The Marshall Plan was developed to assist Europe to stand again on its feet. Since the 1980s, the globalization  program initiated by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher has spread all over the advanced world. The Internet enabled the communication of advanced technology. A Capitalist Neo-Darwinian world is in the making and will likely reduce the need for human workforce. Artificial intelligence may shortly replace humans where possible.

It is evident from the above that Egypt cannot do much without investments from the advanced Western world if Egypt is to survive. The basic needs of humanity are both psychological and material. For psychological needs, religion may be the solution but for material needs, economic cooperation must be sought. In my opinion, Egypt needs the West for several reasons:
1. Investments in private and government organizations as seen acceptable by the Government of Egypt.
2. Education of the young generation. The best education whether in humanities, science, business, technology or philosophy is to be found in Germany, France, Canada, and the U.S. although India offers some good education.
3.  All the large businesses have their head offices in the U.S. Firms such as IBM, Microsoft, Google are world leaders in information systems.As for natural resources and renewable energy resources, the U.S. and Canada alone have enough oil, natural gas, solar and nuclear energy resources that could sustain them for another 50 years. The need of these countries with respect to oil resources in the Arab Gulf and Saudi Arabia is minimal. But the U.S. political/military strategy dictates an extended control over all lands and waters that positions the U.S. and its allies close to the Far East where Heikal expects the next war to occur.
4. Security: The U.S. has a huge global network of satellites and online communications in addition to its supremacy in military equipment and technology.
5. The Holy See in the Vatican is the largest, oldest and most enduring moral voice in the world. The Roman Catholic Church is able to channel her influence upon North American Catholics and other Christians to invest in the Middle East and rebuild Churches as well as educational institutions. The Vatican has ambassadors in all the Western countries and can therefore exert political influence on their governments. In my personal experience since my private meeting with the Archbishop of Toronto in 2008, I have seen the commitment of the Roman Catholic parishes in Toronto to sponsor Christian and non-Christian refugees from Iraq, and more recently from Syria, in collaboration with the Government of Canada.  On request by Jesus the King Council of the Knight of Columbus, Jesus the King Melkite Catholic Church will host a lecture by the head of the Office of  Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto where questions about refugees from Syria and Egypt will be discussed. We hope that the program which expires in 2014 will be further extended if the Government of Canada agrees.
6. Although the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 was due to mismanagement of loans by American banks and the lack of proper regulations by government, the U.S. and the European Union have taken some measures to regulate financial transactions. With a modest economic recovery, the U.S. remains the hub of global financial activities. The Canadian financial institutions, by contrast, were not significantly affected. Canadian banks are taking over banks in the U.S. while the Chinese Central Government is hardly able to control inflation.

The West needs Egypt for its strategic geography, its market and its resources particularly the Suez Canal, oil, and other natural resources. Egypt controls transportation of military and commercial goods from the U.S. and Europe as well as the rest of the world through the Suez Canal and can give privileged access in the air and sea to its allies. Egypt is also the leader of Arab states that can secure peace with Israel; an important ally of the U.S. Egypt 's role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to solve the Palestinian Question is undeniable.

For Christians in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world, I have to repeat my appeal that the world Orthodox Churches and Catholic Churches unite as a first step for full unity among Christians. This may take time but an Ecumenical Council that seeks unity cannot be overlooked. In this context the Bishop of Rome would convene the Council and invite Orthodox Bishops to participate in it. Readers may wish to read about the Council of Florence.

If we are really about serving the world let us start by giving an opportunity to Arab Christians in order to serve their families and grow their networks with others including Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists. Talks of good will between Muslim scholars and Christian Churches/scholars have been abundant since the Second Vatican Council, but political will for action is still lacking. See for example: which in 2007 published a letter signed by Muslim scholars to Christian leaders. See too the Apostolic Exhortation for Christians in the Middle East in 2012. In 2001, Pope John Paul II visited the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, Syria where he prayed at the place where traditionally the head of St. John the Baptist is said to have been kept. These are good gestures of Christian-Muslim dialogue, but they remain gestures.

The first Arab Christian Council in the Knights of Columbus (which is a Catholic organization of 2 million members) won the Youth Award across the world Knights of Columbus this year. The project (initiated and supported by Jesus the King Council) sponsors students at the Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarchal School near Jerusalem. If you wish to sponsor a student, the website can be found here and is served by the Council in Toronto. See also the Knights of Columbus Website here.

The question of excessive Capitalism has been raised since the victory of Capitalism. On the enduring importance of Centesimus Annus written by Pope John Paul II in 1991, George Weigel wrote here in 2011.

In a 1991 presentation to the Association of Christian Economists, Andrew Foshee, Ph.D. quotes Pope John Paul II on the economic "Third Way" proposed by scholars in the Catholic Church (See it here: )
[Can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system,
and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and
society?...The answer is obviously complex. If by "capitalism" is meant an economic system which
recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting
responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then
the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of
a "business economy", "market economy" or simply "free economy". But if by "capitalism" is meant a
system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical
framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a
particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly
negative.] (para. 42). It is clear that the Catholic Church regards businesses and the entire economic systems as tools that must be at the service of the human person and his freedom.

According to the Gospel, real freedom requires detachment from materialist possessions. The joy of saints is to to serve those in need which has been the call of Pope Francis and his example since his election.

Conclusion: The above proposal does not exclude business opportunities for Egyptians with Russian and Chinese businesses. However, to have a balanced judgment regardless of emotional bias, it is good to be open to opportunities from all countries.  The Church in Egypt as in other countries needs to make sure that the poorest and most vulnerable are served materially and spiritually. While religiosity is not lacking in Egypt, consciences must be awakened. If excessive Capitalism is too harsh then a more moderate stand may be taken. Harsh loans by the IMF may be unsuitable at this time, but for economists with good conscience to examine them they need to be open in moderation. On moderation, Saint Augustine had said:
"Be Moderate in Everything Except in Love" (St. Augustine)
"Behold, I make all things new." (New Testament; Revelation 21: 5)

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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