Global Baptist leaders voiced concern about Egypt’s Christians as tens of thousands of protesters poured into Egyptian streets for a seventh day and opposition to President Hosni Mubarak called for a “march of millions.”
Meanwhile, nations around the world began evacuating their citizens. The New York Times reported Jan. 31 that the U.S. government began to evacuate voluntarily some of the 90,000 Americans in Egypt. Turkey and Japan made arrangements to evacuate their citizens.
Australian News Network said that a chartered Qantas 747 would be sent to Cairo Feb. 2 to airlift Australians trapped in Egypt.
Citing Jesus’ admonition to be brave in challenging times, Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society, wrote EthicsDaily.com that Arab Christians needed to take heart, for Jesus said he had overcome the world.
“We, Arab Christians, are fellow members of the same communities, and non-Christians need to see that we really care and walk the talk,” said Costa.
He cautioned Christians about allowing their positions on the turmoil in Egypt to be determined by CNN and other U.S. media.
“We need to be in tune with God, understand what he is doing and be prepared. Now is the time to train more local leaders who can minister effectively to their communities; train Arab lay and church leaders who can genuinely reflect the love, grace and peace of our Lord,” said the Lebanese Baptist leader, whose offices are in Beirut.
According to the CIA’s Factbook, 90 percent of the 80.4 million Egyptians are Muslim (most are Sunni), 10 percent are Coptic Christians and 1 percent belong to other Christian bodies.
Noting the complexity of the situation, Tony Peck, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation (EBF), pointed out that “the recent attacks on Christians, especially the ancient Coptic Church, show that there are extremist elements present in Egyptian society undermining the Christian presence there.”
Middle East and North African Baptist bodies are members of EBF. The Egyptian Baptist Convention, which has 18 churches and 12,100 church members, is an EBF member union.
Peck told EthicsDaily.com, “Whilst a move towards greater democracy in Egypt should be welcomed, there is the danger of a power vacuum in which extremist groups may flourish, and Christians of all traditions find themselves under increasing pressure and even open persecution. Sadly, this is what is happening in Iraq.”
Robert Sellers, professor at Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene, Texas, and an active leader in the efforts at Baptist-Muslim dialogue, noted the recent persecution of Egypt’s Christians.
“Those who desire a change should remember that the greed and power-mongering of the present government affects followers of all faiths – Muslims, Christians and others,” said Sellers. “The cries for change in governance should be divorced from any sectarian agenda. While seeking justice in their country, the protesters in Egypt must decide not to instigate unjust acts toward anyone, nor to allow themselves or their cause to be channeled toward attacks on religious or ethnic minorities.”
Two Baptist political figures also commented on the Egyptian crisis.
The Ledger-Enquirer, a Columbus, Ga., newspaper, reported that former president Jimmy Carter told his Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church Jan. 30, “This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office.”
Carter, who left the White House in 1981, said the unrest would probably force Mubarak from office.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has stayed out of it,” said Carter, expressing his belief that the upheaval was not driven by Muslim extremists.
Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and former president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention, said that the Egyptian situation “could threaten the world” and was a threat to Israel.
Speaking in Israel, he said, “The real threat to Israel is not the bomb but the people behind it, not weapons but the madmen behind them,” according to Politico.com.
The head of SAT-7, an ecumenical Christian satellite television network, voiced concern and called for prayer.
Supported by Baptist organizations including American Baptist Churches-USA, Baptist General Conference (USA) and BMS World, SAT-7 broadcasts by and for people in the Middle East and North Africa.
Its CEO, Terence Ascott, issued a statement in which he noted that his son, a school teacher, had been injured in Cairo by a rubber bullet while distributing water to both demonstrators and security forces.
“Our prayer is that the current unrest will eventually result in positive change leading to greater justice, security and political openness in the country – for all Egyptians including the Christian minority which, historically, has often been neglected and marginalized,” said Ascott.
Claiming that the situation was a political matter, not a religious one, Ascott said: “We encourage Christians everywhere to pray that President Mubarak and his advisers will have wisdom in how best to respond to the justifiable frustrations of the Egyptian people, and that the violence will not lead to an even greater loss of life.”