RLPB 402. Egypt and Syria: Massacre and the Threat of Massacre
— plus Easter Prayer
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF, Director of Advocacy
EGYPT: PALM SUNDAY DOUBLE MASSACRE
Soon after 9am on Sunday 9 April, as the believers were enjoying Palm Sunday celebrations, a suicide bomber entered Mar Girgis (St George) Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. Launching himself towards the front of the church, he detonated himself beside the altar. At least 27 worshippers were killed and a further 78 others wounded. A few hours later in coastal Alexandria, a suicide bomber approached St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. Unable to gain entrance to the church, he blew himself up outside, killing 18 civilians and four police officers. The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, had just finishing addressing the congregation, but was not hurt. By Sunday afternoon, Islamic State in Egypt had claimed both attacks.
That evening, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced on television that he would impose a three-month nationwide state of emergency, establish a Supreme Anti-Terrorism Council and fast-track amendments to the criminal code to expedite the trials of terror suspects. On 10 April the Egyptian parliament approved the measures.
The situation for Copts in Egypt is extremely complex. Churches are a soft target for Islamic militants aiming to trigger sectarian conflict to destabilise or extract concessions from the state. Meanwhile, many Muslims in authority view Christians as pawns, expendable in the pursuit of Western military aid and support. In other words, both the jihadists and the authorities stand to gain from bombing the churches. Furthermore, after receiving intelligence on 10 April that an IS attack was imminent, Israel closed the border crossing between Taba in Egypt’s South Sinai Province and Eilat in southern Israel, on the north shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. As Islamic State’s Caliphate collapses in Mosul, many of IS’s Egyptian fighters are returning home. Islamic State in Egypt is growing and, with Muslim Brotherhood support, is escalating its campaign. The Christian crisis in Egypt is moving to a whole new level.
Of course this violence leaves many nominal or cultural Muslims shaken, repulsed and disillusioned — indeed many will reject Islam because of it. An evangelical pastor in the Middle East told Jennifer Breedon (an analyst with the Clarion Project): ‘Today ISIS is the evangelizer… I am merely a baptizer of their converts to Christianity.’ While the pastor’s comment is understandable, it would be more accurate to say that ISIS is the hammer smashing Islam’s illusions, while in demonstrating divine amazing grace, Egypt’s Christians are the evangelisers.
PLEASE PRAY FOR Egypt’s grieving, traumatised and anxious Christians. May God comfort them, supply all their needs and redeem all their suffering. May the Lord pour his Holy Spirit on them that they will continue to demonstrate divine amazing grace (see Luke 6:27-31), evangelising Egypt (and the world) in the process.
SYRIA: US REVERSAL RAISES THREAT OF MASSACRE
On the night of Thursday 6 April, US President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat Airbase. Located about 40 km east of the city of Homs, Shayrat is the principal base from where Syrian and Russian forces have been fighting Islamic State in eastern Syria. While the impact of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles appears to have been minimal, the action — which was surely illegal — further complicates an already complicated situation. The missile strike was ordered on the basis of ‘intelligence’ (primarily heart-rending images of children in the village of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib) provided by Turkey and Saudi-backed, al-Qaeda-led ‘rebels’. [Idlib fell to a coalition of Turkey and Saudi-backed al-Qaeda-led transnational jihadists in March 2015 (see RLPBs 303, 305 and 307 of April 2015)].
Without any independent investigation, the West deemed Assad guilty of launching a chemical attack on civilians, despite the obvious fact that the Syrian government — which was making great gains militarily and politically — had nothing to gain from such a provocation and everything to lose. On the contrary, the mostly foreign ‘rebels’ — who care little about Syria or Syrians and are on the back foot militarily — had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Meanwhile, according to Homs governor Talal al-Barazi, 14 Syrians were killed in the US attack on the Shayrat airbase, nine of whom were civilians, including women and children.
It should not be forgotten that NATO-member Turkey and US-allied Saudi Arabia and Qatar started the Syrian war when they chose to exploit ‘Arab Spring’ unrest in Syria to pursue regime change in Damascus. The Turkey-Arab Sunni Axis’ aim is to restore Sunni hegemony (as was the situation before WW1) and install a Sunni regime in Damascus more amenable to Sunni interests. If the US does not step back, the consequences for Christians will be disastrous.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that Hezbollah is known to be stockpiling weapons in southern Syria in preparation for a new war with Israel which may well be launched from Syrian territory. In the early hours of 17 March Israeli air-force jets entered Syrian airspace and fired rockets into a convoy understood to be transporting Iranian weapons to Hezbollah’s T-4 military base at Palmyra, drawing fire from Syrian air defences in the process. This evolving situation is causing a dilemma for Russia, which is allied to Iran and Syria, and to Israel with whom it has pledged co-operation. For Israel the security situation is becoming critical, as the threat posed by Iran-Hezbollah is greater than the threat posed by Islamic State.
The fact we cannot ignore is that if the Syrian government falls jihadists will fill the vacuum, triggering a new exodus and genocide. Western policy is spinning so fast it is dizzying. The only solution I (Elizabeth Kendal) could propose would be an alliance comprising Russia, the Alawites, Israel and the West, committed to keeping the bulk of Mesopotamia (i.e. ‘the Fertile Crescent of minorities’) free from Islamic rule and free from Turkish, Arab or Persian domination. ‘With God, all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26; see also, Luke 1:37).
PLEASE PRAY FOR Syria’s grieving, traumatised and deeply anxious Christians; may God comfort them, supply all their needs and redeem all their suffering. May the Lord intervene in Syria in the interests of the Church, in the interests of Syria.
Dear God our Father,
We lift before you the imperilled Christians of the Middle East, along with persecuted and suffering believers everywhere.
They suffer betrayal, injustice, violence and killing — just as you did.
They struggle with fear, panic, terror and confusion — just as did your disciples.
Though we join in lamentations we find hope in the Cross which reminds us that no matter how deep the darkness, you are there, alive and active, subverting evil and redeeming it for good in fulfilment of promise.
Add our tears to the tears of the bereaved and oppressed, and to the blood of the martyrs: that suffering might be redeemed, that hearts might be softened and the ‘soil’ prepared to receive the Gospel of grace.
Pour out your Spirit afresh upon the Church, that we might with boldness step out in faith and with grace and great generosity of spirit to be cross-bearers (Luke 14:27) and burden-sharers (Galatians 6:2) that the world might believe (John 17:20-23).
Lord have mercy on us for the sake of the Lamb, Jesus Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).