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Survivors

"Survivors" Continued...

Issue: "The rise of localism," March 12, 2011

As night fell, chaos descended. Citizens defended their homes and street corners against armed looters-a frightening reality that would last for days. Mikhail says four Christian families called within a 15-minute period, fearful for their safety. Some heard gunshots outside. Others heard hoodlums downstairs. Mikhail wrote in his journal: "We got on our knees and prayed."

After a long and dangerous night, Mikhail and fellow church leaders decided conditions were too precarious for Sunday church services. The leaders asked the church's families to pray in their homes at noon, and to read the same portions of Scripture. The church members fasted, and again prayed in their homes as night fell.

In Cairo, Zaki was praying too. She stayed in her downtown Cairo home for six days, with access blocked to her church off Tahrir Square. The church's pastor says the evangelical congregation with some 6,000 members held 32 prayer meetings at homes in Cairo neighborhoods during the protests. The pastor visited the square four times, and said other church members went daily.

Life at home was limited: "We lived and breathed the news on TV, the internet when it worked, cell phones, and the newspapers," Zaki said. "We spent long hours discussing the events, praying, fasting, and talking on the phone."

On Tuesday, Feb. 1, protests swelled again: A quarter of a million demonstrators flooded Tahrir Square, demanding Mubarak's ouster. The president announced that he wouldn't run for reelection again, but that didn't satisfy protesters. The next day-eventually dubbed "Black Wednesday"-pro-Mubarak forces attempted to crush the uprising but defiant protesters remained.

Protests continued in Alexandria, but by Sunday, Feb. 6, Mikhail's congregation held church services again. The pastor says the joyful reunion was also a remarkable moment for a handful of first-time visitors: converts from Islam.

Mikhail says a family of four that had converted from Islam had been unable to attend church in the past because of security concerns. (Police often arrested converts, and sometimes harassed churches that received them.) After fleeing their home in Cairo during the protests, the family found new freedom in the absence of state security, says Mikhail: "They attended church for the first time in their lives that day."

With the security forces that normally monitored the church gone after the demonstrations, Mikhail says: "We feel a lot more freedom now."

Protesters' cry for political freedom reached a fevered pitch on Thursday, Feb. 10, when Mubarak appeared on state television: After the president disappointed widespread expectations that he would resign, Tahrir Square erupted. From her home near the square, Zaki wrote a worried email to friends: "As I write you, I hear their shouts and calls as one man, truly a scary sound. . . . Please pray urgently with us. . . . NO WAR, NO BLOOD, NO CHAOS."

Less than 24 hours later, in a stunning reversal, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak would step down and the military would take control. Zaki wrote a new email: "Good morning Family from jubilant Cairo."

Jubilation continued in Egypt for days, as citizens flooded the streets, celebrating Mubarak's departure. But jubilant celebrations eventually faded into sober conversations about what is next for Egypt.

Many Egyptian Christians are still concerned about the potential rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, a well-organized Islamic opposition group with ties to terrorism in other countries. After years of being banned from Egyptian politics, the group announced it would launch an official political party. While most experts don't expect the group to assert an aggressively Islamic agenda immediately, some worry that it may do so over time.

Others worry about whether a new government will afford greater freedoms to minority groups like Christians. Paul Marshall, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, says that democracy without freedom for all the populations in a society isn't true freedom: "You can have elections and highly repressive society."

Mikhail remains hopeful that won't happen: He thinks better relations between Muslims and Christians-and a secular tone during the demonstrations-could promote a secular government with greater freedoms. But he knows that won't be easy: "It's going to require a lot more work, and a lot more miracles to make it a secular state."

In the meantime, Mikhail says he is encouraging Christians to engage their communities and resist retreating. At a recent forum, Mikhail says a participant asked what guaranteed that Christians would have greater freedoms in a new government. The pastor replied: "By being involved now." He told the Christians to speak about their faith "boldly and humbly. . . . But also be involved in the rebuilding of society."

Hunger strikes

Unrest has a high cost to the poor

By Jamie Dean

Surviving a revolution isn't easy. During Egypt's 18-day uprising, protesters decried the economic conditions that have left 20 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Many of those living below the poverty line decried the struggle to survive in cities shut down by unrest.

When it comes to the poorest populations, daily bread often comes from daily trips to the market: Many can't afford to stockpile enough food to last longer. That's a reality affecting the broad swath of nations in the Middle East and North Africa gripped by protests and unrest.

In Egypt, food and money ran out quickly when citizens couldn't work, according to staffers from Stephen's Children, a Christian organization serving poor communities in Cairo. One staffer said the day laborers were "badly affected and couldn't provide for their families. . . . They were indebted to the owners of their rented houses and were out of resources."

Stephen's Children suspended its children's programs for 10 days but began re-opening kindergarten centers that provide education and nutrition to children in poor Cairo neighborhoods. The organization staffer (who asked not to be identified for security) said that the generosity of children during the crisis was striking: "Even when poor children couldn't find anything to eat, they share whatever they have."

New media revolution?

By Paul Glader

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Are Twitter, Facebook, and Wikileaks replacing The Washington Post, Radio Free Europe, and CNN as outlets that expose corruption and have potential to stoke revolutions? During a show taping for Al Jazeera English in front of a Columbia University audience in New York Feb. 11, host Marwan Bishara posed that and other questions to a panel of journalists and academics. "Social networks are an evolution, not a revolution," said Carl Bernstein, former reporter for The Washington Post who broke the Watergate scandal stories with colleague Bob Woodward that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974. Bernstein argued that Twitter and other services offer a flood of information, while edited publications still provide more background and context: "One of the dangers as we move to new media is we lose context."

Other panelists such as Democracy Now! founder and host Amy Goodman believe that countries with state-owned media require citizens to forge crude journalism techniques on high technology platforms. "You just saw the future," she said of Wikileaks disclosures and uprisings in the Arab world. Some panelists said Twitter users are issuing signals of unrest weeks before journalists understand or receive the signals.

But with the new technologies come new countermoves. Foreign policy specialist and author Evgeny Morozov said despotic governments will find ways to hamper the internet, spy on citizens, and mislead them. He said some governments in Africa have created false Facebook pages to organize protests, where police arrive and arrest the dissidents.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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