Saturday, February 11, 2012

Iran: Ten converts arrested during raid on house church

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

SHIRAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- Plain clothes security authorities have raided an Iranian house church gathering and arrested 10 members of this Christian group who were gathered for prayer service in Shiraz, Fars province, which is 580 miles south of the capital. All 10 detainees were transferred to an unknown location.

Mojtaba Hosseini, a Christian convert who was among those arrested
According to Mohabat News

(, an Iranian Christian news agency, following the continued arrests of Iranian Christians, security authorities invaded a residential building used as house church on Wednesday, February 8, 2012, and arrested 10 Christian converts who were gathered there to worship.

“These believers who had gathered in a home to hold a worship service were arrested and transferred to an unknown location using a police vehicle,” said a spokesperson for Mohabat News.

“The location of the detainees is still unknown despite their family's efforts. The authorities refuse to give any information in this regard.”

Although precise details are still not available in this respect, the report from Mohabat News indicates that a man called Mojtaba Hosseini is among those arrested. He was also arrested on May 11, 2008, together with eight other Christian converts on charges of “having a Christian faith.” Security officials had asked the then 21-year-old, Mojtaba Hosseini to renounce his faith and collaborate with the Intelligence office.

“It is also noteworthy that last month reports were published regarding the arrest of a number of Christians in the AOG church of Ahwaz including the pastor of the church and two other church members,” said the spokesperson.

“Today, the pressures and security measures implemented by the Islamic Republic against churches in Iran have resulted in the closure of churches in which services were being held in Farsi. The other churches, which are allowed to remain open, are obliged by order of the Intelligence Ministry to prevent Farsi speakers from entering their churches.”

The spokesperson added, “In spite of all these circumstances, when people from other religious backgrounds embrace Christianity, they feel the need to gather in small groups in their homes and dedicate their own personal houses for worship services. The Islamic Republic of Iran considers such groups security and spying tools for the West.”

Dan Wooding, 71, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 192 countries and also provides a regular commentary for Worship Life Radio on KWVE. You can follow Dan Wooding on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books, one of which is his autobiography, “From Tabloid to Truth”, which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel “Red Dagger” which is available this link.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Iranian Authorities Raid House Church in Shiraz

As many as 10 Christians arrested without formal charges.
Iranian authorities this week arrested Christian converts from Islam while they were meeting for worship at a home in the southern city of Shiraz, according to sources.

Officials are holding the Christians at an unknown location, they said.

The sources put the number of the arrested Christians, who belong to one of Iran’s many underground house churches, at between six and 10. Authorities often detain, question and apply pressure on converts from Islam, viewing them as elements of Western propaganda set against the Iranian regime; as a result, the converts are forced to worship in secret.

The identity of only one of those arrested on Wednesday (Feb. 8), Mojtaba Hosseini, was known. Authorities arrested Hosseini in 2008 along with eight other Christian converts on charges of being Christians, according to Mohabat News.

“I guess they have been watching Hosseini since then,” an Iranian Christian who requested anonymity told Compass.

Shiraz is not a particularly “religious” part of predominantly Shiite Islamic Iran, the Christian explained, but persecution against Christians in Iran stems from the government more than from local religious sentiment. The families of the victims have requested information about their whereabouts, but authorities have refused to provide it, according to Mohabat News.

In past years authorities have arrested Christians around Christmas time, and the Compass source said that the international community and media monitoring religious rights in Iran were expecting another crack-down last December. Instead, he said, the government was more cautious and arrested small groups over a wider period of time.

In December authorities arrested a group of Christian converts in the city of Ahwaz, about 874 kilometers (542 miles) southwest of Tehran in Khuzestan Province. Of those arrested, three Christians remain in prison: Pastor Farhad Sabokroh, Naser Zamen-Defzuli and Davoud Alijani. They are held in Ahwaz’s Karoun Prison, according to Mohabat News.

Sources have expressed concern for Sabokroh’s health. Prior to his arrest, which took place at his church’s Christmas service on Dec. 23, Sabokroh underwent cataract surgery. In prison he does not have access to the medication he needs for his eyes. His wife visited him briefly on Jan. 27 and said she was concerned about his health, as he has lost a lot of weight, according to Mohabat News.

Authorities had also arrested Sabokroh’s wife at the Christmas service and released her on Jan. 1 when she submitted the deed of a house as bail, according to Mohabat News. Christians are forced to put their homes up as bail in Iran, a practice that sources say is an extortion tactic to erode them of their finances and to better control them.

Authorities have not formally charged Sabokroh, Zamen-Defzuli and Alijani.

Noorollah Qabitizade, whom authorities arrested on Dec. 24, 2010, is also held at the Karoun prison in Ahwaz. Mohabat News reported that interrogators have put psychological pressure on Qabitizade in the last year and have forced him to sign statements in an effort to make him renounce his faith.

Farshid Fathi, who was arrested on Dec. 24, 2010 in Tehran, remains in the capital’s notorious Evin prison. Sources said a court hearing had been scheduled this month but were unable to provide more information.

Iranian authorities continue to arrest and subject Christians to harsh treatment, but many of these cases remain unknown to the outside world. At the end of January, Mohabat News released information on the case of Leila Mohammadi, whom authorities had arrested in July last year.

She spent 74 days in solitary confinement at Tehran’s Evin prison. On Jan. 18 a judge sentenced her to two years of prison for “collaborating with foreign-dependent groups, broad anti-Islamic propaganda, deceiving citizens by forming house churches, insulting sacred figures and acting against national security,” according to Mohabat News.

Authorities released her on bail on Dec. 28, 2011, and her attorney has sent her case to Tehran Province’s high court.

Iran applies sharia (Islamic law), which dictates that converts from Islam to other religions are “apostates” and thus punishable by death. Although judges rarely sentence Christians to death for leaving Islam, one Christian, Yousef (also spelled Youcef) Nadarkhani, is appealing such a decision in the northeastern city of Rasht.

Nadarkhani has been in prison since October 2009. A Rasht court found him guilty of leaving Islam and handed him the death sentence in September 2010.

Behnam Irani, who belongs to the same denomination as Nadarkhani, The Church of Iran, has been in prison in Karaj since May 2011; he turned himself in after authorities issued a warrant for his arrest, according to rights group Middle East Concern.

Irani was previously arrested in April 2010 and released on bail after a few months. In January 2011 a court found him guilty of “crimes against national security” and sentenced him to one year in prison. Authorities told him he must also serve a five-year sentence handed down in 2008.

Asked if there was a change in persecution trends from previous years, the Compass source said, “Nothing has changed, the issue is the same,” explaining that the attitude of the government toward Christians remains hostile.

Authorities have prohibited musical worship and Bible distribution at the Central Church of Tehran, the largest and most visible Assemblies of God church in the country. Last December officials enforced a policy under which only invited guests could attend a Christmas service at the church, and in December 2009 the church succumbed to intense pressure by authorities to discontinue its Friday services, which had attracted the most converts to Christianity.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Iraqi church reacts to deathly 2012 with prayer

SAT-7KIDS reaches more kids in
 Iraq than it does in Egypt even,
 which has over double the
 population of Iraq.

Iraq (MNN) ― Less than two months into the New Year, Iraq already has layers of blood on its hands.

Human Rights Watch announced yesterday that Iraqi authorities have executed at least 65 people so far in 2012. The Associated Press reports that 14 people were executed on a single day.

The government executions have been accompanied by terrorist ones in 2012. A series of terror attacks has rattled Iraq and left dozens dead. It's a fearful atmosphere at best.

The scent of death amid other national turmoil has brought Christians to their knees. Christians recently met for a special prayer service at the Church of the Sacred Heart of the Chaldeans in Kirkuk, Iraq.

SAT-7, a Christian, satellite television network for the Middle East and North Africa, reports that the believers prayed that peace and unity would prevail in the country. They also prayed that Iraq would be a symbol of unified brotherhood and safety.

During the service, Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldeans in Kirkuk and Suleimania said, "Everyone must make concessions for the sake of the unity and peace of the country and its overriding interests. Today, we gather for prayer for the sake of the unity of Christians. But we say that Christians are a part of the Iraqi people, and its unity reflects positively on the totality of things."

Sako encouraged neighboring countries to lend a helping hand, at the same time assuring them that Iraq does not need interference in its affairs to overcome its problems.

The Iraqi church has suffered in the last few years, but is growing and overcoming its own problems, thanks in part to groups like SAT-7. In comparison to the rest of the region, Iraq is especially connected to SAT-7 KIDS programming. 

Recent survey research reveals that Iraq had the largest kids' viewership of SAT-7 KIDS programming during 2011. In a country of about 30 million people, a total of 4,126,047 children under the age of 15 watched SAT-7 KIDS.

One viewer in Iraq shared her connection with SAT-7 ARABIC: "SAT-7, you are a candle that God sent to every person, especially youth. Thank you very much for the great efforts you exert for your channel to be fruitful. Your sweet fragrance is filling the whole world."

SAT-7 is bringing hope to people across the volatile nation of Iraq. As the Christians in Iraq pray for their country, SAT-7 prays with them. To learn more about SAT-7's crucial role in Iraq, click here. 

Iranian Christian convert sentenced to one year of deprivation of education

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- In the latest approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran to oppose the growth of Christianity, a Christian convert was sentenced to one year of deprivation of education by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

According to the Iranian Christian news agency,  , Ms. Fatemeh Nouri, an art student in one of the universities in Tehran (the name of university is withheld for security reasons) was sentenced to one year of deprivation of education by the Revolutionary Court for believing in Christianity.

Mohabat News says Ms. Nouri is a Christian convert who was arrested by security authorities on September 2011 at her residence in east Tehran and then transferred to Evin prison.

In an online report, Mohabat News says Ms. Nouri was convicted on charges of "attending a house church, insulting sacred figures, and activities against national security" in Revolutionary Courts branch of Moalem Street. The judge's ruling was one year deprivation of education for her.

“This Christian convert was released on November 30, 2011, after nearly three months in prison, but the sentence of deprivation of education remained in place,” Mohabat News stated.

The news agency said Ms. Nouri's arrest was related to the case of another Christian convert, Leila Mohammadi.

Commenting on the case, Mohanat News said: “It's notable that Ms. Mohammadi was found guilty of ‘collaborating with foreign-dependent groups, broad anti-Islamic propaganda, deceiving citizens by forming what is called a house church, insulting sacred figures and activities against national security’ by the Revolutionary Court branch of Moalem Street on January 18, after enduring five months in custody. However, the judge acquitted her of the charge of ‘collaborating with foreign-dependent groups’ for he believed that the crime was done unintentionally. Therefore, this Christian convert was sentenced to two years in prison and the ruling was delivered to her.”

Sentence of deprivation of education is against the law
Mohabat News explains that although the Iranian constitution clearly affirms religious freedom for followers of non-Islamic faiths, the Islamic Republic regime has by its actions proved that it not only violates its own domestic laws but does not even show respect to international conventions and is careless in their enforcement.

Mohabat News stated: “Prior to this case, such rulings were an instrument in the hands of the regime to pressure the Bahaei community or a group of dissatisfied university students,but today they are used to threaten and pressure Christians as well. It seems that prior to Ms. Nouri's case such sentences were not issued for Christian converts. This shows that previous methods of the regime for opposing Christians were ineffective.”

The news agency goes on to say that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted on December 10, 1948, “considers the rights of education as a right for all mankind regardless their race, color, belief, religion and gender.” According to this, everyone has the right to education (Section 1, Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Mohabat News concluded: “In the past, after identifying university students who had converted from Islam to Christianity, the Islamic Republic had made some efforts against them in holding Islamic courses to guide them to its own chosen way which is nothing other than Islam.

“So, they were trying to impact these students' thoughts and change them through discussions. 

However, it seems that failure of these former approaches has caused the regime to use deprivation of education or expulsion from universities as a new way to oppose the growth of Christianity and put pressure on Christian converts and their families.”

** Michael Ireland is the Senior International Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior International Reporter

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Muslim Council in Egypt Evicts 8 Christian Families, Seizes Their Property

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT (ANS) -- National and international rights groups have consistently criticized the recourse to the so-called "reconciliation meetings" -- dubbed "Bedouin sittings" -- that take place between Copts and Muslim assailants after every attack on Coptic Christians, says Egyptian journalist Mary Abdelmassih, writing for AINA -- Assyrian International News Agency .

The meetings are conducted under the auspices of state security, Abdelmassih writes.

“Last week a series of meetings were held by radical Muslims to decide on the fate of the Copts in a village in Alexandria, and Muslims insisted that the whole Coptic population of 62 families must be deported because of an unsubstantiated accusation levied against one Coptic man,” Abdelmassih states in an online report.
Coptic homes set ablaze by Muslims in Ameriya.

According to AINA, Copts in the village of Kobry-el-Sharbat (El-Ameriya), Alexandria, were attacked on January 27 by a mob of 3,000 Muslims led by Salafi leaders, who looted and torched homes and shops belonging to Copts.

“The violence was prompted by allegations made by a Muslim barber named Toemah that a 34-year-old Coptic tailor, Mourad Samy Guirgis, had on his mobile phone illicit photos of a Muslim woman,” writes Abdelmassih.

She continued: “Mourad denied the accusation and surrendered to the police for fear for his life. 

Muslims looted and torched his workshop and home after he surrendered to the police, and his entire family, including his parents and his married brother Romany, were evicted from the village. He is still in police detention.”

Abdelmassih reports that three "reconciliation meetings" were held at the El-Ameriya village police headquarters. They were attended by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood representatives from neighboring villages, as well as church representative. Muslims demanded the eviction of all Coptic inhabitants from the village because "Muslim honor had been damaged."

Abdelmassih says many believe that the mobile phone story was fabricated as an excuse to start violence against the Copts. According to the police, the woman in question denied the story and no photos were found on Mourad's mobile phone, according to Ihab Aziz, a Coptic-American activist who is presently in Egypt.

“During the first reconciliation meeting it was agreed that only Copts who were directly involved with the Mourad incident would be evicted, and the church demanded compensation of two million pounds for the innocent Copts whose homes and businesses were torched on January 27. Muslims, especially Salafis from the neighboring villages, refused any kind of compensation and insisted on the eviction of all Copts,” Abdelmassih went on to say.

AINA reports that on January 30 a Muslim mob attacked Copts in Kobry-el-Sharbat for the second time, and torched three Coptic homes in the presence of the security forces, "which took the role of an onlooker and made no effort to stop the violence," according to Joseph Malak, lawyer for the Coptic church in Alexandria.

"This proves that the assailants were not afraid of the security forces or the law," he said.
The AINA report goes on to say that Muslim representatives demanded the eviction of the wealthy Coptic merchant Abeskhayroun Soliman, together with his four married sons and their families, accusing them of causing sedition by shooting in the air when Muslims broke into and torched their home while the family was inside. "No one was wounded due to the alleged shootings, which the family says never took place. The police authorities issued an arrest warrant for two of the Soliman sons," said Ihab Aziz.

AINA stated that the Solimans have been in hiding with a Muslim family which saved them from their burning homes, and is presently giving them protection. Muslims threatened that if eight Coptic families were not evicted by February 3, all remaining 54 Coptic families in the village would be subjected to violence after Friday prayers. They called it "Friday of Eviction" and "Friday of Clean-up."

Reconciliation meeting for Ameriya.
The news agency said that on Wednesday, February 1, a hastily-organized reconciliation meeting was arranged by security authorities, and was attended by Ebeskharion Soliman and one of his sons.

The terms of the agreement which resulted were:

** Eviction of eight Coptic families, namely three of the Mourad families, in addition to five Soliman families. 

** Selling of the assets of the wealthy Abeskhayron Soliman family within three months by a committee, under the supervision of Salafi shaikh Sherif el Hawary.

Soliman has no right to get involved in the sale or even accompany a prospective buyer. 

**The Committee is to collect any money accrued from the sale of his land, properties, businesses as well as collect promissory notes pending from business transactions by the Soliman-owned chain of stores. 

** In case of non-implementation of this Agreement, all Copts in the Kobry-el-Sharbat village will be attacked, their homes and property completely torched.

AINA reports that Abeskhayron Soliman signed the agreement, which most Copts viewed as "humiliating."

Father Boktor, who attended the meeting, described the reconciliation agreement as "utter injustice," AINA said.

According to the AINA report, Wissa Fawzi, member of the Maspero Coptic Youth Union in Alexandria, said that Soliman has nothing at all to do with the Mourad story, but signed the agreement to save his family and the Copts in the village, "otherwise there would have been a massacre of the Copts on that Friday." He said that Security authorities pressured Soliman into accepting the terms of the agreement by threatening him with refusal of police protection for him and his family.

"What constitutes the real crisis is the complicity of security officials in the process of displacement," said Fawzi.

AINA explained that Copts in Kobry-el-Sharbat were stunned after hearing the news of the eviction of the "top Copt" in their community, whose wealth is estimated at more than 20,000,000 Egyptian pounds. "There is a feeling of humiliation and being completely under the mercy of the radical Muslims," said Rami Khashfa of the Alexandria Maspero Youth Union, adding:"They are terrorized and are scared of the future. Copts in the neighboring villages are also scared." He said that Copts in the village are thinking of moving elsewhere.

Speaking on US-based Christian TV channel Al-Karma, Magdy Khalil, head of the Middle East Freedom Forum, said that reconciliation meetings made up of Salafis and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and arranged by security officials are illegal and forced eviction is one of the crimes under international law.

"Who gave them the right to form a committee headed by a Salafi to sell Christian property? This is thuggery and blatant targeting of Copts," Khalil said
The AINA report says Khalil called on the Coptic Melli Council, which is the civilian body that represents Copts in the Egyptian State, to protest this agreement and ask for the return of the Copts to their homes.

"If we accept it, this will open the door for an avalanche of forced evictions," Khalil said. He believes that radical Muslims have a bigger plan they hope to achieve by terrorizing the Copts, namely displacing and dispersing them from places with high Coptic population density, taking their property and weakening them economically.

Ihab Aziz, like many others, believes that "Coptic capital" is targeted everywhere in Egypt. He said that members of the Egyptian parliament have been made aware of the El-Ameriya forced displacement, and the issue will be brought before parliament shortly.

** Michael Ireland is the Senior International Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior International Reporter

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Freedom of Expression Suppressed by Islamists in Egypt as Christian Billionaire’s Trial Draws Nears

By Aidan Clay
Special to ASSIST News Service

EGYPT (ANS) -- The court hearing of Egyptian Coptic billionaire Naguib Sawiris, who was accused of “insulting Islam” last month, is scheduled to reopen on Saturday. Sawiris’ hearing follows the prison sentence of Egyptian actor Adel Imam who was tried on similar charges last week. The two cases underline concerns about freedom of expression in Egypt.
Naguib Sawiris (Photo via Bloomberg Businessweek)

Christian telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris, who founded the Free Egyptians political party, was charged for “blasphemy and insulting Islam” on January 9 when he reposted a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and a veiled Minnie Mouse on Twitter. The initial court hearing held on January 14 was postponed because the billionaire failed to show up, Agence France-Presse reported. The independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm accredited the trial’s adjournment to a “fistfight” between the defense and prosecuting lawyers after Sawiris was branded as a “criminal” in court.

Among the group of Islamist lawyers who filed the lawsuit against Sawiris was Mamdouh Ismail, a former member of Islamic Jihad who has been known to represent accused terrorists and was himself arrested for complicity with al-Qaeda in 2007.

The Muslim Brotherhood, who won 47 percent of the votes in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, quickly backed Ismail’s lawsuit while the ultraconservative Salafists led a nationwide campaign to boycott products and services offered by Sawiris’ companies. Many Egyptian Christians and liberals believe Islamists rallied the nationwide outcry to discredit Sawiris and his secular Free Egyptians Party.

“Sawiris is one of the biggest supporters of the Egyptian liberal parties,” Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic human rights activist, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “The Islamists are delivering a message to Coptic Christians that they can take down our leaders. They’re saying, ‘This is our country now. You’ll live as we want you to live.’”

Adel Imam, Egypt’s leading comic actor, faced similar charges last week when he was sentenced to three months in jail for “defaming Islam” in an Egyptian court for a role he played in a 2007 film, the state-run Ahram Online English website reported. The cases have added to concerns that Islamists are using their newfound political powers to stifle freedom of expression.

“Christians and many Muslims are supporting Adel Imam. Whether we like him or not, we are defending the freedom of speech and the freedom of art,” said Yacoub. “What is Adel Imam’s sentence based on? His old movies made years ago? It’s crazy. We’re going through a dark time in Egypt.”

“In both cases, the men didn’t do anything against ‘Islam’ but merely made fun of Islamists,” said Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya, Israel. “The battle, of course, is being waged by Islamists who want their interpretation of the religion to be declared as the only acceptable version. Westerners don’t understand that when that happens anything more moderate or flexibly traditional hence becomes illegal and punishable. The Islamist counter-Bill of Rights proclaims that the country’s people have no freedom of speech or freedom of religion, no right to free assembly or of the press.”

Sawiris is a champion of secularism and has publicly opposed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the prospect that Islamists will draft a new constitution influenced by Sharia law. Sawiris has also dismissed the Muslim Brotherhood’s official moderate stance, accusing the group of wanting to turn Egypt into an Iran-style theocracy, Reuters reported. Sawiris’ Free Egyptian Party, in alliance with secular political parties known as the Egyptian bloc, won nine percent of the seats in Egypt’s new parliament. If convicted, Sawiris could spend up to six months in prison.

Aidan Clay is the Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern (ICC), which exists to serve the persecuted church through advocacy, assistance, and awareness. Aidan is a graduate of Biola University in southern California and worked with Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan prior to joining ICC. He has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Europe and currently lives with his wife in Nairobi, Kenya. To learn more, please contact Aidan Please visit ICC’s website at

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Whose Revolution is it?

Egypt (MNN) ― Everybody loves the underdog. That's part of the magnetic draw of Egypt's ongoing Revolution. 

There's a thrill of an uprising, the rooting for progress and the inevitable triumph should the downtrodden succeed in changing anything as seemingly immovable as government.

Pictures of nearly nightly protests reveal something unique in Egypt's demand for change. Church pastor Fawzi Wahib explains, "65% of our population is under the age of 25. So, most of those you see them interviewing in the media--on TV and in the newspaper--are over 50. There is a huge gap and misunderstanding, IF there is any understanding between the two generations."

Wahib is a well-known face in the Revolution, even laboring under  the nickname, "Pastor of the Revolution," because of a message he gave in the early part of uprisings. He says that while the revolution is for Egypt, it's being led by the cream of the crop. "Those who consider themselves wise and try to make a plan for the future, are missing the point entirely. 

These people of 25 and less have seen the dream come close to their hand, but all of a sudden, somebody came and took it away from them. They are willing to die to get this dream back and not let anybody take it from their hands."

Anger and frustration over not being heard and demands not being met has led to more waves of young patriots trying to effect some kind of change for the future of a sustainable country. "I think no one is going to stand against these waves of young people seeking freedom."

Wahib goes on to say that the passion shared for a new Egypt is contagious. The young adults want a country that will live up to its own public relations. Those confronting the police lines this week doubt the direction of the leadership and promises of the government. They're now calling for early elections, and "next week, on February 11, there is a call for a civilian's strike on the whole nation."

Students leading this movement represent all eight universities in Cairo. "Now you get the best educated people that are connected with real life who are leading this movement, and it gives you a clue about who is leading and where we are heading."

Among the more obvious demands: a civilian government and a plan to tackle a 35% unemployment rate (for those under 25) and growing economic distress. It all boils down to hope. Wahib said that desire was palpable on the "Day of Rage" in 2011 when he was called up on the stage.

He knew one misspoken word could destroy not only him, but also the credibility of Christians in the society. Suddenly, Isaiah 61:1 came to mind.   
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
   because the LORD has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives
   and release from darkness for the prisoners.

The crowd responded enthusiastically when he explained the freedom of hope. "'You know why Jesus came? He came to set the captive free. How many Egyptians are still captive until today? Jesus is still with us in the Square, because He wants to set the captive free!' Now, if you are totally politically motivated, then you understand the message."

Moments like that opened a lot of opportunities for the Church body to engage the community. Wahib says the whole team of pastors knew what the potential was. While they didn't plan a specific outreach campaign, they were poised to respond. First, they opened their doors to those who needed respite. "The Church became like a refuge. Muslims love to come into the church and sit. They find peace. Over all this, we had hundreds of contacts where we shared the Gospel without telling them it was evangelism."

Then, they responded with a field hospital for the wounded who were protesting right outside the church compound on Tahrir Square. That has been the pattern for over a year. It's obvious the Holy Spirit is moving. Hundreds are receiving visions and dreams and coming to Christ that way. The biggest issue now is how to disciple the hundreds that are coming. 

Actually, the bigger "problem," says Wahib, is what they'll do with the thousands they're expecting to see before Revolution ends. Wahib says the church leadership is also part of the group that was getting a strong message that pointed to unity and revival.

Revival, Wahib says, begins in revolution.

Islamic Extremists Behead Another Convert in Somalia

Young Christian man murdered outside Mogadishu.
Islamic extremists from the rebel al Shabaab militia in Somalia beheaded a Christian on the outskirts of Mogadishu last month, sources said.

The militants fighting the transitional government in Mogadishu murdered Zakaria Hussein Omar, 26, on Jan. 2 in Cee-carfiid village, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) outside of the Somali capital, they said. Omar had worked for a Christian humanitarian organization that al Shabaab banned last year.

His body was left lying for 20 hours before nomads found it and carried it into Mogadishu, a close friend said.

“We have been communicating with Omar, and he was sharing with me his life as a Christian,” the friend said. “Last year he mentioned to me that his life was in danger when the NGO [Non-Governmental Organization] he worked for was banned by the al Shabaab.”

The friend said he identified the body.

“One of the persons who saw him said, ‘This is the young man who stayed in Ethiopia, and people have been saying that he left Islam and joined Christianity.’”

Omar converted to Christianity seven years ago while in Ethiopia, where he lived with relatives. He returned to Somalia in 2008 and completed his university education in 2009 with a degree in accounting.

Omar had married in the latter part of 2010. He is survived by his wife, his parents (originally from central Somalia), a brother and four sisters.

Last September, the militants beheaded another young Christian near Mogadishu. The militants, who have vowed to rid Somalia of Christianity, killed Guled Jama Muktar on Sept. 25 in his home near Deynile, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Mogadishu (See, “Islamic Extremists in Somalia Behead 17-year-old Christian,” Oct. 19, 2011).

Earlier that month, a kidnapped Christian convert from Islam was found decapitated on the outskirts of Hudur City in Bakool region, in southwestern Somalia. Juma Nuradin Kamil was forced into a car by three suspected Islamic extremists from the al Shabaab terrorist group on Aug. 21, 2011 and murdered on Sept. 2, area sources said (See, “Somali Convert to Christianity Kidnapped, Beheaded,” Sept. 12, 2011).

With estimates of al Shabaab’s size ranging from 3,000 to 7,000, the insurgents seek to impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law), but the transitional government in Mogadishu fighting to retain control of the country treats Christians little better than the al Shabaab extremists do. While proclaiming himself a moderate, President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed has embraced a version of sharia that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.

Al Shabaab was among several splinter groups that emerged after Ethiopian forces removed the Islamic Courts Union, a group of sharia courts, from power in Somalia in 2006. It has been designated a terrorist organization by several western governments.


Sudan & Burma: Christian refugees in peril

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 145 
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- -- this is a call for urgent prayer for imminently imperilled Nuba and Kachin refugees.


When Khartoum began ethnic cleansing South Kordofan in June 2011, there were an estimated one million non-Arab, non-Muslim, predominantly Christian Nuba in the state. Today more than half that number have been either killed or displaced. To maximise casualties, the Arabist-Islamist regime of Sudan president Omar el-Bashir (an indicted war criminal) closed the region off to humanitarian aid so as to engineer famine. Now the UN estimates that by March up to 500,000 Nuba will be dying en masse due to famine.
A coalition of Christian, Jewish and interfaith anti-genocide groups are urging the American government to intensify its efforts to convince Khartoum to open a corridor for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Aware this might fail, they are also urging the US administration to consider delivering aid without Khartoum's consent, an act they acknowledge would be fraught with risk. Khartoum insists it will never let aid organisations reward 'rebels'. Furthermore, without citing any evidence, it has accused the aid organisations of arming rebels. Khartoum would surely view any unsanctioned incursion as a hostile and provocative act and doubtless declare it to be a trigger for war. The situation is extremely delicate.
Grave fears are held for some 200,000 starving Nuba refugees slowly making their way south through the Kauda Valley, headed for the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan which is already home to about 24,000 Nuba refugees. Digital Globe images made public by Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) show that the Government of Sudan has moved Sudan Armed Forces' tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and artillery into the southern end of the valley, creating a fortified 'choke-point' which is preventing refugees from escaping south. SSP images also reveal that the runway at nearby Talodi has recently been extended to handle Antonovs (used as bombers). Satellite images also show new elevated roads being built into the Nuba Mountains, capable of bearing heavy military vehicles in all weather conditions. Images also reveal that helicopter gunships have arrived at the renovated airbase in the capital, Kadugli. Observers believe the regime will want to complete any military offensive and genocide before the onset of the rainy season due in around 8 weeks.
Behind the regime's smokescreen of token reforms-of-convenience, Burma's ethnic-religious minorities are suffering more than ever. Zetty Brake of Burma Campaign Australia told Radio Australia on 6 February that the situation for these minorities is actually getting worse: conflict is increasing as are human rights abuses, whilst some 60,000 displaced Christian Kachin are still without humanitarian aid. Similarly, the UN estimates that about 55,000 Kachin IDPs (internally displaced persons) in two dozen IDP camps are struggling to survive without basic aid. People are dying of preventable illnesses caused by cold weather and unsanitary conditions. Most of the children suffer diarrhoea and stomach parasites due to dirty drinking water. There is fear that diseases will spread. Women are suffering miscarriages at an increased rate. The situation is dire. Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide recently returned from the Burma-China border saying he heard some of the worst stories of human rights violations that he had ever heard in his almost 15 years of involvement in Burma. Please pray for the Christian Kachin. Also, the Burma Day of Prayer onSaturday 17 March 2012 is a date for church calendars. See for resources.
For background on Sudan and/or Burma, or to see this prayer bulletin with links, see the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog.
  • the God who saved Israel from Pharaoh's army by enabling their escape through the supposedly impenetrable Red Sea, will save the Nuba from el-Bashir's genocidal schemes.'The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.' (Moses, to the trapped and imminently imperilled Israelites on the shore of the Red Sea, Exodus 14:14 NIV)
  • the LORD of creation, who fed 5000 men and all the women and children present from five loaves and two fish, might magnify all efforts and multiply all provision so that the displaced Nuba and Kachin will not starve. (Matthew 14:15-21) 'I am with you always . . .' (Jesus' promise from Matthew 28:20)
  • Jesus Christ our LORD, who himself lived as a refugee in Egypt, might speak with empathy into the hearts of all his displaced children in Sudan, South Sudan and Burma, drawing them to him for healing, provision and empowerment. (Isaiah 40:27-31)
The UN estimates 500,000 mostly Christian Nuba fleeing ethnic-religious cleansing in South Kordofan, Sudan, will be dying en masse from famine by March. Furthermore, some 200,000 Nuba are trapped in the Kauda Valley, unable to cross into South Sudan because their escape route is blocked by Sudan Armed Forces. Further to having engineered famine, the Arabist-Islamist regime in Khartoum appears to be preparing for a military offensive. It is extending runways, building roads and bringing in bombers, helicopter gunships, tanks and other military hardware. In Burma, an estimated 55,000 Christian Kachin refugees, driven from their homes by Burmese forces during seven months of war, remain without aid. Children are dying and women are miscarrying -- the situation is dire. These are God's children and our brothers and sisters. Please pray.

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC).

Elizabeth Kendal's blogs:
Religious Liberty Monitoring and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Religious Liberty is at Heart of Living One's Faith in Public Square

HUNTINGTON, Ind., Feb. 8, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- It's not enough to be an active Catholic citizen -- voting, staying reasonably informed, or even running for public office. The current culture -- with its growing indifference to God -- challenges Catholics to examine how they live their lives and defend their beliefs, argues the head of the Catholic Church in the nation's capital, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, in a new book, Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Faith (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

A prime example of the choices facing lay Catholic Americans is the current assault on religious freedom contained in the new contraceptive mandate in the health care reform laws. The mandate is the first federal regulation in our nation's history to require all faith-based institutions to pay for coverage of abortifacient drugs, sterilization and contraceptives.

"Being forced to provide these services violates both our faith conviction and our freedom," says Cardinal Wuerl. "Our schools, hospitals and charitable organizations will be placed in the untenable position of choosing between violating civil law and abandoning our religious beliefs."

Cardinal Wuerl sees this as the latest challenge to Catholics to engage their faith on a plane that goes beyond private spirituality. In his book, he asserts that Catholic Americans need to recognize they are citizens of two worlds: a democracy and a divine kingdom. These citizenship privileges carry certain duties that Catholics must not neglect.

Cardinal Wuerl calls each Catholic to seize daily opportunities to make a difference in transforming today's culture, and offers practical tips to be optimally effective. "This is the time to speak up," he says. "This is the time for all our voices to be heard.

"What many don't realize is, God calls each one by name, from the very beginning of his or her existence, to represent Him in an unrepeatable way and extend His Kingdom into this harsh earthly arena," says Wuerl. "So every act of love, peace, kindness, compassion, goodness, justice, even Catholic clarification -- which we're all capable of -- brings God's kingdom a little bit more into this world."

Seek First the Kingdom helps readers navigate the rhetorical maze posed by peers, media, entertainment, politicians and even errant laws and policies that would, in effect, penalize Catholic belief. Readers will be encouraged and emboldened to take their place as Catholics dedicated to the renewal of America.

For an interview, please contact publicist Christine Valentine-Owsik at: (215) 230-8095 or cowsik@osv.comView the press kit here.

The world's largest English-language Catholic publisher, Our Sunday Visitor serves millions of Catholics globally through its publishing, offertory, and communication services. Established in 1912, Our Sunday Visitor has grown into the largest supplier of offering envelopes, parish and diocesan mailings, books, periodicals, curriculum, address management, and stewardship services. Our Sunday Visitor is a not-for-profit organization, returning a portion of net earnings back to the Catholic community through the Our Sunday Visitor Institute. For more information, visit

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cuban blogger blocked from travelling abroad

Yoani Sánchez

The Cuban government must reform an arbitrary exit permit scheme that affects all Cubans and is used to punish freedom of expression, Amnesty International said yesterday (6 February) after a prominent blogger was again blocked from travelling abroad.
On 4 February, Cuba’s migration authorities denied blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez an exit permit (white card or tarjeta blanca) for the 19th time in four years. As on previous occasions, no reason was given for the decision.
The well-known author of Generación Y had been invited to speak in Brazil’s Bahía state on 10 February at the premiere screening of a documentary on freedom of expression in Cuba and Honduras. Brazil had already issued her a visa to enter the country.
Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor to Amnesty International, said: “The Cuban government’s repeated denial of exit permits to critics like Yoani Sánchez can only be seen as retaliation for the expression of their legitimate political views and activism.
“Those fighting for freedom of expression, association, and movement must be authorised to leave and re-enter the country without arbitrary restrictions, and the Cuban authorities must end other tactics used to clamp down on peaceful dissent.”
Cuban President Raúl Castro has yet to follow through on changes to migration policies promised as part of a series of reforms announced in 2011.
Yoaní Sánchez’s blog covers daily life on the island and the many restrictions placed on Cubans’ enjoyment of political and civil rights.
Her peaceful political activism is highlighted in Brazilian filmmaker Dado Galvão’s new documentary, Connection Cuba Honduras.
After the Cuban authorities’ most recent decision to prevent her from travelling, Yoani Sánchez expressed her frustration via Twitter:
“I feel like a hostage kidnapped by someone who won’t listen or give explanations. If all this effort helps to shine a light on the migratory absurdity we Cubans are trapped in, then it was worth it.”
The blogger’s work has earned her numerous prizes overseas, but the Cuban authorities have repeatedly blocked her from attending the award ceremonies.

Christian News Agency’s Open Letter to United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Points Out Injustices Toward New Believers

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- In a recent open letter to the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, a Christian news agency says a ‘Sword of Damocles’ has been hanging over the heads of new converts to Christianity since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

UN Special Rapporteur Ahmad Shahid. (Photo courtesy
In its letter to Ahmad Shahid, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN)  , says the death penalty for apostasy in converting from Islam to Christianity is a “Sword of Damocles” hanging over new believers -- and has been since the student-led Revolution in 1979.

As the voice of Christian-Iranians, and the suffering church in Iran, the Farsi Christian News Network, presented its annual report of sufferings among Christian converts, and informed the Special Rapporteur of “some of the realities of the injustices perpetrated against the Christian-Iranian community during 2010.”

FCNN said: “We hope this short list will be a useful contributory factor in your ‘Report on Human Rights situation in The Islamic Republic of Iran’ to the international community.”

The open letter says: “The Islamic Regime in Iran claims that Christianity is a state-recognized religion and its adherents are free to worship according to their faith.”

FCNN states: “This claim of the Islamic Republic is manifestly untrue. Christians in Iran are actively discouraged and under constant pressure not to attend services. Church attendance must be registered, and lists handed over to organs of State Security and local militia.

“Services are ordered to be held only on Sundays, a working day in Iran. Sale and distribution of The Holy Bible and sermons in Persian are forbidden, Christian converts cannot be Baptized, and they are forbidden to enter Churches. Above all they are to follow the Regime’s draconian Public Order and Propaganda requirements to the letter.

“For traditional and pre-revolution churches, compliance with these conditions and clauses are obligatory. If churches follow these mandatory orders, they will by default lose any religious content they have and will not be able to offer any meaningful Christian service, and if they do not follow these authoritarian orders they will face forced closure of the church by organs of Islamic Regime’s State Security.”

FCNN states as a case in point the Shahr-Ara church in North-Western Tehran, which was closed by direct orders of organs of the Islamic Regime for offering Baptismal and religious services to the new converts.

FCNN says the Islamic Republic “claims that Christians are fully represented in the Islamic Parliament by four members of their religion and so enjoy the same rights as the rest of their country folks.”

“This is yet another false claim,” FCNN said.

“These so called representatives are hand-picked by the regime and are primarily used as agents of control and guidance within Armenian and Assyrian communities of Christians,” the agency said.

“These so-called representatives are chosen by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, and only the few with voting rights can cast their votes for these selected candidates. The Islamic Regime has restricted the community of Christians in Iran to two national groupings of Armenian and Assyrians, while in international circles, with duplicity and deception, claims to be practicing freedom of religion under the Islam.”

The FCNN open letter also says the Islamic Republic claims that there are open and active churches, and freedom of religion, where Christians are free to practice their faith.

“This claim is also one-sided and deceptive, made primarily to deceive the international community. Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, with rapid population growth -- which has more than doubled the populace during the 32 years of Islamic Regime -- not even one new Church building has been allowed to be built. New buildings are not allowed and repairs are to existing buildings are forbidden. Repair restrictions have caused the closure of ‘Kelisaye Jamia’t Rabbani’ in Kermanshah in western regions, and the deliberate destruction of Saint Adreas’ Church of Kerman in central Iran.”

The open letter points out the Islamic Republic “claims equal rights for its Christian citizens with the Moslem majority, free from any institutional discrimination.”

FCNN said: “This is but a bare-faced lie. The relentless pressure on Islamization at educational establishments forces many students to leave before graduation from high schools.

“In Iran, under the yoke of the Islamic Regime, Christians have no opportunity for further education, as non-Moslem students are not eligible for necessary grants and placement. This is particularly more worrying among the new converts to Christianity, as conversion from Islam can quickly lead to expulsion.”

Recent research shows an alarming decline in educational standards amongst Christian-Iranians, FCNN said.

The FCNN letter goes on to say that discriminatory legislations, regime decrees, and orders are far more draconian and restrictive in work place than educational system.

“All cultural, educational, judicial, Military and Police jobs are strictly for ‘conforming and reliable’ Moslems. All governmental jobs are subject to the applicant being a Moslem and the application forms contain a pledge ‘to observe and practice the Sharia.’ All managerial posts are strictly forbidden to Christians and the discovery of a conversion to Christianity is only ever met with dismissal from any job the new convert may have held, no matter high or lowly it might have been.”

FCNN, in its letter, explains that discriminatory laws of inheritance, child custody and/or any financial transactions between and among Christians and Moslems, create an atmosphere of uncertainty, suspicion, and mistrust amongst the community of Iranians.

In financial and business fields, restrictive practices stop any growth and development of Christian-owned businesses, FCNN says.

FCNN concludes: “The Damocles Sword of (the) death penalty for Apostasy from Islam, has been hanging over the collective head of all new converts to Christianity since the 1979 revolution.”

“As UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Iran, and a champion of human rights everywhere, the Christian community expects you to carefully examine these and numerous other violations of our basic rights, and inform the world, of suffering and plight of Christians under the Islamic Regime.”

** Michael Ireland is the Senior International Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior International Reporter

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Egypt's fight for Freedom takes on a new angle

(Photo courtesy SAT 7) Prayer
meeting at the Cave Church.
Egypt(MNN) ― There are a lot of headlines proclaiming the fury of Tahrir Square, set in the heart of downtown Cairo.

"Revolution" is on people's lips, but a new word is joining that plea for the freedom of Tahrir, and that is "Revival."

On our first night in Cairo, we met with a Coptic Church partner in the basement of a ministry facility where he'd just wrapped up some teaching. His first answer to our questions about the riots was: "The barrier of fear has been demolished."

That's quite a different assessment of what's going on from the lips of others. There's word that people are angry over their revolution being stolen by the Islamists; people are full of despair because the city is still in chaos. Many of the images we see about Cairo right now are full of despair, fear and defiance.

Yet, this church leader insists there is something significant on the wing. Through a translator, he announced, "There is a big revival happening in the Orthodox Church -- not only in the Orthodox Church, but in all of the Egyptian Church."

That seems to run counter to other reports of a mass exodus of Egyptian Christians seeking asylum anywhere that seems safer. He answered that question with this hope: "The Lord is using the people, the congregation, more than the leaders in this revival."

The movement began to coalesce two years ago when a call to unity started to resonate across denominational lines. "The start of this revival was a prayer meeting where the people gathered together to pray seeking this revival. People from different churches gathered together to pray together."

Then, he says, in late 2010, "Just before the Revolution, God was telling us that something awesome was going to happen in Egypt. Although we are in different areas as leaders in the church, the Lord was sending the same message to everybody."

That message was this: "By the end of 2010, something great will happen." That was based off of Jeremiah 46 and Daniel 7 and a promise from God to allow Christians to take over the land. Indeed, God fulfilled that prophecy, but not in the way you might think.

In the first 20 minutes of 2011, a suicide bomber attacked The Saint's Church in Alexandria. At least 21 people were killed and 70 hurt. Then, "Sometime later, the 25th of January, the Revolution started. We saw the incidents happening, but we were telling ourselves that something spiritual was going to happen…a big spiritual event."

As the events unfolded, the church leaders who had given themselves to prayer, unity and revival began to teach confidently. Their boldness was picked up by the congregations who then began to take prayer much more seriously. 

That led to a prayer meeting. At a time of emergency, this church leader says, "About 50,000 people gathered together in the (Cave) church to pray for 12 hours."

Revival began to be the cry of their hearts. This Coptic Gospel partner along with others who were of like mind since the movement began two years ago also spent time teaching about the elements of revival to their congregations, emphasizing repentance, unity, humility, understanding, and a return to the authority of the Bible, among other things.
He also shared that he believes the change that will bring true liberty to Egypt won't come from the political side of things. It will come from the spiritual revolution.

Healing has begun in the freedom in Christ among Christians. It gives them the strength they need to persevere, because, as this pastor goes on to say, there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome. "There were many things against the church itself. Churches were being burnt, but the Lord has poured in an overflow of love. The outward thing that happened was that people, although they felt threatened by others, they went in and joined and started giving love to others. They even participated in Tahrir Square during the Revolution."

The story of Tahrir, or Freedom in Egypt, is ongoing. But, says this follower of Christ, it's not for Egypt alone. He's hoping Egypt will lead a global movement by her example. "I believe what happens here is transferring Egypt to the outside world."

SYRIA: religious minorities being buried under a mountain of propaganda

At the end of January 2012, the League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria issued its report. It included the following observations:

Par 8) "In accordance with the protocol, the Syrian Government confirmed its readiness to facilitate the Mission in every way by allowing the free and safe movement of all of the observers throughout Syria, and by refraining from hindering the work of the Mission on security or administrative grounds. The Syrian Government side also affirmed its commitment to ensuring that the Mission could freely conduct the necessary meetings; to provide full protection for the observers, taking into consideration the responsibility of the Mission if it were to insist on visiting areas despite the warning of the security services; and to allow the entry to Syria of journalists and Arab and international media in accordance with the rules and regulations in force in the country."

Par 13) "Immediately on arriving in Homs, the Head of the Mission met with the Governor of the city, who explained that there had been an escalation in violence perpetrated by armed groups in the city. There had been instances of kidnapping and sabotage of Government and civilian facilities. Food was in short supply owing to the blockade imposed by armed groups, which were believed to include some 3000 individuals. The Governor further stated that all attempts by religious figures and city notables to calm the situation had failed."

Par 26) "In Homs and Dera'a, the Mission observed armed groups committing acts of violence against Government forces, resulting in death and injury among their ranks. In certain situations, Government forces responded to attacks against their personnel with force. The observers noted that some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles."

Par 27) "In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed."

Par 28) "The Mission noted that many parties falsely reported that explosions or violence had occurred in several locations. When the observers went to those locations, they found that those reports were unfounded."

Par 29) "The Mission also noted that, according to its teams in the field, the media exaggerated the nature of the incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns."

Par 71) "The Mission determined that there is an armed entity that is not mentioned in the protocol. . ."

Par 75) "Recently, there have been incidents that could widen the gap and increase bitterness between the parties. These incidents can have grave consequences and lead to the loss of life and property. Such incidents include the bombing of buildings, trains carrying fuel, vehicles carrying diesel oil and explosions targeting the police, members of the media and fuel pipelines. Some of those attacks have been carried out by the Free Syrian Army and some by other armed opposition groups."

Actually, the report by the League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria makes very interesting reading as it turns the Western-Saudi-Gulf Arab narrative, of an evil regime vs a peacefully protesting nation, on its head. This is doubtless why the report was so decisively quashed -- until it was leaked:

League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria
Report of the Head of the League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria 
for the period from 24 December 2011 to 18 January 2012

Author Pepe Escobar, an expert on the geo-politics of the Middle East, has written a stinging critique:

Exposed: The Arab agenda in Syria
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times online, 4 Feb 2012

As Escobar notes: "The report is adamant. There was no organized, lethal repression by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters. Instead, the report points to shady armed gangs as responsible for hundreds of deaths among Syrian civilians, and over one thousand among the Syrian army, using lethal tactics such as bombing of civilian buses, bombing of trains carrying diesel oil, bombing of police buses and bombing of bridges and pipelines."

Escobar describes the Syrian National Council as "essentially a Muslim Brotherhood outfit affiliated with both the House of Saud and Qatar". He describes the Free Syrian Army as a conglomerate of Sunni defectors, well-meaning opponents of the Assad regime, and "foreign mercenaries weaponized by the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], especially Salafist gangs".

As Escobar notes, "GCC leaders House of Saud and Qatar bluntly dismissed their own report and went straight to the meat of the matter; impose a NATOGCC regime change via the UN Security Council."

But Russia and China would not stand for it. They vetoed the resolution, decrying it as unbalanced and biased.

Text of proposed UN Security Council resolution on Syria vetoed by Russia, China
By Associated Press, Published: 5 February 2012

It was the existence of an "armed entity" that Russia sought to address when it proposed amendments to the UN Security Council resolution.

Russia wanted guarantees that the Syrian opposition would "dissociate themselves from armed groups". Russia also wanted assurances that the Syrian Army would only be required to withdraw as the armed groups also withdrew, thereby ensuring that the vacuum left by the withdrawal of Syrian forces would not be filled by foreign jihadist outfits. Russia also rejected the vague wording of the resolution, claiming it left the door open for possible international military intervention in Syria -- something that Russia believes would only aggravate any civil war.

See: Russia, China veto UN Security Council resolution on Syria
4 Feb 2012 , RT "TV-Novosti"

Syria Tribune editor Ali Mohamad told RT that he doesn't believe the Western backers of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria "are working for the best interests of the Syrian people."

"Mohamad says, 'there was a very good chance this week to find a draft that could satisfy all sides – but it was not supported by Western countries. The Arab league initiative, supported by the Security Council, wants to portray an image where the problem is between Assad and the Syrian people, but this is not the reality.'"


As noted previously on this blog, the battle in Syrian includes a battle forSyria. It is a battle that will determine the balance of power in the Middle East. It is a battle between the Iranian-Shi'ite axis and the US-Saudi-Gulf Arab axis.

Iran needs Syria to link it geographically to Lebanon; while Syria's minority Alawites need Shi'ite legitimisation and protection for their security. Meanwhile, the Saudi and Gulf Sunni Arabs want to bring Syria back into the Sunni-Arab axis to counter the Iranian-Shi'ite ascendency.

The West supports the Sunni-Arab agenda as being in the West's economic interests. It will not, however, bring security to the region, for in the wake of the "Arab Spring" the Sunni-Arab axis is increasingly as belligerent as the Iranian-Shi'ite axis. Furthermore, if the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups are empowered in Syria like they have been in Egypt it will certainly spell a bloody end to the religious liberty that has been a feature of minority-ruled secular Syria for the past half century.

Of course the Saudi and Gulf Arabs are not bothered by the fact that countering Iran by means of regime change in Syria will come at the cost of Syria's religious minorities. But the West should be. The West should be rejecting the cost as absolutely unacceptable. Instead they seem to be intent on burying these inconvenient peoples under a mountain of propaganda.