The Empty Seat

Wisdom dictates that advice should be offered rarely and only when requested. But sometimes wisdom needs to be thrown to the wind when the heart is wiser than the head.

The Coptic Church would do well to leave one empty seat in the front row during the enthronement of Pope Tawadros II. It is to remind all Egyptians that they lack a leader in their President. The gross indecency of his absence can only be confronted by the eloquent silence of emptiness.

Egyptians have struggled with modernity for two centuries. The Copts and the Muslim Brotherhood have taken two radically different paths in that struggle. We now see the results with glaring clarity. Dr. Mursi had a golden opportunity to heal and lead by the simple act of sitting in a chair with his fellow Egyptians. But perhaps loyalty to his cult is stronger than an oath to his countrymen. Whatever the case, the fissures in Egypt were always there, and the Egyptians were experts at denial through the meaningless discourse of “National Unity”. Now the fissures are big enough to swallow all words save the truth. Pray that when the fractures appear that they not be along religious lines.

Tawadros II, What is in a Name?

Within a few days Bishop Tawadros will be enthroned as the new Coptic Pope, Tawadros II. For Coptic Popes, like Catholic Popes, and indeed monarchs in general, the name they take is sometimes a hint about their influences ,  leanings, and even hopes. The reader who thinks that the choice of “Tawadros” is purely coincidental should read no further, for this post explores the times of the only other Coptic Pope with the same name in the 2000 year history of the Church.

Tawadros I (731-743) was the forty-fifth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark.  A gentle man of few and well-considered words, he dedicated his life to service of the community and clergy. He succeeded his mentor, Alexander II, after a a short interregnum.  Alexander II ruled the Church for over 25 years (705-730), an unusually long time for that period.  He was a powerful Patriarch who involved himself in many of the political struggles of his day. His selection process involved new innovations and was approved by the Umayyad imperial powers in Damascus.  His reign started with the Umayyads, the last purely Arab series of Caliphs, at the height of their power and influence, and with the Muslim armies poised to invade both Europe and Byzantium.  His tenure was marked by stormy relations with the Caliphs, and even periods of banishment and arrest.  The Egypt he lived in was still largely Christian; but the wave of conversions to Islam was gathering strength. Along with conversions,  a number of revolts against the imperial powers, known as the Coptic Bashmuric revolts, marked the last stage of  active Coptic resistance to the new Muslim overlords. By the end of  Alexander’s tenure the Umayyads were a spent force and the center of Islam was shifting to Baghdad.

Tawadros I reign marked the furthermost incursions of Islam into Europe, with Charles Martel stopping the Moors at the Pyrenees,  and the Umayyads faltering at the walls of Byzantium.  From that point forward, Islam was to become a less Arab enterprise, and Islamic civilization was to take on the manners and values of many of the conquered nations, Persian, Moorish, Central Asian and Turkic.

Yet Tawadros I reign was a brief period of peace squeezed between the rise of Islam (and end of the Dark Ages) and the beginning of the Medieval age. Charlemagne and Haroon El Rashid were a century away, the Crusades three centuries hence, and the Ottomans more than seven centuries as well.  Tawadros I was also the only Coptic Pope to affect a return of Chalcedonian Christians to the Coptic Church.

As always, where some see accidents of history, the faithful credit the hand of God.

The Unbearable Indolence of Dr. Mursi

A decade or so ago, President Mursi was a rising Member of Parliament, fond of fiery speeches excoriating Ministers for failures large and small. Now as President, his alacrity with words as a powerless politician seems matched by indolence of action as a Chief Executive. No wrong in Egypt can raise him from his prayer rug or distract him from his weekly sermons. He is becoming the “Ma’lish” President.

One can list the many ills that seem to leave President Mursi satisfied to do nothing. If the Sinai degenerates into a lawless frontier, then his natural reaction seems to be “Ma’lish“. If the country’s economy continues to spiral downward, threatening to leave the poorest bread-less, that  seems to be no reason for alarm. If the lawlessness of Salafis allows them to kidnap children and forcibly marry them off , then perhaps “reconciliation” between parties is best. Enforcing the law seems to be none of his business as a President. On and on the litany goes.

But then something small happens, something that seems to demand a shout in the face of the new normal. That small thing is the proclamation by a Salafi attention-hound of his desire to tear down the Sphinx and the Pyramids.

Let us first rest assured that the Pyramids are not going anywhere. The Mamelukes used them as a quarry to build Mosques, and they are still standing, a testament to Egyptian solidity in the face of parvenu invaders and small bore religious fanatics.  But that is not the point. The boast by the witless beard is an offense and a crime. If an American fundamentalist threatened to raze the Capitol or a British fanatic proclaimed his desire to bring down Stonehenge, you can be sure they will be paid a visit by the police and perhaps find themselves in the dock on charges of terrorism.

But not in Mursi’s Egypt. Tamam, Ma’lish, Kulu Kwais.

Law and order is a prerequisite for freedom, and like freedom, it demands vigorous defense. Most of all by the men at the top.