Abdul Rahim Adam Mousa

Colin's Blog.pngOne of my Palestinian friends, an Anglican priest, had studied at ETSC, so I was conscious when I came here that while most of the students would be Egyptian, there would also probably be those from other countries too. Abdul is from Sudan and has been teaching at the Nile Theological College in Khartoum, but is now about to start his Masters programme at the Seminary. He comes from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, which he tells me is made up of 99 mountains each with its own tribe, language and customs. Some of the tribes are Christian and some are Moslem, but that has not been a problem and there are quite a number of mixed marriages (Abdul’s father is Moslem and his mother Christian!). The Nuba Mountains were not included in the area which made up the new country of South Sudan, but there has been an independence struggle for many years with many (both Moslem and Christian) fighting against the Government. The Government accuses the Church of supporting the rebels, which Abdul says is just not true, but three pastors are at present in prison, and Christians have been threatened and beaten. However, the spread of modern technology and the speed of communicating news have perhaps held the Government back from more extreme persecution.

Abdul moved to Khartoum at the age of 8 for medical treatment and stayed with his sister, who worked with a Christian school. After he received his treatment he could not return home as the fighting had intensified. He was sponsored to attend the same school where his sister worked, learned English and started to attend Sunday School. This had an enormous effect on him, and he became active in the church and was baptized. He worked well at secondary school and was given a place at one of the top universities in the country. However, before he could take up the place, he was required to do army service – which meant that he would have to fight for the government forces in the war against his own people in the Nuba Mountains. Understandably he refused to do this, and thus lost his university place. Instead he immersed himself in church work and ended up working for a Christian organization which helped him to pay his way through a private university to get his degree. He was responsible for youth work in his church, and in 2008 he entered the Nile Theological College to train for the ministry in the Presbyterian Church. After graduation in 2012 he was selected to continue as a lecturer (it was the time that South Sudan became independent, and many of the staff at the College left for South Sudan). The Sudanese Ministry of Religious Affairs now demands that lecturers have a higher degree, even a Doctorate, so Abdul has come to Cairo to pursue his Masters, and he hopes to focus on the introduction of Christianity to Sudan (In the early Middle Ages, Christianity was the dominant religion in Nubia, modern-day Sudan). Abdul is married Nesreen, who has studied law and is hoping to study for a Theology degree at ETSC, though she would have to stay on an extra year in Cairo after Abdul returns to Khartoum. Abdul is being helped with his studies by Church of Scotland as part of its policy to bolster theological education in Sudan and South Sudan.

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The Mogamma

Cairo 12 002Every country has one. A government building associated with bureaucracy. In Egypt it is the Mogamma, which is situated at one side of Tahrir Square and is a massive concrete building, which would not be out of place in one of the Eastern European capitals. Many of the departments of the Egyptian Government have their offices there, and apparently 18,000 civil servants work in the building – I can well believe it. I was there to apply for a residency visa, which would allow me to stay in Egypt for another year, and came forearmed with the application form duly filled in, copies of various pages of my passport, plus letters supporting my application and also numerous passport photos (the studio at the end of the road here gives you 8 small photos plus three large ones all for just over a pound sterling). Accompanied by a colleague, who at least knew where to go and what to do, I wandered through a maze of corridors and past so many lost-looking souls sitting on chairs, queuing at windows and some even eating breakfast. If I had been by myself, I would have probably joined one of the long queues of people, but having my colleague with me, we went to the only empty window, and amazingly someone appeared and dealt with us, taking a cursory glance at the various documents, and a longer look at my tourist visa, which I had bought at the airport and had assumed to last three months, but which turns out only to last 15 days, so I had to pay a fine, which meant joining several other queues before getting the vital stamps which had to be placed on my form at the original window. From the length of the queue of those paying the fine, overstaying your visa is not a big issue, but rather is seen as simply another way of collecting money. Certainly more profitable than the 7 Egyptian Pounds they charge for the residency visa – just over 50p!

Ten days later I had to return to finish the process, pay 83 Egyptian pounds (next to nothing really), then wait with scores of other people in a hot stuffy corridor for what seemed an age, anxious to see whether a visa had been granted. My heart fell when a policeman, in his pristine white uniform, summoned me to his office. Thinking of the visas from Israel and the stamps from Gaza in my passport, I feared the worst, but when I reached the office, it was simply for him to give me 80 Egyptian pounds, as apparently I had been overcharged! It was the first time that an official has ever given me back money! He then sat me down at his desk in front of a fan and went off to process my visa. Within 10 minutes it was all completed, and I am now allowed to work (unlike Israel, where my visa stated quite categorically that I was NOT ALLOWED TO WORK!). What is more, it will be a year, inshallah, before I need to return to the Mogamma again!

 

Council for Services and Development

Azbakiyya may sound like the name of a republic in Central Asia, but is actually a district in the centre of Cairo and the place where the Synod of the Nile established itself, building a church and latterly its offices (the ‘121’ of Cairo). The Church has 12 different councils (just as the Church of Scotland has World Mission, Ministries, Church and Society, etc) focusing on different areas, but the one with which I have had most dealings so far (and also a warm welcome from!) is CSD – the Council for Services and Development. It promotes development and ministries of compassion and justice in the 8 presbyteries (and 400 congregations) which make up the Presbyterian Church, but the area which perhaps hits home most is what I would call Health Justice. They are very much involved in Gender Based Violence, running workshops, training counsellors and providing support groups – and also producing excellent videos, such as ‘In her Place’ (Please take the time to watch this – it is so well done!):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-0wdl-ztLE (If this fails, type’ In Her Place’ and ‘Egypt’ into YouTube and hopefully it will show!)

Egypt is an extremely conservative and patriarchal society, and the percentage of women in Egypt who have suffered verbal or physical abuse is staggeringly high, but like so many other countries, people do not speak out about it. Speaking with Engie Ibrahim, the International Relations Officer for CSD, she uses phrases such as of ‘taboo’ and ‘stigma’ and ‘breaking the silence’, all terms which I associate with HIV and AIDS, but which are equally applicable to violence against women in Egypt. Fortunately through CSD, the topic is being aired in the media, with the Director Shaher Luka being interviewed on television, part of the advocacy work, keeping society, and especially the decision-makers in church and the community, well-informed.

Another health area in which CSD works is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is very common in Egypt. I had failed to realise how widespread the practice is within the Christian community, especially in Upper Egypt. It is less prevalent in the urban centres like Cairo or Alexandria, but it is hard to know exact numbers. According to Engie, the practice goes back to the times of the Pharaohs, but ‘the Church cannot just turn a blind eye to it’. CSD has been involved in speaking to church leaders of all the denominations and has also been in discussions with the Islamic community to encourage Imans to raise the issue with their followers. The reaction from the various workshops held has been a very positive one, with participants saying that the information they had received had made them change their minds about FGM and that they would no longer go ahead with it.

The work of CSD is ecumenical and interfaith, but there are some restrictions. They are unable to work with street kids, for example, because it would be feared that they would try to convert them from Islam to Christianity. These are things in Egypt that you have to be very sensitive about. However, they have targeted children at risk, especially helping children from poorer families to stay on at school, when the temptation would be to drop out. School fees for state schools are minimal in Egypt, but often there are hidden costs – children often have to pay for mandatory tutorials, which can strain a family’s resources. This is where CSD steps in to help and to keep the children in school.

The work of the CSD is more wide-ranging than this, ranging from HIV workshops to the giving out of microloans to small businesses – and even the provision of tablets (the computer kind) complete with 1000s of ebooks for newly graduated pastors! I have been enormously impressed by the wide-ranging work of this Council and their small team, and feel that other churches have a lot to learn from them.