THE 2011 REVOLUTION that led to the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak signaled hope and liberation for the people of Egypt. But many Egyptians and others fear that President Mohamed Morsi, in his actions to consolidate power and quell opposition, has become “Mubarak with a beard.”
Sen. Ehab El Kharrat, a psychiatrist and Christian member of the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of Parliament, still looks to his country’s future with hope. Kharrat talked with Mary Theresa Webb early this year while the senator was in Washington, D.C., for the National Prayer Breakfast. Webb is the founder of the GOAL Project, a U.S.-based organization that provides addiction recovery training for churches and communities around the world, including Egypt.--The Editors
Mary Theresa Webb: You are one of three Christians elected to the Egyptian Parliament. Could you describe why you decided to run for office? How does your Christian faith influence your work?
Ehab El Kharrat: I was elected by both Muslims and Christians to serve the whole people. I stand for love and freedom, and I think these are the things my savior and Lord Jesus stood for. My political involvement is not about the rights of the Christian minority in Egypt, but about the rights and dignity of all.
We on the Shura Council have received threats from violent groups, Muslim extremists, and the secularist terrorist group called the Black Bloc, who wear black masks and defend secular protesters with violence. I once stood up in a human rights session and said that I may be threatened and killed, but I will not accept the Black Bloc members’ violence and pledged all to refrain from such violence. If I die, I die. But I want to keep our revolution peaceful.
I like to think that the spirit of Christ is the spirit of justice, freedom, and love. One of my heroes, Charles Grandison Finney, the 19th-century New England theologian and revivalist, said [paraphrase], “Revolution is inevitable if the virtue or wisdom of the people exceeds that of its rulers, or if the vice and ignorance of the people exceeds that of its rulers.” I like to think that the first half of his statement applies to the Egyptian revolution.
You are chair of the Human Rights Commission of the Shura Council. What’s the purpose of the commission? The Human Rights Commission is trying to keep the lid on violence. We have 15 members: eight from the Muslim Brotherhood, four Salafists, and three from liberal or leftist parties.
We are reaching consensus on most of our debates and talks, except on women’s rights. We have reached consensus on transitional justice, on the right to housing, and many other issues, such as anti-torture systems. Our commission is a forum where we have demonstrated that conversation between opponents can be fruitful. However, we still have some tension and resistance from some representatives who do not want to serve with others they disagree with. We have to overcome resistance if we are to establish peace, unity, and democracy in Egypt.
What about the role of Christians now in Egypt? Are they in danger of being persecuted? Christians in Upper Egypt and some areas of metropolitan Cairo are in danger. Some are persecuted and kidnapped for ransom. Security is deteriorating. There have been three instances of burning down churches, and these churches were rebuilt with government funds. This reflects a tense environment.
Could you share more about the revolution of 2011? Some analysts call what happened a popular uprising and that the revolution is still a “work in progress.” Yes it is. The revolution didn’t achieve its goals yet. Majorities of Egyptians are still deprived and haven’t gotten what they deserve and what they demand. Today the system is pretty much similar to the Mubarak regime, so the demonstrators are shouting [at President Morsi], “Shave your beard, and you’ll look exactly like Mubarak.”
The Egyptian people now have the freedom to demonstrate and to express themselves. But the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to encroach on this with anti-demonstration laws and procedures, and the people in the streets are also resisting. Human rights and dignity are in danger under the new constitution, including the rights of relig-ious and political minorities, especially Christian minorities. Justice and economic empowerment situations are deteriorating. The police practices are changing, but still need development.
What are your most serious concerns about the current state of transition in Egypt? And what can the international community do or not do to help? All international communities should speak for human rights, should speak for freedom, and should be more vocal. But I don’t advise cutting down aid for the Egyptian regime at this stage. Our revolution is redeemable. We need to address some of the things around economic despair and avoid the possibility of complete economic breakdown, because then everyone suffers.
My biggest concern is that we would descend into violence. If the protesters fight each other, the people of Egypt will ask the army to intervene to prevent a civil war. The army has renewed its leadership. They will keep their integrity and composition. They are waiting and watching.