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TITLE: Two Egypts

At the moment, I am writing a number of stories about Christians in the Middle East and this one is about an Christian Egyptian family going through the recent revolution. The main character is the mother, Heba.

Any comments are appreciated. I am just interested in people's reactions so I can improve my writing.

It was a beautiful sunset but Heba was restless. Her husband Rashid hadn’t arrived home yet and although it was only a quarter to six, it was getting dark and Heba was worried. These were uncertain times and people were even speaking of a revolution in the whole country. Like so many others, Rashid had stopped working and had taken the train into the centre of Cairo to show his support for the demonstrations against the government. But some people had died already and Heba couldn’t get these concerns out of her head. What if anything happened to Rashid? He had told her that thousands of people were congregating at Tahrir Square everyday and life had come to a standstill. There had been quite a bit of unrest during the first days of the demonstrations, when Mubarak thought he could suppress it. Unfortunately a couple of hundred people had died. Now there was just a quiet determination to change things in the country. Heba felt quite excited about the whole situation; nothing like this had ever happened before. And although she worried about her husband, she also had enough faith to believe that God would protect him while He was doing something significant in her country.

The children were watching TV in the living room. It was better for them to stay at home now when it was getting dark. Wael, her oldest, would normally be playing football outside on a patch of sand with his friends until dinner time but all parents were more cautious at the moment and so they finished earlier. Her daughter Dahlia was playing with her dolls while keeping an eye on the TV. Heba looked at her beloved children and said a quiet prayer for them and Rashid’s safe return. Revolution or not, as long as the children are safe and cared for. That was getting somewhat difficult as no one was going to work and most shops were closed. She had been able to buy some flour, fruit and vegetables from her friend who runs the corner shop but they had had few supplies and were trying to share the little they had with many neighbours. Tonight, dinner was Ful Medames with some bread again. Heba was lucky that her children loved fava beans so they usually didn’t complain.

Rashid finally came home and related all the events of the day. It had been an amazing day, this Friday. It is the day that the Muslims worship and as is required they congregated for their Friday prayers, this time on Tahrir Square. However, the police were there and it was not entirely safe. The police was still instructed to try and break up the protest. In a moment that must have been appointed by God Himself according to Rashid, some of his Christian friends and he started to hold hands and form a wall between the praying Muslims and the police. Slowly more and more Christians joined in and Rashid noticed the cross tattooed on the inside of many wrists that was still common among Christians in Egypt. Before they realised it, they had formed a full circle around the worshipping Muslims. It was an amazing sight and gave the people a wonderful feeling. Despite all their differences, Christians and Muslims showed a united front to the police and the government. Rashid was sure that God was there and had orchestrated this solidarity.

In the next few days there were some clashes with the police but Rashid had been able to avoid them and had sustained no injuries. However, he was furious. People had found out that day the extent of the corruption in the government. A number of ministers had ripped the country off for billions of Egyptian pounds whereas Mubarak himself topped them all with an astonishing personal fortune estimated to be between 40 and 70 billion dollars. What was so infuriating too was that the total of $57 billion was more than enough to cover the country’s $32 billion of foreign debt.

Rashid screamed: “Eissa was so right when he said “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Those bastards have ruined this country while living in luxury. Why, Heba, do people need that much money? Even with a few million they could have lived in luxury. And at the same time over all these years he was in power, every time the country needed money for something – for better schools, for more hospitals, for better roads, Mubarak would stand in front of parliament and complain that there was no money. There was no money for education, no money for infra-structure, no money for more health-care. In the meantime he and other government ministers were stashing the money in overseas investments and properties for their own gain. It is infuriating. They are thieves, Heba, and criminals.”

It took Heba a while to calm Rashid down but she always had a calming effect on him when he was upset. When she gave him a kiss, he smiled and apologised for his outburst: “You are a good woman, Heba, a blessing from our Lord.” The children relaxed, too, now baba was over his anger. They said grace and had dinner while Rashid continued to talk about the day in the city and what may happen in the future.

Both Wael and Dahlia kept asking if they could come with baba to Tahrir Square next time he went. They wanted to see all the protests and the police because it sounded so exciting. “Oh baba, take us!” Rashid was firm though. It was not a place for children. It was difficult though to explain the danger to young children. Before the children were put to bed, Heba suggested they would pray together for the country and also for Mubarak and the other ministers. “Eissa asked us to pray for our enemies and so we should.” It had taken a long time, in fact many years, to understand this command and especially to understand what to pray. What do you ask from the Lord for your enemies? Rashid and Heba were sure that he didn’t mean to ask God to kill your enemies. After long deliberations, they had decided the best thing to pray for was for enemies to find the truth and to be saved. In reality, all of us were enemies of God before we were saved. So the family prayed that the Lord would remove Mubarak from his position as president and realise the error of his ways. They also asked that he may repent and know the forgiveness of God.

A few days later, Rashid burst into the house with a bunch of flowers in his hand and yelled: “Heba, great news, Mubarak has stepped down. Let’s hope he will be brought to justice. Now he is still in a big expensive villa in Sharm el-Shekih ordering his butler to bring him caviar and Swiss chocolates. It is unbelievable that a man like that can still live in luxury, while we can only dream about even having a holiday, let alone in a resort like that. Anyway, he is no longer the president. Now, God willing, we can move on into a better future, a new Egypt.” Heba had noticed the flowers in Rashid’s hand but was waiting for him to finish. She asked: “Why flowers, habibi?” “It’s Valentine’s Day, habibti. For you!” He had picked them in a park but didn’t say anything. Heba knew flowers were not easy to come by but she didn’t ask any questions either. There was more good news. The Christians had organised a mass in the middle of Tahrir Square and while they were worshipping, the Muslims decided to return the favour and form a circle around them to protect them from the police.

Heba opened her Bible and started reading in Ezekiel. She came across the name Allah, the name of God and again felt uneasy about it. The word just meant ‘the God’ in Arabic but since the Muslims had claimed the name Allah for their God, Heba preferred to use the English name Lord or Father God. She was sensitive to the use of words, maybe even over-sensitive, but that was most likely the reason she had become a language teacher. She loved language, both her own Arabic and her second language English, which she taught at high school. Names were important to her because she was sure that the Muslim Allah and the Christian God were not the same. They couldn’t be, despite what a lot of her Muslim neighbours told her. They always said but God is only one, not three. In other words, they didn’t believe in the Trinity and it didn’t matter what Heba said, they wouldn’t change their mind. For Heba it was simple. We were created in His image as the Bible teaches and so even we were ‘three in one’. We have a body, soul and spirit. Our body seemed to be a reflection of Eissa or Jesus as they called Him in English who came to this earth in a body to teach us; the spirit was obviously connected to the Holy Spirit and the soul then must be like God the Father. According to the scripture the soul is the mind, will and emotions, which is basically our ‘self’ or our personality, just like God really. God the father has a lot of thoughts towards us, has a will for us and shows a lot of emotions towards his people. He even loved us so much that He sent his beloved Eissa to die for our sins on the cross. The Muslims didn’t believe any of this and had gone back to a kind of Old Testament law – rules and regulations that had to be followed to be saved. But Christians were under grace. They only had to believe in the Son. As they often said: “It is not what you do for God, but what God has done for us.” Heba felt totally set free with this knowledge.

However, this time she was searching the scriptures for any prophesies on the future of her country. The Bible had a lot to say about Egypt but the one prophesy that concerned her most was somewhere in the book of Ezekiel. After leafing through the chapters for what seemed to be an eternity, she finally came across it in chapter 29. The Lord was angry with a number of heathen nations around Israel and this chapter describes His tirade against Egypt and the Pharaoh. Verse 15 was the one she was looking for: “It (Egypt) shall be the lowliest of kingdoms; it shall never again exalt itself above the nations, for I will diminish them so that they will not rule over the nations anymore.” It was the “never again” that worried Heba, because she knew that if the Lord said “never again”, He really meant “never again”. To Heba, in the present revolution, it meant that they should not have too great a dream for the restoration of their country. On the other hand, she realised that it didn’t mean that Egypt could not have peace and relative prosperity. Heba was a woman of the Word and took what she read in the Bible very seriously. It was both a concern and a relief to read this scripture again. She closed her Bible and bowed her head in prayer.

There was a knock on the door. It was Mohammed, the next-door neighbour, bringing back her children. They had been with Mohammed and his wife to play with their children. Schools were still not open because the government had decided to keep all schools closed for another couple of weeks, so the kids had to be occupied for a little longer and Heba wouldn’t return to work either. Mohammed stood at the door but wouldn’t come into the house because Rashid was not there. He was a gentleman and just asked some general questions about the well-being of the family and reacted with lots of “hamdillahs” (Thanks be to God) when Heba said things were going well. Although Mohammed was a good man, he made Heba feel slightly uncomfortable as he was a typical Egyptian sweet-talker. He would often look Rashid up and down and say: “Rashid, you look very handsome today!” and also give similar complements about Heba: “I hope your beautiful wife is alright.” Heba knew that she was not particularly beautiful and, in fact, rather a “plain Jane” as they said in English, so these kinds of comments did not seem genuine. However, Mohammed was a good husband and father. He looked after his wife and children and loved them very much, so all in all Heba was glad to have neighbours like them. Heba thanked Mohammed for looking after her children and he left, jokingly saying “Sank you!” He always liked to say something in English to show Heba that he could speak some English too. The “th” always came out as an “s” as most Egyptians found “th” impossible to pronounce. It made her smile.

Heba was still thinking about what the Bible said about Egypt. In her mind she had always divided the history of her country between the period before the Exodus and the period after. It seemed to her that they were two completely different countries. Before, it was a wealthy empire with slaves to do all the hard work and an abundance of food, but after it, it was utterly destroyed by all the plagues. Now, however, there seemed to have been two different Egypts, too: one for the super-rich and one for the poor masses. She was praying that that would come to an end and that justice would be done. She could then start to divide the history of her country into two more periods: before and after the revolution.

Rashid came home and shared the latest news: there were accusations against the minister of interior. First of all, there had been witnesses in the police force who had heard him give orders to shoot at the protesters and secondly, it was discovered that he had been behind the church bombing in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve. If that was proven, he would be prosecuted for the murder of the 23 Christians that died in the bomb blast and would definitely end up with the death penalty. A scripture came to Heba’s mind: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Heba just loved the scriptures.
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