CAIRO, Egypt (BP)–The aftershocks of Sept. 11 continue to reverberate in the Arab world, especially in Egypt.
Muhammad Atta, the suspected mastermind of the terrorist acts of 9-11 was Egyptian. Moreover, Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network grew in part out of Egyptian extremist groups and many of its leaders are Egyptians. Osama bin Laden’s top aide and ideological mentor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is a long-time Egyptian radical and founder of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad movement.
Their brand of Islam claims a small — but potent — following in Egypt. And the recent escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has brought them new recruits as rage in the region grows.
Radical Islamists assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 after he made peace with Israel. They’ve tried several times since to kill Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian government has responded with harsh crackdowns. But the militants persist — determined to replace the current regime with an Islamist state. Radicals also have carried out deadly attacks on foreign tourists and Coptic Christians in recent years.
Bottom line: Islamic extremism in Egypt isn’t going away anytime soon. Since Sept. 11, foreign tourists have responded by staying away in droves — seriously damaging Egypt’s already-struggling economy.
How should the world’s Christians respond? Stay home? Stop praying for Egypt? Write off the Arab world?
“This is not a time to move back,” says a Southern Baptist strategy leader in the region. “This is a time to seize the day. There is more spiritual opening now than there ever has been.”
An Egyptian Christian pastor strongly agrees: “The message of the attacks is destruction and the authority of darkness over the world, because the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy,” he says. “But Jesus is the Light of the world. This is the hour we have to demonstrate the gospel. We want to raise a movement to pray for the Arabs and all Muslims.”
Otherwise, he warns, Christians will lose a historic moment to bridge chasms of hate and suspicion. And many Muslims will continue to reject the gospel as counterfeit.
The pastor believes the whole Muslim world — more than 1 billion strong — is waiting to see if Christians practice what they preach.
If that monolithic number is too big to grasp, just think about “Fatima,” a young Egyptian Muslim who decided to follow Jesus as Lord after reading the Bible.
Her brother found out about the decision and tortured her to force her to recant.
“He cut her with razors — cut, cut, cut,” reports an Egyptian Christian doctor. “He used electricity to shock her. He injected gasoline into her calf muscles — the worst thing I have ever seen. It causes gangrene of the muscles, and they break down like yogurt. The pain is intolerable.”
But Fatima remained steadfast.
“I have never seen such faith,” the doctor marvels. “When Muslims come (to Jesus), they come wholehearted.”