Religious Persecution Flares in the United Arab Republic
THE London Daily Telegraph of April 14, 1967, reported: “Scores of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been rounded up and are being held in gaol [jail] pending trial or deportation, it was announced in Cairo today. The arrests were at the request of the Coptic Patriarchate. . . . A Cairo weekly published a photograph of 25 of those arrested including nine children, four of whom are under three.”
Thus, religious persecution flared again last spring in the United Arab Republic (previously called Egypt), and it still continues. Ceaseless harassment, loss of employment, arrests, confiscation of property, savage beatings, deportations, imprisonment in concentration camps—this is what sincere Christian families have experienced in this country during the past year. Mighty flames of persecution have been lit and continue to be fanned by malicious misrepresentation.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
“The arrests were at the request of the Coptic Patriarchate,” the London paper reported. Yes, the churches of Christendom are particularly responsible. They have maliciously misrepresented Jehovah’s witnesses, and have long urged that official action be taken against them. As far back as March 17, 1955, the New York Daily News reported: “Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox bishops today urged the Egyptian government to close down the Cairo branch of the American Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society on grounds that it is spreading Zionist propaganda.”
Finally, the government did this, officially banning Jehovah’s witnesses in the United Arab Republic on June 2, 1960. And what was the response of the churches? Note the answer given in the Arab weekly magazine Sabbah El-Kheir, of April 6, 1967:
“The opinion of the Egyptian Church was given right after the decree of banning of Jehovah’s witnesses. It says: ‘We congratulate the Minister of Social Affairs . . . and those government officials who stayed alert and suppressed this Society who are enemies of religion and who cause division and support Zionism. And we hope that they will pursue the rest of this Society into their holes and secret meeting places to put them out of existence forever.’”
The following week the Arab magazine Al-Mussawer interviewed Coptic priest Ibrahim Gabra, who was instrumental in having Jehovah’s witnesses banned eight years ago. He explained: “The High Court of Appeal as well as the Supreme Court confirmed the decree of banning this Society, based on the report I presented to the responsible ones at that time.” Then this priest asserted: Jehovah’s witnesses “are agents that Imperialism is using in defense of Israel . . . and [they] glorify the activity of Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, and his efforts for the populating of Palestine with Jews.”—April 14, 1967.
What slanderous untruths! The claim that Jehovah’s witnesses are agents of imperialistic powers who seek to defend Israel is absurd. There is not the slightest evidence that they are Zionists, or are in any way working to support Zionism. In fact, Jehovah’s witnesses teach that efforts to establish a lasting Jewish political state in the Middle East are not in keeping with the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
For example, back in 1958 Jehovah’s witnesses sponsored the widely delivered public Bible talk “Why Zionism Must Fail.” And an article published in The Watchtower of March 1, 1958, carrying that same title, said: “Zionism must fail because Jehovah is having nothing to do with it . . . Zionism is a part of this old world or system of things and therefore is doomed along with it.”
Also, The Watchtower of just last August 15 observed: “It is obvious today that modern Israel neither confesses Jesus Christ as Lord nor calls upon the name of Jehovah. It is not a religious, but a political state . . . it is evident that God is no longer dealing with the Jews as a nation.”
How clear, then, it should be that Jehovah’s witnesses are not supporters of Zionism! And how clear, too, that religious leaders have labeled them Zionists for the evil purpose of arousing Arab officials against them! Great difficulties were thus heaped upon Jehovah’s witnesses due to this wicked misrepresentation. They were closely watched by the secret police. Occasionally some were arrested, held for a few days, beaten, and released.
But then, during the fall and winter of 1966-1967, the pressures noticeably increased. In Alexandria alone, some forty Witnesses were summoned by officials and given warning to cease meeting together for Bible study and to stop speaking to others about the Scriptures. If they persisted, the officials threatened, they would be arrested and thrown into a concentration camp.
SEVERE PERSECUTION FLARES
On March 25, 1967, fifteen persons gathered in a private home in Cairo to celebrate the Memorial of Jesus Christ’s death. Suddenly four secret policemen and an officer belonging to the Cairo Investigations Department entered and ordered everyone to remain in his place. The house was searched and Bible literature was confiscated. Then all, except two younger children, were arrested and taken to the police station.
Through all of this the Witnesses remained calm. They knew that they were doing the right thing by meeting in obedience to Christ’s command to celebrate his death. (Luke 22:19) Al-Mussawer of April 14, 1967, observed: “The victims have a firmness of nerves that surpasses all description. When the agents of the fight against Zionism raided their last meeting, the night of the Jewish Passover, none of them was afraid.”
Down at the police station the officials sought to secure information from the prisoners as to how Bible literature is mimeographed and circulated among the Witnesses. When the Memorial speaker, Samir Yacoub Mikhail, refused to reveal this information, he was undressed, his mouth and eyes were banded, his feet and hands tied, and he was ordered to lie down on his belly. Then he was beaten unmercifully with a leather belt. This same brutal treatment was administered to sixty-four-year-old Nicola George Barghout, even though he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, which causes his right hand to tremble incessantly.
Finally, by such methods, the names of three persons, believed to be particularly responsible for organizing the activity of Jehovah’s witnesses, were obtained. It was decided to arrest these persons also. So four agents were sent out to bring them in. Little did these agents suspect the jolting surprise they were in for.
The report in Al-Mussawer explains: “At five o’clock dawn, a police car went out to arrest some other Jehovah’s witnesses, and at the cross-roads of Elfi and Emad el Din streets it was hit by a trolley bus.” The accident so shook up the men that they did not follow through with their plans to make the arrests, even though they were only a block from the home of two of the Witnesses. Apparently they believed that this accident might represent divine intervention in their plans.
Nevertheless, the thirteen Witnesses already under arrest were held for nearly two weeks. During this time they received little to eat and were kept in a small room with no beds or any normal comforts. After thirteen days, nine of them succumbed to the extreme pressures and hardships and signed a paper agreeing to cease attending meetings for Bible study and speaking to others about the Scriptures. These were women, youths and newly interested persons. They were released, while the four others were held.
These four were treated extremely bad. They were repeatedly flogged; very little food was given them, and no one was permitted to see them. On May 10 a court session was held, but the four defendants did not even attend! It seems that they had been so brutally beaten that the authorities did not want them to appear in court in such physical condition. Their lawyer protested vigorously, urging that they be brought in or the whole proceedings would be illegal, but to no avail. Another session was fixed for June 21, 1967, but it never took place. The defendants were thrown into a concentration camp!
PERSECUTION STEPPED UP
In the meantime, beatings, arrests and imprisonment of other Witnesses were taking place. In Cairo, Hanna Gad and his sister were summoned by the police one morning. He was severely beaten and ill-treated for three hours because he refused to sign a statement that he would discontinue being a witness for Jehovah. At 1 p.m. they were released in order to be given a final chance to think the matter over. That evening he was taken in again. But despite being stripped naked and beaten almost continuously for six hours, he did not renounce his faith.
In Alexandria, on the night of April 25, the police raided the home of Dr. Amin Mikhail Fanous and his wife, confiscating Bible literature and taking them to the police station. That same night Alphonse Michel Takla, his wife and eighteen-year-old son also were taken in. They, too, were fiercely beaten, including one of the women, because they refused to sign a declaration stating that they would not meet for Bible study or speak to others about the Scriptures. The next day all were released.
However, the following week these two couples were arrested and sent to the Hadara Penitentiary in Alexandria. Here all four were held until June 16, 1967, when the women were finally released, and the husbands were transferred to the concentration camp outside of Cairo. In this camp more than a score of Witnesses had been confined.
What precipitated the arrest and confinement of many Witnesses was the outbreak of the Israeli-Arab war the first week of June. At that time, one home after another of the Witnesses was raided, and the men were taken and thrown into the concentration camp.
CRUEL TREATMENT TESTS FAITH
Here in the camp Jehovah’s witnesses were cruelly treated. A principal reason is that they refused to share in the patriotic cries commanded by camp officials, such as: “Long live the president Gamal Abdel Nasser.” “Long live the United Arab Republic.” “Let Israel fall,” and so forth. The Witnesses showed from the Scriptures why they must remain neutral and not become involved in political affairs. They explained that to participate in such patriotic cries would be a violation of their Christian neutrality.—John 17:16.
Thus, the very night that Amin Mikhail Fanous and Alphonse Michel Takla arrived at the camp, they were viciously beaten for not giving the patriotic cries when ordered to do so. Amin, an elderly man, was struck so hard around the head that his vision became blurred. However, such brutal, inhuman treatment of the Witnesses became a common occurrence.
One of the methods of torture was to have the victim lie down with his face to the ground, and to raise his feet up. He was then beaten upon the back and feet. On one occasion this was done so ruthlessly that one of the prisoners looking on fainted. It was more than he could stand to see. Because of such treatment, even a few of the Witnesses succumbed to fear, and consented to shout the patriotic sayings in order to avoid the beatings.
However, the many Witnesses who faithfully endured proved that with trust in Jehovah it was possible to keep integrity to Him even under these severe tests. For example, the Witness who suffered the vicious beating that caused another prisoner to faint explains in what a wonderful way he was strengthened and comforted:
“While I was lying on the ground being beaten I was praying to Jehovah to help me endure this torture. I was very happy because Jehovah, the Almighty God, helped me. Afterward, I wet a handkerchief with water and put it on my back to absorb the heat. After three days I was in a very good condition, as if I had not been beaten on my feet or on my back. This was due to the help of Jehovah and the care shown to me by the brothers.”
Another Witness, who regularly visited congregations as a traveling representative before being put in the concentration camp on June 7, also observed: “Regardless of the amount of insulting and beatings that we received, a few seconds would pass and we would not feel anything more even though the beatings continued. We were feeling that Jehovah God was always with us.”
Yes, Jehovah did indeed prove to be with his faithful servants; his name is without question like a strong tower into which they can run for protection. (Prov. 18:10) When his people in the camp placed their trust in him, he made the way out so that they were able to remain steadfast. Even the severe pain of the beatings was softened, making it possible for them to endure savage treatment—to the amazement of camp officials and other prisoners.
A real witness was thereby given to the hundreds of prisoners and officials in the concentration camp. One of them told a Witness: “I am very happy to know persons who remind me of the early Christians and who are ready to endure all persecution for the sake of the faith. I will teach my children that in the concentration camp there were true Christians in the full sense of the word, and that these are Jehovah’s witnesses.”
The Witnesses appreciated fully that it was not by their own strength that they were able to endure, but that it was by the strength that comes from God. Therefore, they did not neglect a study of his Word, even though their Bibles had been taken away from them when they entered the camp. One of them explains how they arranged to take in the strength-giving spiritual food:
“Each morning we would discuss an appropriate Bible text, selecting one that would be encouraging to the brothers. We would also select two chapters from the Bible to talk about. Then each of us would draw from our memory the information we could remember from these chapters. Each evening, too, we would gather for a Bible talk. These daily Bible discussions and talks indeed proved strengthening to us. We also used to encourage one another with 1 Peter 5:8, 9, in order that we might not fail, but continue walking on the road to life.”
Finally, on November 14, 1967, after more than five months of confinement for most of them and even longer for some, the Witnesses were released. However, even after returning to their home cities, some were subjected to savage beatings by local officials because they refused to sign a declaration stating that they would cease serving as witnesses for Jehovah. And until this day, even though out of the concentration camp, they and their fellow Witnesses are constantly threatened and harassed by officials.
IS FREEDOM OF WORSHIP PROHIBITED?
A person might naturally assume from this account of religious persecution that freedom of worship is prohibited by the Constitution of the United Arab Republic. But it is not! To the contrary, observe these fine Constitutional guarantees:
Article 33: Homes have their sanctity and they may not be entered, except in the cases, and in the manner, prescribed by the law.
Article 34: Freedom of belief is absolute. The State protects the freedom of the practice of religion and creeds in accordance with custom provided this does not infringe upon public order or conflict with morality.
Article 35: Freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed. Every individual has the right to express his opinion and to publicize it verbally or in writing or by photography or by other means within the limits of the law.
Article 36: Freedom of the press, printing and publication is guaranteed within the limits of the law.
Article 37: Egyptians have the right to peaceable assembly, without carrying arms and without the need for prior notice.
Also, the United Arab Republic is a member of the United Nations, and has endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right of all persons to freedom of thought, conscience, speech, religion, and peaceful assembly.
Does the United Arab Republic really stand behind these guarantees provided by her own Constitution and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Or are they simply pleasant-sounding promises? Will President Nasser and his government officials endeavor to defend the constitutional rights of religious minorities? Or will they continue to be influenced by the obviously false charges of religious leaders that Jehovah’s witnesses are politically dangerous Zionists?
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you are appalled by the religious persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses in the United Arab Republic, you can inform President Nasser and other prominent officials how you feel. At times those in positions of responsibility are unaware of the extreme injustice and brutality of some of their subordinates. You can also let them know about the activity of Jehovah’s witnesses in your own country; how it is carried on openly and constitutes no political threat. It is your privilege to speak out in behalf of those in the United Arab Republic who have been maliciously misrepresented and cruelly persecuted because of their religious faith. Address your appeal to:
Mr. Gamal Abdel Nasser
President of the United Arab Republic
Mr. Hussein El Shaffei
First Vice-President of the
United Arab Republic
Mr. Diaeddin Mohamed Daoud
Minister of Social Affairs
Mr. Abdul Mohsen Abul Nur
Minister of Local Administration
Mr. Mahmoud Riad
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Shaarawy Mohamed Gomaa
Minister of the Interior
Ministry of the Interior
Mr. Mohamed Fayek
Minister of National Guidance
Ministry of National Guidance
Mr. Mohamed Abu Nosseir
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Dr. Sarwat Okasha
Minister of Culture
Ministry of Culture
Results of Repeated Visits to One House
IT IS remarkable that a Christian minister would call almost continuously for some fifteen years to conduct Bible studies with the people of one house. However, in Akron, Ohio, this is what has occurred, as is explained:
“About fifteen years ago when I was preaching from house to house I placed the Bible-study aid ‘Let God Be True’ with a lady. I soon began a home Bible study with her, and after two years she was baptized in symbol of her dedication to serve Jehovah God. However, in time, this lady moved out of the house.
“Later, as I was again making ministerial calls in this neighborhood, I met the new tenants. These included a man, his wife and their children. This family, too, agreed to a Bible study, and we again used the study aid ‘Let God Be True.’ They progressed in Bible knowledge, and later the man dedicated his life to serve God. But this is not all.
“After a little while I was able to start a Bible study with several young people who had moved into the house. The message fell upon receptive hearts, because two of the young men finally symbolized their dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism. One of them eventually became a full-time pioneer minister.
“You might think that there could not possibly be anymore response from that one house. However, new tenants moved in, and one Sunday morning I was making ministerial calls in the neighborhood with my daughter. I said to her: ‘If anyone invites me in, I believe I will start a Bible study.’ The lady of the house invited us in, saying that she wanted to see Jehovah’s name in the Bible. A Bible study was started in the ‘Let God Be True’ book, and the householders progressed to the point that they dedicated their lives to God and were baptized in 1966.
“Still, this is not quite all. You see, there are now new tenants living in that house. And, recently, while making ministerial calls in the neighborhood I placed the Bible-study aid ‘Things in Which It is Impossible for God to Lie’ with the occupants, a man and his wife. I am now holding a home Bible study with them.”