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Monthly archives: June, 2015

Community ‘Justice’ Expels Copts from their homes

by Jayson Casper

Forgive Emad Youssef if he and his extended family felt quite confused. The crowd welcoming them back to the village had only a few days earlier demanded they leave.
“They said this is the first time something like this has happened in our village,” he told private satellite channel, OnTV “and that, Inshallah, it won’t happen again.”

Yet it happens frequently in Egypt – at least 23 times in the last four years, according to new research released by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Whose Customs? – a 78-page report by EIPR – points out that the period from 2011-2014 saw 45 instances in which sectarian strife was settled, in different ways, outside the law through “Customary Reconciliation Sessions” (CRS).

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A community ‘reconciliation’ meeting between Copts and Muslims, Al-Nazriyah village 17 April 2015 WWM

 

In concept, CRS is community-based conflict resolution, long established in Egyptian tradition. If two residents have a dispute, solving it through the judicial system is long and costly. Instead, ‘wise men’ of the village will hear both sides and issue a binding ruling. Religious leaders are often involved.

If the dispute is violent, CRS is a method to calm tensions and prevent escalation. Police are usually present to enforce security.

But in the case of Youssef and his relatives, all Coptic Christians, the CRS took place because police did not do their job in the first place.

”This (the forced ‘relocation’) happened while the police were in the village, and they did nothing to stop them’ – a local Copt, choosing anonymity, stressed.

Emad’s brother Ayman is a migrant worker in Jordan, accused of sharing pictures deemed insulting of Muhammad on Facebook via his cell phone. Ayman claims he is innocent. Nevertheless, on May 27 a mob gathered in his home village back in Egypt, attacking the houses and fields of his family and their Coptic neighbors. The village of Kafr Darwish, about two-thirds Muslim, is located in Beni Suef, 70 miles south of Cairo.

Reports say that some local Muslim neighbors tried to defend the family, but the mayor was not able to control the situation. Officials and village leaders conducted a CRS and issued a verdict placating the mob. In Ayman’s absence his family was punished, resulting in the expulsion of 18 individuals, including Ayman’s mother and his 71-year-old father.

The displaced told of their ordeal as they were “traveling from one town to another and not finding a place to accommodate us”.

In this one instance, five families of 18 members had to contend with living in one room. “They expelled us while we have done nothing, we are struggling to provide for ourselves,” they said before their return.

Media is often inattentive to Upper Egyptian issues, but in this case the outcry was immediate. Popular broadcaster Ibrahim Eissa declared, “How is that we have an enlightened president but a Salafi [ultraconservative Muslim] state? We don’t have the courage to say: These are their homes and their life is here. Whoever stands against them and the law will be judged by the law!”

A day before Eissa said this, the Beni Sweif state governor had tried to intervene, announcing the displaced families would return. This only resulted in further attacks in the village. But the following day control was established. The governor convened a meeting in the village, with high profile political, religious, and security figures – and over 2,000 residents.

According to Mideast Christian News (MCN), the governor announced that the law does not allow the displacement of any Egyptian from their home. He promised to restore the properties that had been damaged.

But Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani (which helped first report the story) is not aware of even one Muslim arrested for the attacks. MCN reported that Christian villagers submitted the names of 20 individuals involved.

“I don’t consider this a happy ending, it is not a healthy situation and the law is not enforced,” Sidhom told WWM.

Fanatics ”may harm Christians,” he said, ”but the greater harm is done to the sovereignty of the state”.

Ishak Ibrahim (right) with Abdul Rahman at the EIPR press conference in Cairo, 10 June 2015 Jayson Casper

 

This incident is unique in that the state intervened to overturn the results of a CRS. But lead author of the EIPR report Ishak Ibrahim stated that the non-prosecution of offenders is common. In the vast majority of cases studied, no arrests were made. In the few that were, the accused were released shortly thereafter. The reconciliation agreements often stipulated the relinquishing of legal procedures.
“If people reject the ruling it can result in more sectarian attacks,” said Ibrahim, “but accepting it helps the aggressors escape the consequences of their actions.

“We put responsibility on the government because it is the one tasked to protect citizens and their rights.”

Article 63 of the Egyptian constitution forbids the forced displacement of any citizen. Article 95 insists all judicial rulings must be personal, not collective. And while Article 185 of the penal code allows for a victim to waive prosecution in certain circumstances, these do not include looting, arson, or intimidation.

But the waiver of prosecution has not applied to Christian aggressors.

Not all incidents begin as sectarian. In 29 per cent of the studied cases, community tension resulted from a romantic relationship between a Muslim and a Christian, and in 16 per cent conflict emerged from land and property disputes.

In each one where the Christian was at fault, legal prosecution continued after CRS-stipulated penalties, often exorbitant. But when the Muslim is at fault, reconciliation and social peace are emphasized. Sometimes there are no penalties whatsoever; other times the church has opted for waiving them to keep the peace.

Bias against Christians is also apparent in disputes with religious origins. Thirty-one percent of cases have to do with the practice of Christian religious ritual, including attempted church construction and repair.

Only one case was resolved in their favor.

‘Relocated’

Even the ‘Martyrs’ Church, established by a presidential decision to honor the 20 Egyptian Copts killed in Libya by the Islamic State (IS), had to be ‘physically relocated’ following protests and a subsequent CRS.

Eight per cent of cases had to do with expressing opinions on religious matters. The majority involved simply “liking” a Facebook page deemed insulting to Islam, and resulted in expulsion of the offender from his village.

WWM previously reported on Gad Younan, a teacher from Minya arrested with some of his students for a video in which they made fun of IS. MCN has recently reported that judicial procedures resulted in his release on bail pending further trial, but that the CRS agreement continues to demand he not return home.

“Customary reconciliation sessions are said to stop sectarian tension, but our analysis shows that they only serve to ignore it,” said Amr Abdel Rahman, head of the civil liberties unit at EIPR.

Abdel Rahman explained that those who conduct CRSs often view their sessions as above and apart from the law. This status is buttressed by the police presence that implicitly underwrites the process.

And in a rare departure from Coptic non-criticism of the government, Bishop Aghathon of Minya accused local authorities of collusion with conservative Muslims in CRS. He told a Coptic satellite channel that, in one incident in his diocese, the typical mob protest was instigated by security.

General Sayyid Nour el-Din, former director of security in Minya, defended the use of CRS. “It does not conflict with the law at all, it has to do with the prevention of bloody conflicts,” he told OnTV. “The security presence is there to protect the sessions, not to come up with their solution.”

Nour el-Din said security has to be especially vigilant as Islamist groups are looking for any excuse to explode the situation. Strong especially in the poorer southern governorates, their presence coincides with the use of CRS following sectarian incidents. EIPR reported 48 per cent of cases are from Upper Egypt, 33 per cent from Minya alone.

The Muslim Brotherhood officially condemned the forced displacement of Copts in Kafr Darwish, while blaming the church for tearing apart national unity through its support of thegovernment.

This latter sentiment was emphasized by a former parliamentarian from al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, an Islamist group implicated in many attacks on Copts in Upper Egypt during the 1990s.

“The church is part of Sisi’s regime,” said Amr Abdel Rahim. “They have to wake up and realize they are playing with Coptic lives and leading them to a holocaust.”

Abdel Rahim’s criticism makes no distinction between Islamist ideology and Muslim identity. He insists that “Muslims” are not against Copts, but if not, who does he think might conduct his so-called holocaust?

‘Roots of the Problem’

EIPR statistics indicated the use of one CRS per month during the interim rule of the military, when, following the fall of Mubarak, a security vacuum existed and Islamist groups felt themselves in the ascendency. During Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-led presidency the rate rose to 1.25 per month.

It declined under interim president Mansour and incumbent president Sisi following the removal of Morsi, but the practice continues all the same. EIPR noted six incidents, outside the scope of its report, in the first half of 2015 alone.

“From Mubarak to today, no regime has dealt with the roots of the problem,” said Ibrahim.

Sidhom tied CRS to an unreformed educational system that does not properly instill the values of citizenship.

Related is a weak state apparatus that submits to the pressure of militant action apart from the law.

But the EIPR report’s main author Ibrahim emphasized he is not against CRS in principle.

“Anything that extinguishes sectarian tension is beneficial, as long as the process of law continues,” he told OnTV.

“The problem is that it is a replacement for law, often compelled upon the weaker party, reflecting the local situation of power.”

But where power is balanced and tension is not high, Christians like Muslims avail themselves readily of a CRS, especially in view of a judicial system saddled with millions of new and pending cases and complaints per year.

“In 90 per cent of the cases, CRS is beneficial,” Fr. Yu’annis Anton of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Minya told WWM. “Relationships are reconciled and everyone takes his rights.”

Anton speaks from a long experience with CRSs, underlining their utility in non-sectarian cases. This is not the case of Kafr Darwish, he says, where a just rule of law ought to take precedence.

EIPR noted that its 45 cases detail only CRS usage following sectarian clashes, not the practice itself.

Perhaps following in the footsteps of Jesus, Emad Youssef chooses to reflect positively.

“This trial was from God, who has used it to increase the love shown to us by Muslim neighbors,” he said.

“They have made reconciliation,” added the 71 year old father. “We have returned home, in goodness and peace.”

Source: World Watch Monitor



Elisabeth Elliot, Influential Author And Missionary, Dies

Elisabeth Elliot, influential Christian missionary and author, died yesterday, 15th June, aged 88. She has been described as one of the most influential Christian women of the 20th century. She authored numerous books but perhaps her most famous were those she penned about the martyrdom of her first husband, Jim Elliot, and the years she and her newborn daughter spent living among the Aucas, the tribe that killed him.

In the video below, Christian Broadcasting Network pays tribute to her life and work.



Life as an Iraqi Christian refugee : One year after ISIS attacks Mosul

One year after Islamic State attacks Mosul World Watch Monitor features Iraq’s displaced Christians who moved to Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.

One year ago, Mosul fell to militants belonging to a Sunni Muslim movement calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities, threatened with execution, fled. These are the stories of two who have found refuge, one in Jordan and the other in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Though they live among other Christians at the moment, the situation in Iraq and Syria is fluid, and when a person speaks publicly, relatives elsewhere can be singled out for retribution. For that reason, World Watch Monitor is withholding their true names. For purposes of this report, they will be called Sarah and Fared.

Sarah

“It was a horrible night,” Sarah said of June 10, 2014. “We left with a very small bag and we went to my sister’s house in Mosul. After five days, my father started to believe that our town wasn’t safe anymore, because there were so many Christians living there.

“Then we decided to go to a monastery in Mosul, because we thought it would be safer for us. While we were there, one of our neighbours called my father and told him that a man from ISIS came to our house and asked about us. He told the man that we were out visiting relatives and we would return soon. ‘No!’ said the man from ISIS, ‘They are not here. They’ve already left their home behind. Tell them if they don’t return we’ll take it.’ So, my parents left the monastery, went back to our house and stayed there for three days.

“After this, my mother started to feel very anxious about the situation and we left home for the monastery again. In the evening of the very day we left, July 16th, one of our neighbours called my father in the monastery and told him that an ISIS car was driving the streets announcing from its loudspeakers to Christians, giving them three options: One: Convert to Islam, so as to be safe in Mosul. Two: Give money to ISIS. Three: Be killed.“

As did so many others, including nearly every last Christian, Sarah left. She and her parents, two sisters and oldest brother headed east, toward the border with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, in northeastern Iraq.

“Those were the worst days of my life, when we had to leave the monastery without knowing where we were going,” she said. “We were helped by a family of Kurds and lived in an apartment for a month in a town near Dohuk. But then we had to leave again when the owner said we had less than a day to leave, without giving us any explanation. My family and I left for Jordan on the 12th of November.”

Looking at a map, it seems more obvious to move north to Turkey than southwest across ISIS-controlled Iraq to Jordan. Yet one refugee in the town of Fuheis, Jordan, said Iraqis have heard that UN aid arrives faster in Jordan. The town, 20 kilometres from the capital, Amman, in Jordan’s Northwest, also is well-known for its long-standing Christian-majority population in a country that is 2 percent Christian.

Among Middle Eastern countries, Jordan has a reputation for comparative religious freedom. “Arab Christians are an integral part of our region’s past, present and future,” King Abdullah II told the European Parliament in March. “Jordan is a Muslim country, with a deeply-rooted Christian community. Together, the Jordanian people make up an indivisible society, friends and partners in building our country.”

Fuheis’ 20,000 residents saw a sudden increase between June and August 2014, and again in December.

On arrival in Jordan, Sarah’s family first stayed for three weeks with a relative, who helped them settle down. Now they rent an apartment. They have money to afford one meal per day.

As for many displaced people the world over, the local church provides a connection to the community. The Palestinian pastor of a local Baptist church said meetings attract up to 100 people, including evangelicals, Catholics and Greek Orthodox. He said the church visits 20 to 30 Iraqi refugee families, Christian and Muslim, who need aid.

The UN’s humanitarian aid programs are more obvious in northern Jordan, in Zaatari and Mafraq close to the Syrian border. Still, many Iraqi Christians say they feel “safe” among Fuheis’ largely Christian community.

“Since the beginning of the Iraqi crisis, Jordan has opened its doors to receive displaced Christians,” said Dana Shahin of Caritas Jordan. “In almost all the areas that the Iraqi families were received, neighbors and many local organizations, both Muslim and Christian, came to welcome those families and contacted Caritas Jordan to provide help and assistance.”

Recently, Sarah has started to help in a dental clinic that opened after a visit by a group from Norway and Brazil, which started offering dental care in the Baptist church left it with resources to continue the work. But when asked about her longer-term plans, Sarah was not too optimistic.

“Now we are waiting on the UN to see what happens, but I think no country will receive us,” she said. “I believe the world will force us to return to Iraq, so we will be killed there. I think we have no future as Iraqi Christians.”

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Some of the Iraqi Christians who fled to the Kurdish capital of Erbil eventually found places in small apartments, sheltering them from Iraq’s winter. Photo courtesty Open Doors International

Fared

“Last Friday I thought of Mosul, because then it was June 5, the day the curfews started one year ago,” said Fared, a Christian in his late 20s. “We were not allowed to take our cars into the streets anymore. For five days there was heavy fighting on the other side of the river Tigris. I lived on the Left-bank. On our side it was relatively calm, but of course we were afraid.

ISIS had crippled four of the five bridges crossing the Tigris, to thwart any advance of Iraqi reinforcements. It wasn’t necessary.

“The Iraqi army withdrew,” Fared said, looking as astonished today as he said he was a year ago. “The rumours spread very quickly through phone and social media. Many Muslims in my neighbourhood stayed, but especially Christians wanted to leave the city. Despite the curfew, we packed our car with the most valuable things like papers, some photos and clothing for two months and then left.”

Their destination: Erbil, the rapidly modernizing capital of the oil-rich, and well defended, Kurdistan region of Iraq that lay beyond the reach of ISIS. On the highway, Fared said he drove alongside the Humvees carrying thousands of Iraqi soldiers.

“The way to Erbil normally takes about one hour, but now it took us 12,” he said. “There were four checkpoints, but especially the first one at Kalak took long. For eight hours we waited in lines of about 5 kilometres long. The two-way road had become one way direction and the cars were about 10 or 12 lines wide, six lines on the roads and another six lines on the sides of the road.

“Later, I had contact with my former neighbour. He told me that in 50 minutes after we left, the neighbourhood was taken over by Da’ash,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Today, a year after the Army withdrew from Mosul, Fared said his church plans a prayer meeting. “Not a meeting to despair or to be depressed, but a meeting to also see the goodness that God brought to our lives and to also count our blessings.”

Aid to the Iraqi refugees in Erbil, in the form of food, clothing, training and job creation, continues to come in through churches and partners working with organizations such as Open Doors International, an international ministry that supports Christians who have been threatened because of their faith. Fared said the aid has helped him start over.

“I’m part of a small church and they took care of us very well. I now live in a small apartment in Erbil and I’m happy with that,” he said. “I think I will never return to Mosul ever again. Or maybe one more time. Just to sell the plot of land I have. Then I leave and never come back. There are good opportunities for me and my wife in Erbil, so we are rebuilding our lives here now.”

Source: World Watch Monitor



S. Sudan pastors face death penalty on charges of sedition and spying

After several false starts, the trial of two South Sudanese pastors, Yat Michael, 49, and Peter Yen, 37, who stand accused of crimes against the state of Sudan and could face the death penalty, has been rescheduled again to 15 June. The court is then due to hear testimony from the complainant, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

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Pastor Yat Michael with his child Photo: WWM

The reason given for further delay was that the prosecutors in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, need more time to build their case. According to the defense team, the judge indicated that it will take at least 10 days to reach a decision. Both men belong to the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.

At a previous hearing on 31 May an investigator representing the NISS, Mohammed Khair Ibrahim, told the court about material he said was found on the defendants’ computers, including a series of reports, maps and an advanced course on dealing with the psychological aspects of investigation belonging to the NISS.

Arrested

On 13 December 2014, Michael arrived in Sudan with his wife and child, whom they had brought to Khartoum for medical treatment. While visiting the country he was asked to preach at the Evangelical Church of Khartoum in Bahri on 21 December, which had been partly destroyed by the Sudanese authorities earlier that month. After his sermon he was arrested by security officials.

It was reported that Michael had condemned the controversial sale of the church land and property, and the treatment of Christians in Sudan.

The church had been sold by the Community Council of the Church, a body appointed by the Government of Sudan’s Ministry of Endowments and Guidance, which reportedly did not have a mandate to sell it.

Sudanese police forces had earlier raided the church on 2 December 2014 to break up a sit-in demonstration organised by members of the congregation protesting the sale. Thirty eight people were arrested, and 20 convicted of disturbing the public peace, and membership of criminal or terrorist organisations (following the protest), reports the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS).

Yen, who had arrived in Sudan in September 2014, was arrested in January 2015 from his home, which is attached to Khartoum’s Al Gereif church, after delivering a letter to the Religious Affairs Office asking about Michael’s arrest. Yen had also spoken out about his opposition to the sale of land by the Community Council, and voiced concern on the situation facing Christians in Sudan.

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Pastor Peter Yen Photo: WWM

 

Both pastors were not allowed communication with other people until their first family visits on 2 March 2015. They were transferred to Kober prison on 1 March, and charged by the Office of the Prosecutor for a series of crimes against the state on 4 May.
They were charged under Articles 21 (joint acts in execution of criminal conspiracy), 50 (undermining the constitutional system), 51 (waging war against the state), 53 (espionage against the country), 55 (disclosure and obtaining information and official documents), 64 (promoting hatred amongst or against sects), 69 (disturbance of the public peace), and 125 (insulting religious creeds) of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code. Articles 50 and 51 carry the death penalty, while the other articles carry flogging sentences.

The ACPJS says it believes the criminal charges against Michael and Yen are based solely on their religious convictions and outspoken criticism of the ruling party. It says that “their continued detention and criminal proceedings are discriminatory and in violation of constitutional and international law”, and that “there is speculation that the trial of the two men is intended to send a message to other Christian leaders in Sudan to refrain from criticising the treatment of Christian minorities in Sudan and the policies of the ruling party”.

The pastors are being represented by a team of pro-bono lawyers.

According to a report in the Sudan Tribune, the investigator in the case, Mohamed Khair Ibrahim, tried to convince the court that Yen is managing an organisation working to distort the image of Sudan through reports sent to organisations that are hostile to the country, so that the information could be used in human rights reports.

He said lectures and training packages belonging to NISS were found on Michael’s personal computer. “It is the same curriculum that is taught in all stages at the NISS, including a package on psychological aspects to deal with investigators which is one of the advanced courses in the Bureau,” Ibrahim said, adding that Michael offered no explanation as to why he possessed the training package. Ibrahim said investigations led them to believe that Michael was conducting intelligence work and this had “prompted him to keep the curriculum despite its secrecy”.

Ibrahim displayed a picture of Sudan’s President Omer Hassan al-Bashir, with the word ‘WANTED’ underneath; Ibrahim said it demonstrated that Michael was trying to portray a bad image of the president. He also presented a drawing said to be found in the first defendant’s PC, showing a map of Sudan divided into five ethnic states, and said that the goal was to show South Kordofan and Darfur as part of South Sudan. He added that the seized information revealed maps and statistics, which had been compiled to tarnish the image of Sudan.

Among them, he said, was a report claiming that children in Darfur are not allowed to enter school until they have memorised the Koran, which was cited as a reason for under-enrolment in schools and illiteracy in Darfur. Ibrahim stressed that memorising the Koran is not an enrolment requirement in schools.

In exclusive interviews, both men spoke by telephone from their prison cell with CBN News. Michael said he’d experienced psychological intimidation and had not been allowed to speak with his family for two months. Yen said he was not afraid despite facing possible execution.

Background

On paper, Sudan’s constitution and international human rights commitments guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Article 31 of Sudan’s Interim National Constitution of 2005 says that all people are “equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination, as to race, colour, sex, language, religious creed, political opinion, or ethnic origin, to the equal protection of the law”.

Article 38 further provides that “every person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship”.

But Sudan ranks sixth in Open Doors International’s 2015 World Watch List of 50 Countries where Christians face most persecution. Sudan’s almost two million Christians face strict laws imposed by the Islamic government, which has ruled that apostasy is still legally punishable by death. Sudanese who are seen as non-Arab are most vulnerable to being punished under the apostasy law.

There was global condemnation for the case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, when a Sudanese court sentenced her to death on charges of converting from Islam to Christianity and marrying a Christian South Sudanese-American.

Ibrahim fled the country in July 2014 following a long legal battle against the apostasy charge. During her time in prison she gave birth to a daughter while shackled to the floor. She now lives with her husband and two children in the United States.

ACJPS says that the case of the two pastors demonstrates the internal contradictions of Sudanese law and its incompatibility with Sudan’s diverse population and international commitments. International law strictly prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The Sudan government applies other restrictions targeting Christians. Support for the local church from Christians visiting from overseas is difficult because the government restricts the number of missionaries they let in by refusing work and travel visas. The number of expatriate Christians – such as those from South Sudan – has shrunk since 2013, when they were ordered to leave the country.

Despite the restrictions, the church in Sudan is showing growth, according to World Watch List research. The Episcopalians, the Church of Christ in Sudan, as well as the movement to which the two imprisoned pastors belong – the Presbyterians – have seen significant numbers turning to Christianity.

According to Amnesty International, the NISS is an agency that is above the law. Priscilla Nyagoah, a campaigner for Sudan and South Sudan at Amnesty International’s regional office in east Africa, said in a recent blog that the Sudanese parliament amended its constitution in January to extend NISS’s mandate to perform duties currently carried out by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies, adding that the amendment doesn’t require the agency to abide by relevant international, regional and domestic law. “Conferring an intelligence agency such as the NISS with such a mandate, in addition to its already extensive powers of arrest, detention, search and seizure under the National Security Service Act, is particularly alarming,” Nyagoah wrote.

Rights violations

Nyagoah is calling for a human-rights compliant legal framework for the NISS, which would subject its arrest and detention practices to judicial oversight, and ensure that NISS agents perpetrating human-rights violations are held to account. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights recently sent out a message against the impunity of the NISS, by declaring the Republic of Sudan guilty of violating the rights of three human-rights defenders while in NISS detention in November 2008. The decision, published in February this year, requests Sudan to pay adequate compensation to Monim Elgak, Amir Suleiman and Osman Hummeida and to prosecute all those responsible for the illegal incarceration and torture of the three.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Prayer for the Middle East – from Sat7

Use this short video to intercede for the region. Documentary footage shows a region beset by conflict. But Abraham’s prayer of intercession for any who are righteous (Genesis 18) calls us to pray for all in the Middle East who seek to know and serve God today.