Editing the Bible in Egypt

Coptic Bible

Greenville   I’ve learned a little bit about editing over the last decade or so by having both written a couple of three books, edited one, and edited Social Policy every quarter. It’s a laborious and thankless process that strives for perfection, but always falls woefully short of the mark.

This morning I reviewed the final proofs on more than twenty chapters of my new book coming out later this month, Nuts and Bolts: The ACORN Fundamentals of Organizing that has been an off-and-on piece of work and writing for me for over a dozen and maybe fifteen years. I’ve been through it front to back already three or four times, page by page. Now in the final, final go through, I should do it a fifth time, but I won’t. I’ll just look for obvious errors and try to sand down the last rough spots, but even as I put it to bed, I know that I could pick up the whole book in a couple of months and rewrite it from start to finish if I had the patience and willpower and make it a better book. I won’t do that. I want to think and work on other things, but, it makes me think about the big book, the Bible.

Sunday school teaches you a lot about “divine inspiration,” but there’s no disagreement that the Bible was written by men doing the best that they could. The New York Times had a fascinating article about the computerized programming and scanning efforts that are probing an ancient text written in Coptic, the language of Egyptian Christians. When the Organizers Forum visited Cairo after the revolution we also made a trip through the Coptic area and visited a huge open air Coptic church built into a sandstone rock hillside that was one of the most moving and amazing cathedrals I have ever visited. The Coptics are of course now a persecuted minority in Egypt in a shameful blight on the country, and its lack of tolerance or appreciation of its own deep and diverse religious history. Until conquered, when Arabic became the dominant language, Coptic was primary for the first 500 or so years AD when Egypt was also a dominant center of Christian practice and scholarship with Alexandria second only to Rome. As the Times reported it, “There was a profusion of gospels and other writings in the early Christian era. It wasn’t until 367 AD that the approved canon, the familiar list of books in the Old and New Testament, was specified by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria.”

Now computer scientists, librarians, and religious scholars are soon going to be able to start reading a codex that has sat waiting for 50 years to be read and more than a thousand years to be understood. They are trying to match the text there with the text that later became the book of Acts in the Bible. Would it shake the fundamentalists to reckon with the fact that the Bible and their faith is a historical and man-made phenomena or would they appreciate even more deeply why it was important to keep reading, keep writing, and keep editing until they had the manual right for the institution they were building? Having even my small glimpse of the process, I’m in awe of the product, no matter how many voices were heard, versions were written, editors involved, and final clerical adjudicators consulted. There’s no reason to believe there was any mystery about the magic that it takes to build such an institution and its guidebooks, when it is enough to appreciate and admire the process.


Please enjoy David Byrne’s Everyone’s Coming to My House.

Thanks to KABF.


First They Come for the Nonprofits

On 21 July 2014, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation registered five prominent Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the 'Foreign Agents' list. - See more at: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/26677#sthash.CAIIw7Y1.dpuf

On 21 July 2014, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation registered five prominent Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the ‘Foreign Agents’ list. – See more at: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/26677#sthash.CAIIw7Y1.dpuf

Waveland   It seems not so much a pattern as an iron law that as governments move to clamp down on their citizens, first they come for the nonprofits. The evidence is everywhere, but the most recent examples can be found in Russia and Egypt.  When a delegation from the Organizers’ Forum visited each of these countries in recent years, first Russia in 2007 and Egypt in 2011,  the tendencies were clear, but now they are full-blown.

In Russia, the first steps involved registration of nonprofits, but it was obvious that the real issue was not so much whether or not there was proper registration with local authorities as whether or not it would be possible to block financial support from international NGOs and other foreign sources. In Egypt, since the repression following the revolution there have been arrests of representatives of nonprofits and human rights officials including foreign nationals from several countries including the USA whose work was focused on civic engagement or democracy building.

Journalists, bloggers, and activists have certainly suffered the brunt of continued repression. In Russia, we had met Evgenia Chirikova, who at the time was a young middle class mother of two children whose family had moved to the outskirts of Moscow and had become an environmentalist when she stumbled onto red X’s on trees in the Khimki Forest while walking her daughters and realized a highway was going to be built through the ancient forest. I still follow their fight against all odds, enduring beatings, false arrests, and constant harassment in what has been largely a losing fight. Similarly, some of the young organizers we met in Egypt who were in the middle of the action in Tahir Square during the revolution have now scattered to the winds after arrests and constant harassment.

Nonetheless, autocratic governments don’t  feel secure enough just going after these courageous activists and organizers, so they push to curtail nonprofit activity is an attempt to cut off all of the supply lines that support such work. The new application of such laws in Egypt seems especially chilling. According to the Times:

The new law imposes a potential life sentence for the crime of intending to “harm the national interest,” “compromise national unity” or “breach security or public peace,” if it involves receiving money from abroad. Foreign funding is how virtually every credible human rights group here has subsisted for decades because of the legal and practical obstacles to domestic fund-raising under Egypt’s authoritarian governments.

Ghada Waly, the Egyptian minister of social solidarity, in charge of administering the program is ironically a veteran of some of the same international NGOs that are fleeing the country, having worked for CARE and the United Nations Development Program. She likens the laws to anti-smoking regulations in hospitals in the US, saying simply that the new law “… is a rule and you have to respect it.” Meanwhile the Carter Center has closed its office in the wake of the new rule and the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies after 20 years is moving to Tunisia.

No matter what these governments say, when they ask for the ability to approve every single grant to a nonprofit, seize staff and hold them for months during “investigations,” the nonprofit community is clear that they can hear the feet coming up behind them and the knock of the door to take them away. No matter what these governments say, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.