Friday Prayers for Egypt: Culture

Flag Cross QuranGod,

As earlier crises continue, another one lingers in the background, and it is hard to know if it is trivial or essential. As Egypt’s politicians agitate over the Ethiopia dam, and as the people continue to collect ‘rebellion’ signatures, the nation’s artists stage a revolt of their own.

President Morsi appointed a new minister of culture; immediately he began firing longtime heads of departments. He says the cultural scene is full of Mubarak-era corruption. Artists say he is implementing a Brotherhood plan to destroy Egyptian culture and replace it with one of their own – where art, creativity, and expression have little place. They currently occupy the ministry building in protest, where they stage a cultural event each night.

God, both scenarios can be imagined. Sort out the right from the wrong, and hold accountable those who err – past and present. But culture: Help Egypt find her way in this battle for her soul.

Culture is largely beyond the reach of manipulation, but not of influence. It is what the nation’s people are, and especially what they have been. It can change, and in modern times the change can sometimes outpace a people’s comfort.

Be merciful, God, and give comfort. Some Egyptians look at the loosening of traditional mores and balk. Others see a conservative stranglehold retarding thought and progress. Both blame the import of foreign cultural values, but both are Egyptian, trying to meld society in a preferred image. Both are fearful, though the revolution has flipped the status quo script, bringing religion-based forces to power.

Here it is hard to craft a unified prayer, God, as this division goes beyond politics. Culture is deeper than a plea for the national interest. For many, culture is not national at all. It can be reduced to sect or tribe, or merged into ubiquitous globalization. To ask for the preservation of ‘Egyptian’ culture itself is to take a side.

But the land called Egypt has people who collectively inhabit a culture, and that culture can either encourage or discourage the good you desire. God, this is so bland, but honor Egyptians with a life-giving culture. Define it as you wish, God, but may it reflect your values and not those imported from any other place.

As for the artists and the minister and the Brotherhood, God, give people wisdom to know what is at stake. Is it everything, or nothing?

But culture: It is the soul of Egypt. Ensure she comes through this revolution healthy.

Amen.

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