These days, Egypt is celebrating the seventieth anniversary of July 23rdRevolution, which broke out in 1952, it is considered one of the important stations in the Egyptian history spanning thousands of years, and the spark for the launch of subsequent revolutions in other countries that were groaning at the time under the burdens and restrictions of occupation.
Egypt’s revolution broke out at the hands of some of its army officers, who called themselves “Free Officers”, and they are: Muhammad Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Al-Sadat, Hussein Al-Shafei, Abdel Hakim Amer, ZakariaMohie El Din, KhaledMohie El Din, Gamal Salem, Salah Salem, Kamal Al-Din Hussein, Abdul Latif Al-Baghdadi and Hassan Ibrahim, the movement was first known as “the Army Movement”, then it was called “The July 23rdRevolution”.
The revolution broke out for several reasons; among which was King Farouk’s continuous neglect of the Egyptian majority’s suffering, in addition to the hike in internal disturbances and conflicts such as the Ismailia massacre, the Cairo Fire and the conflict between the Brotherhood and the Nuqrashi government. The defeat of the Arab countries in the 1948 Palestine War had a profound impact, especially the involvement in the issue of corrupt weapons. The stance of the United Nations towards the issue of the evacuation of British forces, and the exacerbated foreign interference in the country affairs through the attempts to eliminate the role of the Egyptian army, were two strong motives behind moving towards revolution. Besides the poor economic conditions the Egyptians were suffering, the unemployment rate reached 46%, social justice was absent, injustice and oppression pervaded, health deteriorated to low levels, the rate of poverty and illiteracy reached 90%, and disease rates increased, so 45% of Egyptians were infected with Schistosomiasis or diseases resulting from malnutrition.
The Hour Zero was set at one o’clock on the night of Wednesday 23/7/1952, as they maintained control over the leadership of the armed forces and its leaders were arrested, and the Free Officers were able to seize the radio and vital facilities, then the first declaration of the revolution was broadcast to the Egyptian people, which said:
“From GeneralMuhammadNaguib, the Supreme Leader of the Armed Forces to the Egyptian people: Egypt has passed through a critical period in her recent history characterized by bribery, mischief, and the absence of governmental stability. All of these were factors that had a large influence on the army. Those who accepted bribes and were thus influenced caused our defeat in the Palestine War. As for the period following the war, the mischief-making elements have been assisting one another, and traitors have been commanding the army. They appointed a commander who is either ignorant or corrupt. Egypt has reached the point, therefore, of having no army to defend it. Accordingly, we have undertaken to clean ourselves up and have appointed to command us men from within the army whom we trust in their ability, their character, and their patriotism…”
The king was forced to abdicate the throne to his son, Crown Prince Ahmed Fouad, and to leave the country. Monarchy was abolished and republic was declared on 18/7/1953. The revolution launched its seeking to implement six principles which acted as pillars for a good life for the Egyptians, briefed as follows: eliminating feudalism, colonialism, capital control of government, establishing a healthy democratic life, a strong national army, and achieving social justice.
As for the relationship of the revolution with the Copts, it began with an acceptance tainted by some concern. However, a number of writers confirmed that the Copts of Egypt welcomed the revolution. Among the most famous figures who supported it was the writerSalamaMousa, who addressed its leadership council through many articles, and ArchpriestSergiusSergius. The leaders of the revolution visited the headquarters of the dioceses across the governorates, while Major General Muhammad Naguib, then President of the Republic, also sent a Christmas card in 1953. On the first anniversary of the revolution, its leadership council approved the request of Pope Youssab II to grant official holidays for the Coptic workers in the country to celebrate Nativity, Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Resurrection, and they were given allowance to two-hour-delayin going to work on Sundays to be able to attend liturgy prayers. In addition, Pope Youssab was invited to attend a number of national and popular events.
The relationship between the Coptic Church and July 23 Revolution and its figures grew deeper, particularly President Gamal Abdel Nasser, at a time when Pope Kyrillos VI assumed the papal seat; they had a close relationship of love, appreciation and respect unmatched in the modern Egyptian history.
Numerous meetings were being held between the president and the pope; they were all characterized by very cordial conversations. On one occasion, the Pope said to the president: “I, with the help of the Lord, will work on teaching my children the knowledge of God, the love of the homeland, and the meaning of true fraternity, so that the homeland will be pervaded with strong unitybased on faith in the Lord and love for the homeland.” The love of the homeland was common factor brining them together. On May 8, 1965, a meeting was held between President Abdel Nasser and Pope Kyrillos VI, in which the president agreed to the Pope’s request to build 25 churches annually, whose locations would be determined by His Holiness. The president ordered the opening of the church in Hada’ekHelwan, which had been closed for nearly a year, commenting: “The places of worship must spread, and everyone must know God, and faith must touch all hearts.”
In 1965, the President asked the Pope to build a new papal residency to visit him there, then His Excellence announced the state’s contribution to building the new Cathedral of St. Mark. On June 24, 1965, the President delivered a speech at the ceremony of laying its foundation stone, in which he said: “Brothers, I am pleased to participate with you today in laying the foundation stone for the new cathedral.I have recently met the Pope in his residence, and I raised the issue of the construction of the cathedral, clarifying that the government is willing to contribute in the construction. By contribution I did not mean financially, as this is so easy and doable, but rather I meant the moral side of contribution. This revolution was originally based on love and goodness, not on hatred or fanaticism by any means. This revolution broke out for the sake of Egypt and all the Arabs. This revolution broke out calling for equality, equal opportunities, love and equality. Equalopportunities areamongthe first principles proclaimed by heavenly religions; because through love, equality and equal opportunities, we can build a proper society, a healthy society that we aspire to, which religions have proclaimed… This is the concept of the revolution for religions: through love, fraternity, equality, and equal opportunities, we can create a strong homeland that isnever controlled by sectarianism, but rather a homeland that hasa sense of patriotism; that patriotism that fills a soldier in the battlefield… We want perfection, and we want the national unity- which was attained with blood in 1919 and beforehand- to be strengthened and supported, we want everyone in our country to have confidence inhimself, in that country being his own country, the country of Muslims and Christians 100%…”
On May 10, 1967, Pope Kyrillos VI paid a visit to President Gamal Abdel Nasser at his home in Manshiyat al-Bakri, they discussed the problem of Al-Maglis Al-Melli. The President issued Republican Decree No. 2326 of 1967 dissolving Al-Maglis Al-Melliand shutting it down, and forming a committee to manage the Coptic Endowments, the decree said: “The Patriarch shall take charge of the financial affairs of churches and religious institutes, he shall have the right to delegate metropolitans and bishops in this respect within the limits of their competencies, or to delegate whomever he deems proper” ,the Presidency Foundation also donated ten thousand pounds to cover the budget deficit. During that visit, His Holiness the Pope asked twice to end the visit in order to keep the president’s time, but the President gently replied that the time for the visit had not ended yet! At the end of the visit, the President congratulated Pope Kyrillos on the occasion of his ordination, wishing him happy days. His Holiness the Pope thanked him, placing his hand on his chest in kindness, saying: “I am laying my hand over the hand of God, because it is written in our Bible that God’s hand is laid over the hearts of presidents.” Abdel Nasser rejoiced and was pleased with those words. On the evening of that same day, one of the statesmen came to His Holiness Pope Kyrillos to deliver to him the president’s thanks for that blessed visit that took place in the morning. He mentioned that the president had felt pain in his chest before the visit, but it completely disappeared when His Holiness placed his hand over his chest.
When the land of the Monastery of Saint Mina in Mariout was being purchased, President Abdel Nasser’s children made a financial donation saved from their pocket money; Journalist Mahmoud Fawzymentions: “His Holiness the Pope used to visit President Abdel Nasser at his home… during one of those visits… his children came to him, each holding his piggy bank, they stood in front of him; the president told His Holiness: “I taught my children that donating to the church exactly resembles donating to the mosque, and when the children knew you are building a cathedral, they decided to contribute to the construction, and said: We will save some money to give them to Pope Kyrillos when he comes. Please do not return their hands and accept their donations…”
The winds of aggression blew on the land of Egypt with the Israeli occupation of Sinai in 1967, urging Pope Kyrillos VI to assume a patriotic role in supporting his country with papal messages and statements he issued in meetings in which he participated as popular seminars and conferences; In order to bring the Egyptians together, to overcome the crisis facing the country, and to support the stance of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. One of His Holinessmemorable roles when he asked the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to take a stance in support of the cause of Egypt in the United Nations.
Pope Kyrillos VI adopted an unforgettable stance after President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced his abdication from the presidency, on the evening of June 8, 1967, following the setback of June: The next morning, while the Pope was praying in themass as his daily habit, he mentioned Egypt, its president and its people, then immediately after the end of the prayer he moved directly from the Patriarchate, accompanied by a group of bishops and priests, to the presidential palace, where he met the secretary of President Abdel Nasser, who had sent a car to open the way for His Holiness’ car, as the streets were crowded by demonstrations. When Pope Kyrillos arrived, he did not find the president in the presidential palace, but rather knew that he was staying at his house; he asked the secretary to deliver a message to the president that the Copts adhere to him as president, “and want him to stay holding the position of the country’s leader.” Then His Holiness left after the secretary promised to deliver his message. Once the Pope returned to his patriarchal residence in Azbakia, he commanded the church bells to be rung, amidst the astonishment of those attendees. However, their astonishment vanished sooner as the Speaker of the National Assembly at that time, Mr. Mohammed Anwar Al-Sadat announced that President Gamal Abdel Nasser submitted to the will of the people! On the morning of June 10, 1967, the Pope went to the Republican Palace to write his words in the visitor’s record, revealing his happiness and the Copts’ satisfaction with the president’s decision to respond to the people’s call to resume his role as the president of the country.
When the external enemy tried to break up the unity of the nation, His Eminence Imam Hassan Mamoun, Sheikh of Al-Azhar at the time, issued- in cooperation with His Holiness Pope Kyrillos VI- a joint historical statement confirming the solidarity of all Egyptians in the issues that the homeland is facing, emphasizing the unity of purpose and stance towards all matters related to Egypt and the Middle East. The most important points of that statement were the stands of the Egyptians towards Jerusalem. The statement had a resounding effect throughout the world. Then, His Eminence the Grand Imam and His Holiness the Pope led a popular demonstration to express their rejection of the Israeli attacks on Palestine and Jerusalem with its Islamic and Christian holy sites. Pope KyrillosVI sent a letter to Pope Paul VI, Pope of Rome at the time, in which he said: “It is clear that the decision taken by Israel to annex Old Jerusalem to it caused a deep heartache in the feelings of the Arabs in general- Muslims and Christians. Nothing is more difficult for the conscience of man than an aggressive action that touches his faith and his sanctities, then his soul and blood will be offerable, and he would like to be a martyr in order to defend his immortal heritage and his old glory…” Then he asked him to support the Arab stance: “We demanded – and we still demand, heading to God, And to the global conscience, and we ask God to support your holiness and help us to be united in support of this just cause…” It is also mentioned that Pope Kyrillos gave a number of press interviews and conducted some interviews to the French TV for the sake of Jerusalem and the implementation of Security Council resolutions, as well as his decision to ban the Copts from visiting Jerusalem in protest of the Israeli aggression.
At that critical stage in the history of Egypt, Pope Kyrillos issued an order that masses be held in all the Coptic Orthodox churches for the sake of Egypt so that the Lord would give it protection and steadfastness. The Arabic-language radio station Israel was only to say sarcastically: “Rejoice, O Abdel Nasser! Kyrillos VI is with you. As for us, the Sixth Fleet is with us.” That fiery patriotic spirit pervaded all Egyptians, as the rebuilding of the armed forces began, and then the war of attrition inflicted the heaviest losses on Israel in terms of equipment and personnel.
History also does not forget that on June 25, 1968, President Abdel Nasser insisted on attending the opening ceremony of the new cathedral even though he was feeling pain in his leg! The Pope was interested in talking to the President by phone to check on him during his treatment trip in the Soviet Union. When the president returned, the Pope greeted him at the airport, and they embraced for a long time. The president said to the Pope: “Why didn’t you send a representative of your Holiness, as you haven’t fully recovered yet?”
When the country lost its president, the Pope went to offer his condolences, being sad and silent for a long time, feeling the severity of the incident, and said in his statement: “The sadness that sets down over our entire nation, for the departure of beloved president and the triumphant hero Gamal Abdel Nasser to the world of immortality, is greater than being expressed or uttered. The painful news shook our feelings and the feelings of people in the East and the West in an unprecedented way. We do not believe that this man, in whom the hopes of the Egyptians and all Arabs were embodied, could die… The history of Egypt and the history of the Arab nation will last for tens of generations associated with the name of this brave fighter hero, who forced enemies- before friends- to respect and fear him, and bear witness that he is the leader whose greatness could never be denied, so was his wisdom, vision, tolerance, love, and his strong belief in the principles of truth, justice and peace. Grief is deeply rooted in our hearts, it is inexpressible… We bid farewell to him to the world of immortality, being preserved by the dignity that befits his great name, and consolation to the entire nation and the entire Arab nation, and even consolation to the world, in one of the greatest men known to mankind in all its eras.”
On the day of the departure of Pope Kyrillos VI, Voice of America radio reported: “The loyal friend of Abdel Nasser has passed away.”
This was how the relationship between the state and the church went in one of the most important stages that the country passed through.
My felicitations to all Egyptians on the seventieth anniversary of the July Revolution, praying that God would protect our country from all evil.
The General Bishop
Head of the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center