Cairo's spiritual strongholds: Five citadels still bind the city

CAIRO, Egypt (BP)--A Christian family living in Cairo recently flew out of the city for a visit to their home country. Before they even reached cruising altitude, they felt a physical heaviness lifting from them.

"We didn't realize what kind of spiritual burden we live under there," recalls a family member. "A load had been taken off of us."

What is it about Cairo? Something heavier than the weight of age, the push of traffic or the choking mixture of sand, smog and heat that presses down upon its millions.

Some Christians believe Cairo labors under an ancient and massive weight of sin.

"When an individual sins, it opens the door, gives a foothold to the devil," says a Christian worker who has studied the city's long spiritual history. "Repeated, unrepentant sin builds strongholds in people's lives that become barriers to the gospel."

Can a city or a country also have unrepentant sins? Scripture gives examples: Sodom and Gomorrah, for instance. Or Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, which were explicitly warned of impending judgment by Jesus (Luke 10:13-15).

Christian workers have begun identifying corporate sins that have created strongholds in Cairo -- strongholds they believe are defended by the sort of demonic principalities the Apostle Paul spoke about in 2 Corinthians 4 and 10 and Ephesians 6.

Five such corporate sins continue to influence Cairo -- and all Egypt --some workers contend. Three are so old that Moses confronted them; two have emerged in more "recent" centuries:

-- Idolatry: The oldest ancestor cities of Cairo were possibly history's first centers of institutional idol worship. Already ancient by Abraham's time, idol worship drenched the Pharaonic dynasties. It persists to this day, some claim, in the veneration of real or symbolic idols, in materialism and cultural pride, and in the blind adoration of various Egyptian leaders in society, government and religious institutions. It can be found around the world in various belief systems, including New Age cults.

-- Covenant with death: The royal city of Memphis (a few miles south of present-day Cairo) was birthplace of a millennia-old cult of death. The god Osiris personified it. The people worshiped it. The seers wrote about it. The Pharaohs obsessively prepared for it. Its influence today? "What other city do you know of that has a million people living in tombs?" asks a worker, referring to Cairo's City of the Dead. The sprawling necropolis, an entire city-within-a-city of tombs begun in medieval times, swarms with squatters who have no place else to live in teeming Cairo. The veneration of shrines and graves and praying for the dead crosses religious boundaries, seeping into Egyptian Christian tradition.

-- Magic and witchcraft: Egypt's association with magic predates Moses' "power encounter" with Pharaoh's court magicians. Centered around the Nile and the goddess Isis in ancient times, its practice continues in folk religion, séances, the casting of spells, the "evil eye," etc., cutting across all social and economic classes.

-- Oppression: Egypt's subjugation by foreign conquerors began five centuries before Christ -- and lasted some 25 centuries. "The Egyptians were oppressed by others, and they began to oppress one another," observes a worker. The cruelty took many bloody forms over the centuries and persists today in social corruption, a rigid class system and harsh divisions between rich and poor.

-- Turning away from Christ: Egypt was one of the great early centers of Christianity. The majority of Egyptians continued to claim Christ as Lord long after Islamic military/political domination began in the seventh century. But that changed, says a worker: "After the establishment of al-Azhar [Cairo's millennium-old center of Islamic learning and evangelism], over a period of about 200 years, there was a large turning to Islam from Christianity and an abandoning of the faith." Egyptian Christians remain a significant population to this day, but they have wandered in the margins of society for centuries -- a fearful and often persecuted minority in the heartland of Islam.

How can the strongholds of Cairo be broken? It can be done by intensive and extended prayer for the city. By confession, repentance and obedience -- inside and outside the church. By true worship, rather than idolatry and obsession with death. By compassion, justice and mercy. By lifting up the Son of God once again.

Can Cairo be transformed? Isaiah 19:18 declares: "In that day five cities in Egypt will ... swear allegiance to the Lord Almighty. One of them will be called the City of Destruction" (NIV).

Many Egyptian Christians believe the prophecy refers both to ancient and modern Cairo -- and that it will be fulfilled once again.


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