One year ago, autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak resigned after a series of successful protests known as the “25 January Egyptian Revolution.” Messiah College graduate Matthew Bucher ‘06 experienced this tension first-hand during his four years of peace-building work in Egypt, and he echoes the cries of Egyptian people that their movement toward peace and democracy is far from over.
Bucher’s passion for service began during his years at Messiah as a history education major with a peace and conflict studies minor. “After participating with a short-term Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Israel/Palestine as a part of my peace studies minor, I knew I wanted to return to the Middle East,” Bucher explained.
From July 2007-May 2011, Bucher served with the Mennonite Central Committee in the Coptic Orthodox Diocese in ll-Qosseya, Egypt. Bucher’s responsibilities while living in what he explains was the “hub of all church-activity in town” included preparing and leading peace-building workshops and teaching English courses to Muslims and Christians. “In both programs, we emphasized relationship building and sought nonviolent strategies to solving conflicts,” he said.
Bucher attributes his preparedness for his service assignment to his education at Messiah. “Whether thinking historically while reading Egyptian history, employing pedagogical strategies while teaching English as a second language or preparing trauma healing workshops, I noted many times how formed I was from my time at Messiah,” Bucher said.
His training in peaceful conflict solving was even more helpful during the 25 January Egyptian Revolution as the country searched for solutions and healing amidst a drastic shift in the political climate. A series of monumental events indicated that President Mubarak’s ability to control Egypt was slipping, and the people responded with the initial uprising on Jan. 25. The following 18 days of organized protests forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11, 2011. However, his ousting did not undo the complex problems of Egypt’s leadership.
“When I left Egypt in May 2011, many people were angry and fearful,” Bucher said. “Increased instability and a struggling economy have been two of the early results of the 25 January Egyptian Revolution.” Unfortunately, the military leaders who assumed power after Mubarak’s abdication have led with Mubarak’s methods of military trials of civilians and short-sighted decision making. The resulting reduction in tourism is damaging the economy, placing an additional stress on the country and its people.
“Another troubling result of the uprising has been the emigration from Egypt of more than 100,000 Christians in just the past year,” Bucher added. “Many people have drawn the connection between this exodus and the major population shift of Christians leaving Iraq in the aftermath of the U.S. led invasion in 2003.”
While Egypt’s revolutionary political restructuring is still an ongoing movement, Bucher is passionate that other nations need to support Egyptians’ fight for democracy without intrusion. “If the United States claims the values of democracy, freedom and self-determination, we must trust the citizens of other nations to make the best decisions for their family, hometown and nation,” he said.
Now, Bucher is back in the U.S. at Eastern Mennonite University pursuing a dual master’s degree in conflict resolution and divinity. He reflected on his service in Egypt as “an honor and a privilege,” speaking with gratitude of the treasured relationships he built and plans to maintain. “While I would likely jump at the chance to live in Egypt [again], I am trying to remain open to God’s leading,” he said. “Whether that takes me to the Middle East, Harrisburg or even a farm in rural Pennsylvania, I pray that I have the courage to take the next step.”
By Mary-Grace MacNeil `13