Working within a restrictive system

Bible Society meets demands without flouting Egyptian law

Cairo — Under Egyptian law, a Christian organization usually can’t give away written or recorded materials because that’s considered proselytizing. So the Bible Society sells Bibles from its bookshops, or at fairs, often for one Egyptian pound – about 14 U.S. cents.

Ramez Atallah

Ramez Atallah

“If I stood out on the street here and gave out Bibles, I’d be arrested and the Bible Society could be closed down,” General Director Ramez Atallah says. “So we make it easy. We provide them inexpensively. We can rent a book table at any fair in the country, and it becomes a Bible Society outlet. If I rent an industrial fair table – as long as I put up a sign that says it’s the Bible Society – the person coming to me is buying something from a place he knows is a Christian place. He knows it’s a Christian product. And he’s paying for it. That’s not proselytism by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not forcing.”

Playing by the rules within a restrictive system isn’t always Christians’ first move. Atallah has seen a few Western missionaries come to Egypt and fail for lack of tact.

“They take a whole bunch of Bibles and give them out free. And they get arrested, sent back home and they write letters about persecution,” he says. “We may have sold thousands of Bibles at the same book fair. He got arrested for trying to give out two Bibles and he says this country persecutes people, how awful they treat them.”

Atallah has found no need to challenge the system, pre- or post-revolution. “Yes, there are things I can’t do, but there’s enough that I can do,” he says.

For instance, in 2000 the Bible Society distributed 600,000 VHS copies of the Jesus Film throughout Egypt, and even that didn’t keep up with demand from people of all faith backgrounds.

“I do not have the resources – financial or human – to do all I could in this country to promote the scriptures,” he says. “We have 15 bookshops. We could have 500 bookshops. They’re very expensive. I could double the distribution if I had more subsidies. So my problem isn’t the restrictions. Our philosophy has been, when you find an obstacle you find a way of overcoming it and turning it into opportunity. If a door is closed, you jump through a window – instead of crying out ‘persecution.’”

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About the Bible Society of Egypt

The Bible Society of Egypt’s mission is “to bring the Word of God to everyone, in a language they can understand and at a price they can afford.” Formats include print, CD, DVD and digital downloads. The Society operates 15 bookstores across Egypt. The Cairo center includes “Bible World,” a multi-room, interactive exhibit for kids.

Distribution of audio versions of Scripture has evolved with technology, from cassettes and CDs to digital downloads through a partnership with YouVersion. The latter represents a big challenge, because of limited broadband and the high cost of downloading through cellular networks. The Society is looking for an effective way for people to upload audio versions of Scripture to their phones, without having to stream them.

To learn more, or to donate to the Bible Society of Egypt, see: http://bibles4egypt.com/

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