Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931-2021) and Egypt

Sent On: 
Tue, 2021-12-28
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On December 26 South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away. His daughter Rev. Mpho Tutu commented “My father’s heart was large enough to hold the entire world in love.” Key-phrases that characterize Archbishop Tutu were love, acceptance of diversity, opposition to political misuse of the Bible, ubunto theology, a Southern African Christian perception of the African Ubuntu philosophy that recognizes the humanity of a person through a person's relationship with other persons, non-violence and pragmatism. Ubuntu theology includes readiness to compromise for the sake of the community if this is needed. This was needed to build bridges, dreaming of a Rainbow Nation in which all population groups could live together in peace.


South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, called the archbishop “a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead.”


Muhammad El-Baradei [Muḥammad al-Barādaʿī], Egypt’s former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, called Tutu “A powerful and courageous voice for nonviolence, reconciliation and peace. He will be very much missed in our troubled world.”


Desmond Tutu was ordained as Anglican priest in 1961, became pastor at the University of Fort Hare which was for black Africans only. Here he met with radical youth, but this didn’t match with his ideal of people of different races living together in South Africa. He experienced police brutality against black students but maintained his focus on dialogue. Many of these youth found him too moderate, too little revolutionary. Tutu wasn’t upset, showed understanding but continued on his own path.


In 1975 he became bishop of Leshoto. Three months later he became the secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches. In this position his voice became a powerful force for nonviolence in the anti-apartheid movement, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. In 1986 he became Archbishop of Capetown and thus the head of Anglican Church in Southern Africa.


“We, who believe we are created in the image of God and that we carry God inside us, cannot be silent or remain uninterested if other people are treated as if they are inferior,” Tutu said.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s most important position, in my view, was as founder and chairman of the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” (1996-2003) which played a major role in a peaceful transitioning to full and free democracy in South Africa after years of apartheid which had driven people apart. Victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences but also perpetrators of violence could give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Tutu didn’t hesitate to address the violence of major ANC leaders for which he was criticized in the Black community but also helped him with credibility needed to get former members of the South African security forces and former guerrilla fighters to cooperate with the inquiry.


In May 1998 Archbishop Tutu received the Roosevelt Award for freedom of religion in Middelburg, The Netherlands. He became involved in addressing neo-Nazism in Germany, religious fights in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and Nigeria. Tutu also addressed international political leaders to provide fair trade with poor countries.


I have been investigating Muslim-Christian tensions in the 1990s and 2000s and have expressed the wish to establish a similar kind of commission in Egypt. Too often incidents were inadequately investigated, leaving people behind in frustration. Around 6% of Egyptians is Christian and thus relations are very different from those between Black and White in South Africa. Egypt, praise be to God, did take action and developed its own way to foster dialogue and reconciliation and established the  Bayt al-ʿĀʾila (House of the Family) in which Muslim and Christian leaders cooperate. Egypt has made great progress in the development of reconciliation meetings.


Bishop Paul-Gordon Chandler and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cairo (courtesy Bishop Chandler)


Rev. Paul Gordon Chandler, today Anglican Bishop of Wyoming (USA), was between 2003 and 2013 Anglican priest in Maadi, Cairo, where he wrote the book Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths“Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. “Tensions between the "Islamic" East and "Christian" West run high” the publisher wrote in 2008. “Historically, Christians have often taken a confrontational approach toward Islam, leading many Muslims to identify the Christian faith with the cultural prejudices and hegemonic ambitions of Westerners. Chandler boldly explores how these two major religions--which share much common heritage--cannot only co-exist, but also enrich each other.  He illustrates his perspective with examples from the life of Syrian novelist Mazhar Mallouhi [Mazhar Mallūḥī], widely read in the Middle East. Mallūḥī, a self-identified "Sufi Muslim follower of Christ," seeks to bridge the chasm of misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians through his life and writings.”


Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote this endorsement for Chandler’s book:


"Events of recent years have exacerbated mutual suspicion, fear and misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims. Yet Jesus Christ set in motion a unity that knows no boundaries; he broke all barriers. We must think beyond the present walls of the church to move forward. The issues dealt with in this timely book demonstrate God's divine embrace, providing a bridge in the gap."

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M. Tutu


This endorsement characterized archbishop Tutu. He was not only an international advocate for human rights, equality, justice and peace but also always advocated non-violence and dialogue. Bishop Paul Gordon Chandler knew the archbishop personally and wrote:


“The world has truly lost a great soul. He was one of the most spiritually magnetic individuals I have met. When with him, one experienced a fresh illumination into what it means to embody the way of Christ and to experience life abundant. He exuded a profound and contagious joy, and he saw the image of God reflected in all people. He also demonstrated genuine humility and was authentically interested in everyone…regardless of background, status or affiliation. It was beautiful to watch him interact with others. I was particularly struck by how much attention he paid to those serving in the hotels wherever he stayed. When he would come through Cairo while we were living there, in just a few days, he already knew the names and personal stories of dozens of hotel employees, from the restaurant waiters, to the room cleaners to the door attendants; he would spend time with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and even pray with them for their family members undergoing difficulties in one way or another. He was extraordinary, combining genuine unpretentiousness with moral and spiritual authority. His natural disposition toward others was mercy and compassion – flowing out of the deep well of God’s love that he had personally experienced. I left time with him wanting to glimpse afresh the face of Christ. What a spiritual legacy he has left to us. I give thanks for his life and ministry, not just to the Anglican Communion, or to Global Christianity, but to our world, as he so beautifully illustrated God’s all-embracing heart. Thank you Desmond for the light you were to us."


Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away but his life remains an inspiration to us and to all advocates of dialogue and mutual understanding regardless of differences.



December 28, 2021


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report