Founded in the first century AD, Cairo has been the capital of Muslim Egypt for about a thousand years. The city is the administrative, economic, industrial, educational, religious and cultural center of the country. With some 20 million people in greater Cairo, this vast, overcrowded city continues to spread on both sides of the wide and beautiful Nile river that winds through its heart.
For much of the year, the city is stiflingly hot. Serious air pollution accounts for the deaths of some 10 to 25 thousand people every year. But Cairo pulsates with life and activity. Its streets are overflowing with people, cars (taxis!), and buses.
The underground railway system has massive railcars which carry hundreds of thousands of people efficiently throughout the sprawling city. Everyone works hard to make ends meet, with many forced to work two or three jobs just to survive.
Cairo is the cultural capital of the Arab world. Its TV and cinema productions have long shaped Arab popular culture. As a result, Egyptian Arabic is understood throughout the entire Arab world and Egyptian soap operas, sitcoms, and dramas are followed avidly from Morocco to Oman.
As the biggest city in the Middle East, Cairo is the political and economic hub of the Arab world. Since Egypt has by far the largest number of Christians of any Arab country (25 million), Egyptian Christians, and especially churches in Cairo, exercise enormous influence.
Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university, Al-Azhar University, was founded in Cairo in 970 AD. It serves as the global arbiter of Sunni Muslim theology and law. Future imams (prayer leaders in mosques) from nearly every Sunni Muslim-majority country on the planet are trained at Al-Azhar.
This ancient seat of Islamic education shapes the thinking and the devotion of hundreds of millions of Muslims. Also, the Cairo-birthed Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties with Al-Azhar, exerts a radicalizing influence among Muslims around the world.
On Friday, November 11, 2011, 71,000 Christians of all denominations joined together in an all-night prayer gathering in and around the Cave Church in Cairo. It was the largest assembly of Christians in Egypt for more than a thousand years.
Christians speak of a shift in the spiritual atmosphere of the country ever since. Egyptian Christians attribute many of the positive changes that have occurred since the overthrow of President Mubarak in February 2011 to God answering their prayers.
Christians actively participated in the tumultuous days of the 2011 revolution and its aftermath. Protestant leaders worked with Coptic Orthodox church leaders. There appears to be much greater openness to the Gospel since then.
One network of underground believers in and around Cairo now numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Though there continues to be much opposition and persecution, God is at work in Cairo – and Egypt in general – in unprecedented ways.