Egypt, Christians no Longer Feel Protected by Sisi

Posted on Dec 28, 2016

The Cairo church bombing undermines the credibility of the Egyptian President, accused by the Copts of not doing enough for their safety

Chiara Pellegrino | Oasis Center, Christians and Muslims in the Global World | 28 December 2016

The attack against a church in Cairo, on December 11, claimed by the Islamic State, besides wanting to attack Christians and punish the Copts for their political positions in Egypt too, is an attack against the President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Twenty-five people were killed in the explosion in a prayer room next to the cathedral of Abassiya, in the popular heart of the capital.

Since his election to the Chair of St. Mark, in November 2012, shortly after the revolution, Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, has called the faithful to go out of the churches, and take part in political activities, wishing to be “the salt of the earth and light of the world” (Mt. 5:13). And, while until spring 2013 the Coptic authorities had kept a distance from the Islamist government of President Mohammed Morsi, later they did not hesitate to support his successor, General al-Sisi. The terrorist attack was “designed to undermine the (already low) credibility of the President highlighting his inability to protect religious minorities,” explains to Oasis Georges Fahmi, Egyptian researcher at the European University Institute in Fiesole (Italy). The Egyptian government, he says, has been facing two major threats for a long time: on the one hand the action of the Islamic State, that with this attack has shown to be able to expand its reach beyond the Sinai peninsula and to the heart of the country; on the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood, part of whom began to radicalize because of the repressive policies adopted by the President towards them: “The Brotherhood is split between those who are against violence, and those who say that passivity has not brought any result, and it is therefore necessary to act forcefully.”

In this case, “the Brothers have denied any responsibility by saying that the Copts have nothing to do with their fight against the regime,” and the attack was claimed by the Islamic State. This, according to Fahmi, only confirms the ineffectiveness of the campaign against fundamentalism conducted in the Sinai by the government. The young man who committed the attack, in fact, had been in prison two years ago. By recruiting in prisons individuals who are often released after a few years and return to be part of civic life, ISIS more easily strikes at the heart of societies of different countries.

While it is true that the issue of security is a priority, enforcement measures and laws alone are not enough to stem terrorism, the journalist ‘Amr al-Shubaki recalled few days ago on al-Masry al-Youm. Sometimes, in fact, the security and military solution may have the opposite effect and be a dissemination factor for terrorism instead of a restraining factor. President al-Sisi is called to operate also and especially on other fronts, such as the economic and social ones: Egypt has been undergoing a deep economic crisis for months. “In these days the Parliament is working on the enactment of new laws to prevent attacks and increase the security level of the country – explains George Fahmi. The point is that the laws are necessary but not sufficient in order to prevent the terrorist threat. For several months in fact, Egypt has been going through a severe economic crisis that exacerbates existing problems such as, for example, the marginalization of certain sections of society. The foreign exchange reserves are low therefore you cannot import products, foreign investments in Egypt dropped, and so did tourism.”

Al-Sisi is paying off for having based the relationship with the Copts on the exclusive relationship with the hierarchy. The president, in fact, speaks with the authorities without ever confronting himself with intellectuals, politicians, young people. “The fact that the hierarchy has become the political representative of the whole community is a serious problem that only aggravates the feeling of being a minority. In doing so, the Copts are not treated as citizens and are not regarded as political actors. This problem – says Fahmi – manifested itself clearly during the negotiations between the Parliament and the Coptic Church on the law on construction of places of worship. Citizens, including the deputy Nadia Henry, who disputed some points of the law were not heard at all.”

“The martyrs of the Cathedral are a particular type of martyrs, they are victims of the obscurantist thought that hates violators of religion and belief, and victims of the revenge and hate speech spread by many Takfiri components, i.e. those who throw accusation of infidelity. Takfiri components adopt the political injustice discourse and believe that the Christians are the only ones who support the regime” – wrote ‘Amr Shubaky on al-Masry al-Youm, the day after the massacre in the Cathedral. The truth, however, – adds the editorialist – is that Christians have played an important role both during the revolution of January 25, 2011, resulted in the ousting of the former President Hosni Mubarak, and during the protests of June 30, 2013, when millions of protesters went on the streets against Muhammad Morsi, putting an end to the (ruinous) attempt of a Muslim Brotherhood government and encouraging the rise of al-Sisi to the presidency. That the Copt martyrs are victims of the Takfiri thought is undeniable; the attack claim speaks of a suicide operation that hit “80 Crusaders, between killed and wounded” and warns “the unbelievers and the apostates in Egypt and every place that our [ISIS’] war to idolatry (shirk) continues.”

As al-Shubaki says, to say that all Arabs, Muslims and non-Muslims, have become targets of terrorism is not enough. In addition to addressing the challenges of security, Muslims are called to face the discourse that preaches hatred, and detect and combat the causes and factors of terrorism with political discourse.