Egyptian Christians want more from Sisi government

Persecution | Islamic extremists continue targeting churches and Christians in Egypt
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 3/27/17, 11:51 am

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi rose to power by leading the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood strongman Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Many of Egypt’s Christians viewed him as a “savior” from Islamic extremism in their homeland.

But some are losing faith due to ongoing injustice and inequality for religious minorities, while others want the government to provide greater security as extremists threaten and target them with violence.

Islamic extremists have murdered seven Copts in the Sinai city of el-Arish since the end of January. The violence prompted 258 Coptic families to flee the city, according to the Egypt Independent. Human Rights Watch said the execution-style murders fit the Islamic State (ISIS) “pattern,” although the group hasn’t claimed them. In other cities, radicals slit the throats of five more Copts.

In December, ISIS not only took credit for the deadly St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral bombing in Cairo, but threatened more like it.

Michael, an Egyptian evangelical whose ministry supports local churches and the persecuted, told me Christians want greater security. His group partners with Open Doors.

“We would appreciate if the government or the security officials would run for our help,” said Michael, who declined to give his full name out of fear for his life. “Sometimes they are slow and because they don’t want to engage in fights against the radical groups they choose not to interfere until a considerably long time after an attack or an attempt of an attack.”

At the same time, he said many Egyptian Muslims are “ashamed of those attacks” and in Egyptian media many programs “denounce and reject” them.

ISIS isn’t only targeting Egypt’s Christians, it is fighting the government too. Egypt is an important U.S. ally in the war against Islamic terrorism, and ISIS encouraged its followers to attack Egyptian military and police forces in retaliation. The group shared security personnel “wanted” photographs and personal details through a messaging system used by its followers, according to a Reuters report.

“Islamic State has had Egypt as a target—and not just Sinai—as part of its discourse for quite a while now, and independent security analysts, as well as official statements from the Egyptian state, show that attacks beyond Sinai have increased in the last couple of years,” HA Hellyer, a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Reuters.

On Saturday, ISIS-led fighters killed four Egyptian soldiers in an explosion in the Sinai, following Egyptian military and ISIS casualties days earlier.

Nearly 11 million Christians live in Egypt, more than in any Middle Eastern nation. While Muslims and Christians often live together peacefully, discrimination against Christians for work or education is common.

Sisi’s government has been more sympathetic to Christians than prior leaders, especially in public statements. Although a Muslim, he attended mass at St. Mark’s on Christmas Eve. But many things remain unchanged, including government monitoring of Christian activities and communication.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia worked in communications in the Washington, D.C., area from 2005 to 2019 and was a fall 2012 participant in the WORLD Journalism Institute mid-career class. She relocated to Denver in 2019. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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