As Egypt’s 2018 presidential election gets underway today, there is one issue on the minds of Christians across this ancient nation: security.
The Coptic Christian population has been subject to absolutely brutal attacks at the hands of Islamic militants in recent years, and many are hoping that if a second term is awarded to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the faith community will begin to see him make good on promises of security and religious freedom. Sisi won almost 97% of the vote back in 2014 and is expected to bring home a landslide victory on Wednesday.
The war on Coptic Christians, however, has been brutal. Last April, over 45 Copts were murdered in a bomb attack on St George’s Coptic Orthodox Church in the Tanta region and St Mark’s Church in Alexandria. Then, just a month later, Islamist gunmen shot dead 28 Christian pilgrims traveling in a bus on their way to visit a monastery. In December last year, a gunman opened fire on a Church in Helwan killing 11 people including a police officer. This year, there have been more shooting attacks on believers, including the murder of two Coptic Christian brothers, gunned down for being inside an alcohol store in Giza.
Now, as the population heads to the polls, Christian leaders are hoping that the faithful will make their voice heard. “It can’t be that everyone will participate in the political process and we as Christians don’t participate. We will participate regardless of anything,” said one resident of Egypt’s capital, Cairo, according to Euronews.
Sisi has continued to promise the Coptic community further protection, but the attacks have not ceased. Still, the ancient Coptic Christian community, which makes up just 10% of the total population, appears to be sticking by him.
“Sisi has been hard at work cultivating the Christians of Egypt. And, praise where it is due, he has broken free of the Muslim lockstep into which one of his predecessors,” explained Robert Fisk at the Independent. “In contrast with past rulers, Sisi has given at least five permits for new churches in Egypt, angrily bombed Islamists in Libya after they cut the throats of 21 Egyptian Coptic workers on a beach, constructed a church to their memory in their home village and – perhaps most important of all – was the first Egyptian president to attend mass at Christmas.”
So, he is certainly seeking to garner greater support from the Christian community. The problem is, he has alienated a dangerous group of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who are beginning to see the Copts as a staunch ally of the President’s, and therefore a legitimate target. The outworking of this has been devastating for the Coptic community and has resulted in innumerable deaths.
Undeterred, the President continues to rule with an iron fist as the fire of the “Arab Spring” begins to fade and the memories of impassioned crowds packed into Tahiri square begin to grow dim. Under Sisi, “hangings, deaths in police custody and disappearances” are now simply “part of Egyptian life,” according to Fisk.
Despite the unsettling details emerging from under the rule of President Sisi, the Christian community appears convinced that he can change its situation for the better. “Pastors are telling congregants that it’s an imperative to vote and that staying at home in these elections is a sin,” said Ishak Ibrahim, a minority affairs researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, as reported by USA Today.
“The church leadership has heard President el-Sissi’s language of civic equality and compares it favorably against the record of (former president) Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
(H/T: The Independent)