When Egyptian general Al-Sisi ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power, many in the West celebrated his coup. The Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Morsi, had been an extremist intent on “cleansing” his country of Egypt’s Christians, known as Copts.
However, since becoming president, Al-Sisi has done little to nothing to protect the Copts. In fact, under his rule, more churches have been closed down than ever before. Christians are regularly targeted by Islamist extremist terrorists, and Copts generally feel that they may not have a future in their country.
When a long-awaited law on building and restoring churches went into effect in Egypt in September 2016, several Christian members of parliament hailed it as “a step in the right direction.’’ Members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community — the country’s largest religious minority — celebrated the “landmark legislation” they hoped would ease restrictions on church building, some dating back more than 150 years, to the days when Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire …
More than a year after the issuance of the law, there is widespread disappointment and concern among Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who accuse the government of stalling on its promises “to end discrimination” against them. The closure of four churches in two southern Egyptian provinces (three churches in Minya and one in Sohag) by the authorities since mid-October has further fueled the frustration of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, which makes up about 10% of the country’s population.
“The authorities are appeasing extremist Muslims by closing churches under the pretext that [the churches] pose a threat to social peace and stability,” columnist Youssef Sidhom, himself a Christian, wrote in a Nov. 11 op-ed for the Coptic Solidarity website, a portal advocating equal citizenship for Egypt’s Coptic Christians.
Those three churches in Minya closed down by security forces? The reason given by Al-Sisi’s government was “fear of imminent terrorist attacks.” You’d think such fears would inspire the government to protect those churches, but no. Instead, they just shut them down.
Minya’s Coptic Orthodox Diocese said the following in a statement released Oct. 30:
We remained silent after the closure of one church in the hope that officials would intervene. However, this closure was followed by others, as if praying is a crime and Copts should be punished for it.
Clearly, the government is using the terror threat as an excuse. Al-Sisi succumbs to pressure from Islamic fundamentalists: they don’t want to see any churches in Egypt, and so he shuts them down.
And that’s a problem. Not only because it’s clearly illegal — the Egyptian constitution grants Christians the freedom to exercise their religious worship — but also because it emboldens extremists. They know they only have to attack one church in a specific region to make sure that all churches in the region are shuttered.