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ICC Note: Pope Francis continues to try to bring peace to the unstable region of the Middle East. Yesterday Pope Francis led a prayer for peace with the Palestinian and Israeli presidents. Christians, however, are not as optimistic about peace efforts. Instead, Christians in Syria and Egypt seem to gravitate towards autocratic leaders to provide a break from Islamic radicalism. With elections ending in Egypt, el-Sisi has gained massive support from the Christians for ousting the Muslim Brotherhood. In Syria, the Christian population continues to dwindle as fighting rages on.

By: John Allen Jr.

6/9/2014 Middle East (Boston Globe) – While Pope Francis tries to strike a delicate balance Sunday on the Israeli/Palestinian front, recent elections in two other Middle Eastern nations have brought reminders not only of how intractable the region’s conflicts seem, but how little some of the pope’s own flock is inclined to emulate his even-handed approach.

In Rome Sunday evening, Pope Francis was scheduled to lead a prayer for peace with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres, following an invitation the pontiff issued during his May 24-26 trip to the Middle East.

In recent days, meanwhile, voters went to the polls in both Egypt and Syria, producing lopsided victories for the favorites in outcomes that were heavily criticized as dubious exercises in democracy.

In both cases, Christians hardly followed the pope’s lead in reaching out to contending factions. Instead they were solidly on the side of leaders who, from the outside, may look like autocrats with bleak records on human rights, but are often perceived by locals as the only firebreak against Islamic radicalism.

In Egypt, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi officially took almost 97 percent of ballots cast, a result dismissed as an “insult to the intelligence of Egyptians” by his opponent. In Syria, elections denounced as a “great big zero” by American Secretary of State John Kerry saw President Bashar Assad claim almost 89 percent of the vote.

Brushing aside doubts about legitimacy, Catholic leaders in Egypt offered an unqualified endorsement of the former military commander’s rise to power.

“El-Sisi is the right man at the right time,” said Bishop Adel Zaky, the apostolic vicar of Alexandria and head of the country’s Latin rite Catholics. “His victory gives us Christians security and a perspective for the future. Better times are coming.”

Zaky spoke in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charitable group active in the Middle East.

Much the same logic has driven most of Syria’s Christian population, in tandem with other minority groups such as the Alawites and the Druze, solidly into the pro-Assad camp.


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