ICC Note: As the presidency of Abdel Fatah El-Sisi enters its second month, not much has changed for Egypt’s Christian population. While the coup that eventually lead to el-Sisi’s presidency did remove President Morsi last year, Copts in Egypt have not felt the relief they expected. Christians are still being arrested for their faith and have been convicted on trumped up charges of blasphemy or inciting violence. Many face fears of kidnappings and vandalism of churches or businesses in their communities. Even shortly after Morsi was removed from power, violence against Christians began to worsen. Egypt, home to the largest Christian population in the Middle East, is quickly proving that religious freedom is not an issue the government has been devoting its efforts toward protecting.
By Samuel Tadros
07/15/14 Egypt (Christian Post) – The coup removing President Morsi in July last year did not bring the Copts of Egypt the relief that many hoped for. Constitutional equality is irrelevant; unless the Egyptian government takes serious steps to address the issue, persecution will continue, says Samuel Tadros.
For Egypt’s Copts, the military’s removal of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power was nothing short of a miracle. After two and a half years in which Islamists dominated every electoral contest they faced, there was little if any hope on the horizon. Since the 25th of January revolution, Coptic despair manifested itself in an unprecedented wave of emigration from Egypt, which intensified during the Brotherhood’s year in power. Following the massive demonstrations against the Brotherhood’s rule and the military coup of July 3rd 2013, Copts were in a frenzied mood celebrating their deliverance; a deliverance that would prove short lived, however.
The Copts represent the Middle East’s largest Christian population, and were once one of the pillars of early Christianity, with some of its early saints framing what it meant to be Christian. However, centuries of persecution and struggles for survival have left Copts a small minority in their homeland. Modernity brought new challenges to the community, though it removed the legal second-class status in which Copts lived in the Middle Ages. In recent years Copts have come under increasing pressure due to the discriminatory policies of successive governments, as well as violent attacks by their fellow citizens.
During President Morsi’s rule, previous patterns of religious discrimination were reinforced and more alarming ones emerged. At the national level, Coptic representation in decision making bodies – from the Cabinet to the upper echelons of the bureaucracy – dwindled to the point of non-existence. Islamists dominated the drafting of the constitution and its articles were a clear setback to religious freedom and equality. Prominent Islamist leaders painted Copts as responsible for Egypt’s ills and disasters, creating an incubating environment for violence. On a local level, violent attacks on Copts increased and in April 2013 they even reached the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo – the residence of the Pope. In the absence of the rule of law, forced evictions were imposed by local ‘reconciliation’ sessions. Blasphemy charges brought against Copts accused of insulting Islam were often accompanied by violent attacks on Copts in the area.