Egypt’s Collision of Security and Freedom: Part 1
By Emma Reeves
07/06/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Since the rise of ISIS in 2014, the extremists have remained committed to targeting Middle East Christians. In Egypt, churches across the country were attacked. Terrorists targeted entire Christian communities. Morning bus rides to church met an abrupt end at the hands of ISIS. Egypt, along with other Middle Eastern countries, responded by broadening their governing authority for security purposes. Today, ISIS is declared militarily defeated. But the government’s security apparatus which fought ISIS remains not only intact but growing.
In Egypt, the government is often fighting terrorism in the name of religious freedom. Over the past four years, officials arrested at least 125 terrorists for attacks or plots against churches, and approximately another 25 were killed. Without due process and transparency, there is no way of knowing whether these terrorists were indeed targeting Christians. Some Christians wonder if the government’s strategy is the most productive form of action.
“The government is fighting terrorism and killing people who are doing it. But it is not treating the problem from its roots,” said a Cairo resident named Morcos. “The teaching is the same, and the people’s minds are the same. But the emergency law, in my opinion, is for protecting the people. Without the security, we will not be able to fight terrorism.”
Melad, a Christian living in Minya, agrees. “Give the thinker and opinion leaders the chance to talk to extremists and call them to make peace,” he said.
While Melad agrees security should fight terrorism and protect the people, he argues that this will not put a real end to the threat. If the terrorists who get caught are killed or imprisoned, but the belief system is not changed at the heart, these problems will continuously thrive in Egypt.
Other Christians fear that the government is overstepping its bounds in the name of security. This first happened in the name of fighting terrorism, and more recently, under the banner of fighting COVID-19. Several Egyptians fear how long these restrictions will last.
“The state has the right to keep its people safe. In cases of emergencies the state has to do procedures to keep the homeland safe, but the state should determine a specific period of time to do that,” said Minya resident Hani.
Keeping the state in a prolonged raised security level directly impacts freedom of conscience.
“The security measures affect very much the option [to voice opinions] and it is almost despaired,” explained Fahmy, a Cairo resident. “The social media has become more monitored and the media also has become unified and is under monitoring. The people are hearing one voice from the government’s side only. This has reduced the freedom of expressing opinions.”
Freedom of conscience is already restricted in Egypt and increased security concerns will only exacerbate the issue. For example in 2018, Abd Adel Bebawy was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to three years in jail. After being promised release in January 2020, his sentence was extended six months for “security concerns.” Increased security and government scrutiny could lead not only to greater repression of Christian speech but an increase of prisoners of conscience and an extension of their punishments.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3.