Sisi Comments on Religious Freedom Limitations

11/03/2020 Egypt (International Christian Concern) –During a speech commemorating the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, Egyptian President Sisi referenced the current violence sparked in reaction to the publication of images of the Prophet Mohammed in France. On the one hand, he rejected any form of violence in the name of religion. On the other hand, he said “We also have rights. We have the right for our feelings not to be hurt and for our values not to be hurt. And if some have the freedom to express what is in their thoughts, I imagine that this stops when it comes to offending the feelings of more than 1.5 billion people.” 

This hints at a difficult underlying dynamic within Egypt, which has the largest concentration of Christians within the Middle East. Indeed the numbers are so large that in places like Minya, the Muslim to Christian ratio is an estimated 1:2. Yet Christians do not have the same luxury of religious freedom as their neighbors. For example, the presence of a church can offend the local Muslim population to such an extent that the authorities will either prevent or create significant hurdles regarding the church’s legal presence. Because Egypt has such serious limitations on free speech (rating 166 out of 180 countries on the RSF Index), these sorts of incidents can be easily suppressed from public recognition.

In yet another example, there is an ongoing blasphemy case targeting one Christian in Minya for allegedly posting on social media an item which offended his Muslim neighbors. He was arrested, and a jail sentence is expected. Meanwhile, this Christian’s son is repeatedly harassed by a traffic police officer who has made it clear to the family that it is because he is offended by the situation in France. President Sisi had an opportunity to give a unifying speech which encourages religious diversity and a respect for other opinions. But instead his speech included comments that are being used to justify further persecution of Christians.

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